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Technology

RULING CREATES A NEW ASSET

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Paul Sheehan ITAMS

The European ruling on the re-sell of software licences was expected to cause a stir – but then very little happened. What’s going on behind the scenes? Paul Sheehan, partner, IT Asset Management Solutions gives his view…

Paul Sheehan ITAMS

Paul Sheehan ITAMS

More than a year after a ruling by the European Court of Justice over the re-sale of software licences, the business world is still holding its breath to see what will happen next. This is despite the Financial Times saying that the decision has “the potential to create a multimillion dollar market”.

Yet it seems that few outside of corporate IT departments have stopped to assess all the implications. In particular, few within the finance world appear to have considered the impact of putting a value on software licences.

The EU court made a final ruling on the UsedSoft versus Oracle case in July 2012. It decreed that perpetual software licences bought legally could be resold and was seen, in some quarters, as a European act of defiance against the power of the global software giants.

This means that unsupported or ‘orphaned’ licences which would have previously been written off, now have a value and can, quite legitimately – be regarded as a tangible corporate asset. Of course, their value will depreciate over time, but even so, these licences can help raise significant asset values for a business and increase share value.

What’s it all about?

So is this ruling sustainable or is it likely to be overturned?

Although sales of licences have continued quietly and informally, usually driven by mergers and acquisitions or because of an unbudgeted shortfall revealed by an audit, new trading has so far been minimal in most areas. However, there has been some activity in the “after-market software” space (as it is gradually becoming known) in Germany where the seeds of the EU judgement were originally sown.

In our experience, while a good number of businesses say they would be happy to sell superfluous licences, provided all the right legal checks and procedures had been carried out, very few would be prepared to buy, even if they could save their business hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds by doing so.

Corporates are cautious
Why the apparent reticence? In many ways, businesses are right to be careful and seek expert advice. Yet, this is no longer a grey area; it is backed by the EU. We have talked to lawyers extensively about this and it seems that the European Court’s judgement takes precedence over any contract a company may have with its vendor. In fact many lawyers who specialise in intellectual property (IP) law believe that, as the ruling reflects a fundamental principle of free trade, it will be difficult to reverse or unpick and that it is a real opportunity for businesses to save money or recoup costs.

Underneath the outward bravado, large corporates with a significant number of licences are typically cautious about damaging relationships with major software providers and are concerned that they may refuse support and maintenance.

But although software vendors can’t ignore the decision, there are several ways they could easily side-step it by changing the terms of their licensing agreement. After all, the ruling only covers perpetual licences. No-one has done so yet and I suspect they won’t do anything until re-selling licences begins to affect core revenue streams. No doubt, they are conscious of the brand damage any adverse publicity could inflict.

Microsoft, for example, isn’t blocking re-sales. I know of a 15,000 user organisation that has sold 4,000 licences to another business and the transfer quietly went through the accepted novation process as if the transaction were part of a merger or acquisition.

Large volumes equal big savings
Will the market develop from here – and if so, how? Although there is still significant work to be done on the due diligence process, the potential financial benefits are so huge that it’s unlikely that businesses will hold back for much longer. It’s likely that used licences will be available for around 50 per cent of the original cost – and for companies buying in large volumes this means significant savings.

There’s obviously a need for some type of trading forum or marketplace but it’s not yet clear the form this will take. It’s probable that an independent third-party will act as a broker, possibly by hosting an online portal which will act either as an internet auction site or a “dating” site where specific buyers are matched with possible sellers. Brokers will either take a percentage of sales or might even buy the licences outright to resell and burden the risk in return for the promise of faster sales.

Whichever way the market evolves, it will be essential that processes are transparent, showing all the right legal checks, while audit trails are maintained.

At first, I believe, more transactions will naturally emerge through improved licence management and the need for compliance. If licences are now an asset, companies will become even more concerned about keeping control of what they own. If, as part of this process, a business discovers it doesn’t have enough licences, it may use an asset and licensing management specialist firm to engage with another company which has too many through downsizing or other circumstances.

Whatever the reason for buying or selling, the situation is still complex and it would be advisable to use a facilitator who knows their way round licensing processes. Anyone interested should also talk to their own company lawyers. Although the EU ruling has minimised the risk of legal challenge, it’s essential to ensure that the licences and the conditions and terms under which they are transferred all comply. Global companies need to be aware that the situation in the US has yet to be clarified. An outstanding case from 2007 is still with the higher courts for debate.

It’s a case of weighing up a slight risk – which can be reduced further by using expert help – against major savings. The business world can’t take too long to make up its mind though. Transition to the cloud, for example in the case of moving from Microsoft Office 2010 to Office 365, is opening up a window – but it’s not going to remain this way indefinitely.

Tips for Taking Action Now
Whatever the ultimate consequences of the EU court’s judgement are, one of the biggest factors driving companies to achieve better control over their software licences and to take action is the current compliance environment. Software auditing by vendors is becoming increasingly prevalent – and businesses are often forced into paying huge sums to settle up, often because they have not prepared properly in advance.

In these kinds of scenarios, independent industry experts like ourselves at ITAMS are well placed to help companies negotiate resolutions utilising quality data. When they are faced with audits, this will be far less expensive for them than having to buy new licences directly from the vendors themselves.

So what can smart companies do now to ensure their licence management is up to scratch?

  • Plan Ahead – Companies should be aware of when their software licences are coming up for renewal, and sensitive to potential vendor activity, and have information ready.
  • Optimise Data Quality – Businesses need to get their house in order before they buy or resell software. They need to know exactly what licences they have in their estate, who is using them and how they are being used on what hardware. It is key that they ensure that their IT assets are being managed properly and where they are gaps in their approach that need rectifying.
  • Deal with exceptions proactively– Even if software licences are installed on redundant machines locked in a cupboard, for example, the business that owns those licences will remain liable for them. Ensure that all parts of the company are covered, not just the easier ones, as any gap will be used by the vendor to trigger a negotiation cycle.
  • Look to External Advice – Seeking out advice from independent experts in the area is critical. No one end user can be an expert in all licensing schemes, nor understand the latest changes and techniques in this area. Leverage the experience of others. Only these kinds of companies will be able to conduct a truly independent assessment of a company’s estate and provide them with the kind of low-cost, high value engagement that will help them manage the audit process. Large account resellers that are working on behalf of the software vendor cannot be expected to give impartial advice.
  • Skill Carefully – The market is short of highly experienced licensing professionals. Plan ahead and partner in advance of need.

Looking Ahead

One by-product of the European Court of Justice ruling on the re-sell of licences is that it has focused more attention on issues around used software and licence management generally. There are many businesses today with hundreds of thousands and even millions of pounds of used software on their books, yet they are simultaneously buying the same assets and paying penalties. Knowing what to do with all of this is a massive problem for enterprise-sized organisations, in particular.

The Court ruling potentially opens up more opportunities for these organisations in terms of enabling them to exchange or resell at least some of this resource, while at the same time giving them a chance to exert greater control over their licences and make huge financial savings as a direct result. But to turn the vision to reality, they need to ensure they follow the tips above and most importantly of all open their minds to new paradigms in this space.

Technology

Why technology is key to the future of auditing

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Why technology is key to the future of auditing 1

By Piers Wilson, Head of Product Management at Huntsman Security

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC), which is responsible for corporate governance, reporting and auditing in the UK, has been consulting on the role of technology in audit processes. This highlights growing recognition for the fact that technology can assist audits, providing the ability to automate data gathering or assessment to increase quality, remove subjectivity and make the process more trustworthy and consistent. Both the Brydon review and the latest AQR thematic suggest a link between enhanced audit quality and the increasing use of technology. This goes beyond efficiency gains from process automation and relates, in part, to the larger volume of data and evidence which can be extracted from an audited entity and the sophistication of the tools available to interrogate it.

As one example, the PCAOB in the US has for a while advocated for the provision of audit evidence and reports to be timely (which implies computerisation and automation) to assure that risks are being managed, and for the extent of human interaction with evidence or source data to be reflected to ensure influence is minimised (the more that can be achieved programmatically and objectively the better).

However, technology may obscure the nature of analysis and decision making and create a barrier to fully transparent audits compared to more manual (yet labour intensive) processes. There is also a competition aspect between larger firms and smaller ones as regards access to technology:

Brydon raised concerns about the ability of challenger firms to keep pace with the Big Four firms in the deployment of innovative new technology.

The FRC consultation paper covers issues, and asks questions, in a number of areas. Examples include:

  • The use of AI and machine learning that collect or analyse evidence and due to the continual learning nature, their criteria for assessment may be difficult to establish or could change over time.
  • The data issues around greater access to networks and systems putting information at risk (e.g. under GDPR) or a reluctance for audited companies to allow audit firms to connect or install software/technologies into their live environments.
  • The nature of technology may mean it is harder for auditors to understand or establish the nature of data collection, analysis or decision making.
  • The ongoing need to train auditors on technologies that might be introduced, so they can utilise them in a way that generates trusted outputs.

Clearly these are real issues – for a process that aims to provide trustworthy, objective, transparent and repeatable outputs – any use of technology to speed up or improve the process must maintain these standards.

Audit technology solutions in cyber security

The cyber security realm has grown to quickly become a major area of risk and hence a focus for boards, technologists and auditors alike. The highly technical nature of threats and the adversarial nature of cybers attackers (who will actively try and find/exploit control failures) means that technology solutions that identify weaknesses and report on specific or overall vulnerabilities are becoming more entrenched in the assurance process within this discipline.

While the audit consultations and reports mentioned above cover the wider audit spectrum, similar challenges relate to cyber security as an inherently technology-focussed area of operation.

Benefits of speed

The gains from using technology to conduct data gathering, analysis and reporting are obvious – removing the need for human questionnaires, interviews, inspections and manual number crunching. Increasing the speed of the process has a number of benefits:

  • You can cover larger scopes or bigger samples (even avoid sampling all together)
  • You can conduct audit/assurance activities more often (weekly instead of annually)
  • You can scale your approach beyond one part of the business to encompass multiple business units or even third parties
  • You get answers more quickly – which for things that change continually (like patching status) means same day awareness rather than 3 weeks later

Benefits of flexibility

The ability to conduct audits across different sites or scopes, to specify different thresholds of risk for different domains, the ease of conducting audits at remote locations or on suppliers networks (especially during period of restricted travel) are ALL factors that can make technology a useful tool for the auditor.

Benefits of transparency

One part of the FRC’s perceived problem space is that of transparency, you can ask a human how they derived a result, and they can probably tell you, or at least show you the audit trail of correspondence, meeting notes or spreadsheet calculations. But can you do this with software or technology?

Certainly, the use of AI and machine learning makes this hard, the learning nature and often black box calculations are not easy to either understand, recalculate in a repeatable way or to document. The system learns, so is always changing, and hence the rationale that a decision might not always be the same.

In technologies that are geared towards delivering audit outcomes this is easier. First, if you collect and retain data, provide an easy interface to go from results to the underlying cases in the source data, it is possible to take a score/rating/risk and reveal the specifics of what led to it. Secondly, it is vital that the calculations are transparent, i.e. that the methods of calculating risks or the way results are scored is decipherable.

Benefits of consistency

This is one obvious gain from technology, the logic is pre-programmed in.  If you take two auditors and give them the same data sets or evidence case files they might draw different conclusions (possibly for valid reasons or due to them having different skill areas or experience), but the same algorithm operating on the same data will produce the same result every time.

Manual evidence gathering suffers a number of drawbacks – it relies on written notes, records of verbal conversations, email trails, spreadsheets, or questionnaire responses in different formats.  Retaining all this in a coherent way is difficult and going back through it even harder.

Using a consistent toolset and consistent data format means that if you need to go back to a data source from a particular network domain three months ago, you will have information that is readily available and readable.  And as stated above, if the source data and evidence is re-examined using a consistent solution, you will get the same calculations, decisions and results.

Benefits of systematically generated KPIs, cyber maturity measures and issues

The outputs of any audit process need to provide details of the issues found so that the specific or general cases of the failures can be investigated and resolved.  But for managers, operational teams and businesses, having a view of the KPIs for the security operations process is extremely useful.

Of course, following the “lines of defence” model, an internal or external “formal” audit might simply want the results and a level of trust in how they were calculated; however for operational management and ongoing continuous visibility, the need to derive performance statistics comes into its own.

It is worth noting that there are two dimensions to KPIs:   The assessment of the strength or configuration of a control or policy (how good is the control) and the extent or level of coverage (how widely is it enforced).

To give a view of the technical maturity of a defence you really need to combine these two factors together.  A weak control that is widely implemented or a strong control that provides only partial coverage are both causes for concern.

Benefits of separation of process stages

The final area where technology can help is in allowing the separation and distribution of the data gathering, analysis and reporting processes.  It is hard to take the data, evidence and meeting notes from someone else and analyse it. For one thing, is it trustworthy and reliable (in the case of third-party assurance questionnaires perhaps)? Then it is also hard to draw high-level conclusions about the analysis.

If technology allows the data gathering to be performed in a distributed way, say by local site administrators, third-party IT staff or non-expert users BUT in a trustworthy way, then the overhead of the audit process is much reduced. Instead of a team having to conduct multiple visits, interviews or data collection activities the toolset can be provided to the people nearest to the point of collection.

This allows the data analysis and interpretation to be performed centrally by the experts in a particular field or control area. So giving a non-expert user a way to collect and provide relevant and trustworthy audit evidence takes a large bite out of the resource overhead of conducting the audit, for both auditor and auditee.

It also means that a target organisation doesn’t have to manage the issue of allowing auditors to have access to networks, sites, data, accounts and systems to gather the audit evidence as this can be undertaken by existing administrators in the environment.

Making the right choice

Technology solutions in the audit process can clearly deliver benefits, however if they are too simplistic or aim to be too clever, they can simply move the problem of providing high levels of audit quality. A rapidly generated AI-based risk score is useful, but if it’s not possible to understand the calculation it is hard to either correct the control issues or trouble shoot the underlying process.

Where technology can assist the audit process, speed up data gathering and analysis, and streamline the generation of high- and low-level outputs it can be a boon.

Technology allows organisations to put trustworthy assurance into the hands of operations teams and managers, consultants and auditors alike to provide flexible, rapid and frequent views of control data and understanding of risk posture. If this can be done in a way that is cognisant of the risks and challenges as we have shown, then auditors and regulators such as the FRC can be satisfied.

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Technology

The Future Growth of AI and ML

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The Future Growth of AI and ML 2

By Rachel Roumeliotis, VP of Data and AI at O’Reilly

We’ve all come to terms with the fact that artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming how businesses operate and how much it can help a business in the long term. Over the past few years, this understanding has driven a spike in companies experimenting and evaluating AI technologies and who are now using it specifically in production deployments.

Of course, when organisations adopt new technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML), they gradually start to consider how new areas could be affected by technology. This can range across multiple sectors, including production and logistics, manufacturing, IT and customer service. Once the use of AI and ML techniques becomes ingrained in how businesses function and in the different ways in which they can be used, organisations will be able to gain new knowledge which will help them to adapt to evolving needs.

By delving into O’Reilly’s learning platform, a variety of information about the different trends and topics tech and business leaders need to know can be discovered. This will allow them to better understand their jobs and will ensure that their businesses continue to thrive. Over the last few months, we have analysed the platform’s user usage and have discovered the most popular and most-searched topics in AI and ML. We’ll be exploring some of the most important finding below which gives us a wider picture of where the state of AI and ML is, and ultimately, where it is headed.

AI outpacing growth in ML

First and foremost, our analysis shone a light on how interest in AI is continuing to grow. When comparing 2018 to 2019, engagement in AI increased by 58% – far outpacing growth in the much larger machine learning topic, which increased only 5% in 2019. When aggregating all AI and ML topics, this accounts for nearly 5% of all usage activity on the platform. While this is just slightly less than high-level, well-established topics like data engineering (8% of usage activity) and data science (5% of usage activity), interest in these topics grew 50% faster than data science. Data engineering actually decreased about 8% over the same time due to declines in engagement with data management topics.

We also discovered early signs that organisations are experimenting with advanced tools and methods. Of our findings, engagement in unsupervised learning content is probably one of the most interesting. In unsupervised learning, an AI algorithm is trained to look for previously undetected patterns in a data set with no pre-existing labels or classification with minimum human supervision or guidance. In 2018, the usage for unsupervised learning topics grew by 53% and by 172% in 2019.

But what’s driving this growth? While the names of its methods (clustering and association) and its applications (neural networks) are familiar, unsupervised learning isn’t as well understood as its supervised learning counterpart, which serves as the default strategy for ML for most people and most use cases. This surge in unsupervised learning activity is likely driven by a lack of familiarity with the term itself, as well as with its uses, benefits, and requirements by more sophisticated users who are faced with use cases not easily addressed with supervised methods. It is also likely that that the visible success of unsupervised learning in neural networks and deep learning has helped our interest, as has the diversity of open source tools, libraries and tutorials, that support unsupervised learning.

A Deep Learning Resurrection

While deep learning cooled slightly in 2019, it still accounted for 22% of all AI and ML usage. We also suspect that its success has helped spur the resurrection of a number of other disused or neglected ideas. The biggest example of this is reinforcement learning. This topic experienced exponential growth, growing over 1,500% since 2017.

Even with engagement rates dropping by 10% in 2019, deep learning itself is one of the most popular ML methods among companies that are evaluating AI, with many companies choosing the technique to support production use cases. It might be that engagement with deep learning topics has plateaued because most people are already actively engaging with the technology, meaning growth could slow down.

Natural language processing is another topic that has showed consistent growth. While its growth rate isn’t huge – it grew by 15% in 2018 and 9% in 2019 – natural language processing accounts for about 12% of all AI and ML usage on our platform. This is around 6x the share of unsupervised learning and 5x the share of reinforcement learning usage, despite the significant growth these two topics have experienced over the last two years.

Not all AI/ML methods are treated equally, however. For example, interest in chatbots seems to be waning, with engagement decreasing by 17% in 2018 and by 34% in 2019. This is likely because chatbots were one of the first application of AI and is probably a reflection of the relative maturity of its application.

The growing engagement in unsupervised learning and reinforcement learning demonstrates that organisations are experimenting with advanced analytics tools and methods. These tools and techniques open up new use cases for businesses to experiment and benefit from, including decision support, interactive games, and real-time retail recommendation engines. We can only imagine that organisations will continue to use AI and ML to solve problems, increase productivity, accelerate processes, and deliver new products and services.

As organisations adopt analytic technologies, they’re discovering more about themselves and their worlds. Adoption of ML, in particular, prompts people at all levels of an organisation to start asking questions that challenge what an organisation thinks it knows about itself. With ML and AI, we’re training machines to surface new objects of knowledge that help us as we learn to ask new, different, and sometimes difficult questions about ourselves. By all indications, we seem to be having some success with this. Who knows what the future holds, but as technologies become smarter, there is no doubt that we will we become more dependent.

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Technology

Artificial Intelligence and Speech Analytics are crucial to Financial Organisations’ future

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Artificial Intelligence and Speech Analytics are crucial to Financial Organisations’ future 3

By Richard Stevenson, CEO, Red Box

At the beginning of 2020, when the world was still largely unaware of the looming pandemic that was set to alter so many aspects of our lives and business operations, enterprises across all sectors, from finance to retail, already felt the clock was quickly ticking for them to embark on a radical technological change.

With Industry 4.0 in full swing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Speech Analytics are two key technologies that have promised to future proof the financial sector. The benefits of adopting such technologies include the streamlining of entire business processes, but if unlocking the value of voice data was a key goal for banks and financial organisations in the past, 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic has only served to fast track those plans.

The Data Speaks for Itself

We asked 500 CEOs, Directors and Middle Managers across enterprises of varying sizes to relay their thoughts on the importance of AI, Speech Analytics and voice data to their business operations. AI and Speech are already making waves in the financial sector, with banks using voice data to detect and combat fraud at a larger and faster rate than previously possible, and insurance companies fast-tracking their claims processing and underwriting through AI, so some of the research results come as no surprise. However, 91% of those surveyed in banking, insurance and finance already believe that voice data is, or will be, a strategic asset in the near future. This is a huge majority.

Living in such unprecedented times, businesses will be trying their best to leverage every competitive advantage they can, and the adoption of new technology is clearly high up on that list. With customer experience being key to retaining business during times of a crisis, having the right technology to support customers has proven to be a must.

To take the high street bank as an example, customers have, for decades, become accustomed to visiting their local branch. In March, many bank branches across the UK and the world closed for months on end or had their opening hours greatly reduced during the peak of lockdown. With cashiers and advisers unable to talk to customers or provide guidance of sometimes complex in-house machine operation, a whole new way of banking emerged. For those already familiar with modern banking methods – online banking, chatbots and mobile apps – this wasn’t so daunting. But contact centres found that they were dealing with a massive uptick in customer numbers as people were unable to access their traditional banking methods or were worried about their financial situation. Such a huge surge in calls, from customers worried about their mortgage payments or how they were going to deal with their next gas bill, put added stress on contact centre staff who were adjusting, in many cases, to having to work remotely.

Introducing the right AI and Speech Analytics tools and replacing many old-age, antiquated practices, is enabling those in the finance industry to look ahead to a post-pandemic future. With voice data set to unlock major new insights in the customer journey, enable organizations to experience newfound agility, and unlock the potential to improve both the customer and employee experience, all whilst cutting costs and enhancing productivity, the financial organisations of the future are looking to change how humans can be used more effectively .

Making Informed Decisions on AI & Speech Analytics

Adopting AI and Speech Analytics, and maximising the use of generated voice data can create a plethora of benefits to an organisation, however, only 7% of the financial sector currently see speech analytics as a strategic asset. To stay on top of the competition, CTOs and CIOs will often be pressured into making a decision quickly when going to market, and when being presented with endless choices, picking the right software is not only important, it can be game changing.

Without the proper foundations in place or the knowledge on how to maximise the value of corporate purchases, organisations shopping for new tools need to put the data they’re currently generating under the microscope. With such promise, nearly two-thirds of businesses (62%) are still failing to use transcribed voice data to fuel their AI engines. Organizations that are interested in adopting this new technology must remember that AI and analytics tools are fueled by high quality data, i.e. the data must be extracted, processed, stored and analysed in the most optimal way – that’s where the journey to extract value from AI and Speech Technology tools begins.

Unlocking the Full Potential of Voice Data

Captured voice data is the richest and most human source of insight, and most organisations in the financial services sector are already generating this at an incredible volume for compliance reasons. The pandemic has made C-Level executives Directors and Managers increasingly aware of the strategic importance this data source can have when fed through AI solutions.

Now that we are being pushed to digitization faster than ever before and entire processes once dealt with in person are being transferred to the call centre, organisations have never processed this much voice data. A single person, or team, can only go through such vast data sets with a helping hand from technology, making AI the next logical step to streamlining the customer and employee experience, and indeed the business as a whole. Correctly adopting AI and feeding it with high quality data sets will help steer organisations into a technology-enabled future. To remain relevant and competitive during and after this global pandemic, one thing is certain: companies must act now to better leverage what’s effectively one of their most valuable and strategic assets.

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