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TRENDS IN MIDDLEWARE

TRENDS IN MIDDLEWARE

By Mike Piech, vice president and general manager, Middleware, Red Hat

The term ‘middleware’ has been used for many years to broadly categorise the set of behind-the-scenes technologies designed to help enterprises create, connect, and manage the myriad of software applications that run today’s businesses. These applications can vary greatly, but are all meant to address specific business needs, such as insurance claims automation, financial fraud detection, transaction processing, or even to provide tailored interactions with customers based on time, location, preferences, and more.

Business needs and technology capabilities change and adapt to one another in a cyclical fashion over time, with new business needs fueling innovations in technology and those innovations in turn giving birth to new business requirements. We’ve witnessed the impact of this cycle on the middleware market with trends such as service-oriented architecture (SOA) and web services impacting both development approaches and technologies in the not-too-distant past.

In this article, we will identify and examine several of the more prominent technologies and trends fueling the evolution of middleware today, including cloud, DevOps, microservices, containers, and mobile.

Cloud-based development and DevOps

Historically, middleware technologies have been heavy, large-footprint tools used by enterprises to build monolithic applications and install them on a mainframe or physical server in a data center. In contrast, modern middleware tools are much lighter and boast smaller footprints, allowing them to be deployed in cloud environments and consumed as services by IT.

Arguably, one of the greatest drivers comes from the move toward cloud-based enterprise application development. Organisations have embraced Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) as an increasingly popular technology that enables developers and IT operations professionals to build and maintain applications while avoiding many infrastructure-related challenges and expenses.

Mainstream acceptance and adoption of the cloud has subsequently given rise to new IT paradigms such as DevOps that help enterprise IT become more nimble and bring products to market faster. DevOps is broadly defined as the close collaboration between application development and IT operations teams.

Thanks in part to the efficiency and flexibility of cloud environments, DevOps teams can turn new service concepts into actionable products in hours rather than days or weeks. With that said, DevOps itself is already beginning to evolve and mature into a paradigm where, rather than solely focusing on making IT faster for its own sake, DevOps can be used to enable the business to fundamentally shift from massive, big-bet planning to more rapid, lower-cost, lower-risk trial-and-error experimentation. This concept, BizDevOps, presents an ideal scenario for cloud-based development using modern middleware services.

Microservices architectures

Another recent trend that is helping to redefine enterprise application development and the associated middleware technologies is the growing popularity of microservices architectures. The monolithic applications of the past could not easily be changed, often causing a painful ripple effect on the business when changing market conditions or new regulatory requirements demanded changes to the application in order to adapt. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) emerged as a way to help reduce the pain and minimise the disruption of change through the modularisation of applications into specialised “services” that independently perform separate functions of the application.

Today, the trend toward microservices takes this concept even further, resulting in not merely applications being decomposed into a larger number of modules, each of which is smaller and more narrowly focused. In many ways, microservices can be seen as a natural evolution of enterprise application development. By building applications with this type of modular approach, each discrete part can be updated, eliminated, scaled, or swapped independently and efficiently, with much less impact on the overall application.

Containers

A third notable and related trend driving the viability of microservices architectures—and heavily influencing the middleware market—is containerisation. Containers provide a way to isolate application runtime environments from the infrastructure to deliver greater consistency, reliability, and portability for applications as they are moved between different computing environments during their lifecycle.

With containers, and the most minimal subset of the operating system necessary to run each module, a lightweight, small-footprint middleware stack is critical for taking best advantage of containers’ promise of rapid deployment and fast iteration. The core of this stack is the application-level runtime provided by an application server, which can then be built out with additional tools such as lightweight integration or messaging middleware.

Containers bring together the middleware stack, constituent services, and optimised operating system, and the entire entity becomes an microservice. When compared to traditional middleware technologies, the more agile and lightweight middleware offerings today present a compelling alternative for the modern enterprise.

Mobile

Recently, the rate at which mobile has moved into the enterprise market has taken a sharp upturn, with dozens of enterprise mobility-focused startups joining the scene and a number of high-profile alliances being forged between leading mobile device manufacturers and enterprise technology vendors. Mobility is rapidly becoming the first choice client platform for application development over the desktop; however, it does not come without its own unique challenges, such as back-end integration.

An April 2015 survey conducted by TechValidate on behalf of Red Hat identified back-end integration as one of the top challenges facing the mobile enterprise today. At the same time, more than half of the respondents indicated that they are still dependent on custom integration work as part of their mobile application development. Mobile-oriented middleware technologies such as mobile application platforms and Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) have emerged to help enterprises address these challenges in a more scalable and efficient manner. While the enterprise mobility market is gaining steam, it is still fairly immature in this regard. If we were to poll this group again in a year, we would likely find many more respondents using mobile middleware to overcome these challenges, and fewer relying on do-it-yourself solutions.

In a 2011 editorial for The Wall Street Journal, entrepreneur and tech investor Marc Andreessen quipped that “software was eating the world”, arguing that software is rapidly becoming the dominant basis of value creation and competitive differentiation in many industries, dramatically disrupting long-entrenched hierarchies of incumbents.

Today, we see the outcome of that shift, as software has become a leading competitive differentiator for organisations across major vertical industries. Behind the scenes, middleware is what enables these companies to create powerful and unique applications that set them apart from their competitors. Though it has evolved over time and adapted to keep pace with trends such as cloud, mobile, and microservices, modern middleware continues to offer organisations effective capabilities to create, connect, and manage the software applications that help define and differentiate their businesses.

Business

Honest services wire fraud and the need for caution on multilateral development bank projects

Honest services wire fraud and the need for caution on multilateral development bank projects 1

By Joshua Ray, Legal Director, Rahman Ravelli www.rahmanravelli.co.uk

A recent court case extended US prosecutors’ extraterritorial reach for tackling corruption. Joshua Ray explains the implications for those accused of wrongdoing on multilateral development bank (MDB) projects

Imagine the following scenario: You are an executive for a Paraguayan construction firm that has just secured a contract with the Paraguayan government to build a hospital in that country.  The scale of the project means you will need to hire a number of subcontractors and, as you are in charge of choosing those subcontractors, you decide to seek bribes from those wanting the work. Such action is ill-advised and morally problematic. But as commercial bribery of this sort is not illegal in Paraguay, you may have breached your company’s code of conduct but you have not committed a crime under Paraguayan law.

Yet, unfortunately for you, the funds for the hospital were loaned to the Paraguayan government by the World Bank via a wire transfer from its Washington DC headquarters.  And under a recent decision from the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Napout, you may have just committed “honest services” wire fraud under US law—even though you never stepped foot out of Paraguay and did not break your home country’s laws. The Napout decision is important as it expands the extraterritorial reach of US prosecutors’ anti-corruption efforts.  For the reasons that I detail below, it has significant implications for foreign businesses, especially those engaged in projects sponsored by multilateral development banks (MDBs), whose financing comes from the US.

As they did after the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the World Bank and other MDBs are counteracting the current virus-induced global economic downturn with plans to deploy hundreds of billions of dollars in loans, primarily to governments in the developing world.  Much of this will be parcelled out to private sector entities to construct hospitals, testing facilities, sanitation systems and other important infrastructure. Such projects carry the risk of corrupt local officials and business leaders siphoning off such funds for themselves. MDBs are mandated by their charters to take all reasonable steps to combat fraud and corruption on MDB-financed projects.  They do not have law enforcement powers but they satisfy their mandate by building provisions into their contracts with direct borrowers (e.g. governments) that compel the borrowers to adhere to the highest ethical standards during the execution of MDB-financed projects.  MDB contracts require borrowers to give the banks freedom to audit any of their books and records that relate to MDB funds.

This right of an MDB being able to audit the books extends to any indirect beneficiaries of MDB funds for a project, such as suppliers, consultants and contractors. Such third parties must also agree to submit to the MDB’s jurisdiction to investigate and sanction them for corruption, fraud or other misconduct. Punishments imposed by MDBs can be harsh, and can include debarment; where a company is prevented from bidding on MDB-financed projects for a number of years or even indefinitely.  When an MDB uncovers misconduct through its own investigations it can – and often will – refer its findings to national law enforcement agencies; which can mean even more serious problems for those investigated.

The significance of the Napout decision regarding such situations is that it enables US prosecutors to pursue MDB-related bribery even when the purported wrongdoer is not subject to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Prosecutors can now pursue suspects for such bribery even if that suspect is not a US company, issuer or agent and has no other connection to the US.

The Second Circuit’s Decision

The appellants in Napout, Juan Angel Napout and Jose Maria Marin, were two former executives at football’s world governing body, FIFA. They had been convicted of using their positions to obtain millions of dollars in bribes relating to the sale of marketing and broadcasting rights. Napout had been president of Paraguay’s national football federation and Marin held the same post in the Brazilian football federation.

They both appealed on the basis that their convictions were the result of impermissible extraterritorial applications of the US honest services fraud wire statute.  The crux of their argument was summed up by Napout’s counsel, who argued that the US had no authority to police the relationship between a Paraguayan employee and his Paraguayan employer and an alleged scheme involving South Americans that took place almost entirely in South America.

The issue of whether the honest services fraud wire statute had been improperly extended to extraterritorial conduct was then reviewed by the Second Circuit. It concluded that as long as a wire fraud scheme involves a wire transmission from, into or through the US that is “essential” or more than “merely incidental” to the overall crime, the extraterritorial application of US law was permissible.

The appellants argued that honest services wire fraud was a materially different crime than regular wire fraud, as the focus of honest services wire fraud was not the use of the wires but the bad-faith breach of a fiduciary duty owed to the scheme’s victim. They argued that as the actual conduct underlying an honest services fraud scheme occurred abroad, it could not be prosecuted in the US solely because it used US wires.  But the Second Circuit disagreed: all that was required to uphold Napout’s and Marin’s convictions were facts showing that the use of US wires in their case (transfers of bribes in and out of US banks) was “essential” to their scheme. On that issue, the Court easily determined that the wires were essential: at least $2.4M of Marin’s payments were sent to his New York bank account and $2.5M of Napout’s were paid in US dollars generated by wire transfers originating in the US.

Implications for Participants in MDB-Financed Projects

The decision in Napout is relevant to MDB-financed projects as it clarifies the breadth of the honest services wire fraud statute and shows the ease with which US prosecutors can use it to target conduct that occurs almost entirely abroad.

The “honest services” variant of wire fraud is somewhat unique to US law and it is not universally recognised: a main piece of Napout’s defence, for instance, was that honest services bribery in a commercial context was not illegal where his conduct took place.  But in the Second Circuit’s view, this fact was largely irrelevant.  The Court ruled that the men had violated the statute by knowingly violating their duties to FIFA under the organisation’s code of ethics.

So, what does this mean in practice?  The Napout decision confirms that the reach of US anti-corruption efforts extends far beyond the bounds of the FCPA; which applies only to bribes paid to “foreign officials” by US issuers, domestic concerns or their agents.  Using an approach based on honest services fraud, all that US prosecutors need in order to have jurisdiction is for an “essential” US wire to be used in the scheme.  As several of the main MDBs are based in the US – including the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank – a fraud or corruption scheme involving MDB money could easily make “essential” use of a US wire transmission; thus rendering the offenders subject to possible US prosecution.

This is an important point for companies and individuals participating in MDB-financed projects to keep in mind: even if commercial bribery is legal (or at least widely accepted) in the country where the project takes place, if the ultimate funding is flowing from the US then extreme caution must be taken to ensure that US wire fraud statutes are not violated.  This is particularly critical for projects taking place in developing countries where accepted business practices have not yet caught up with norms elsewhere.

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Business

Do your contracts and policies stand up to the Covid-19 test? A view from the UK

Do your contracts and policies stand up to the Covid-19 test? A view from the UK 2

By Amy Cooper of Ius Laboris UK firm Lewis Silkin

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have stress-tested employment contracts and policies, with some showing signs of strain. What should you do now to make sure your employment documentation is ready for the post-Covid future?

A host of new issues for employers has arisen out of the pandemic, from health and safety concerns, to handling furlough and unanticipated homeworking. Employment contracts and policies were not drafted with the current situation in mind, yet restrictions on how people live and work could continue until a vaccine or effective treatment is found, possibly for years. And it seems likely that, as we gradually emerge from the shadow of coronavirus, it will be into a different world of work where home and flexible working is standard.

Furlough and changes to hours and salaries

In March, the UK government intervened to protect millions of jobs with its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, encouraging employers to furlough their staff rather than make redundancies. But most employers did not have any contractual right to ‘furlough’ or lay off staff. The concept of furlough leave was completely new and lay-off clauses in employment contracts are unusual, as are flexibility clauses that might allow an employer to reduce employees’ salaries or hours.

As a result, many employers have had to seek explicit agreement from employees to vary their terms where furloughing or changes to hours or salaries have been necessary to avoid redundancies.

Working from home

For those businesses that unexpectedly had to ask employees to work from home, there have been numerous other concerns. These include the health and safety of employees working in their homes, over which employers have little oversight and control.

Also problematic is the protection of personal data where employees are more likely to be using personal devices for work or work devices for personal reasons. And another issue is information security and confidentiality. This is more difficult to manage where employees are hosting calls and meetings at home with family members or housemates in earshot, or they do not remember to lock away any devices and documents.

Finally, grievances, disciplinaries and performance management problems may still need to be dealt with, albeit remotely. Most employers’ policies did not envisage or provide for this eventuality.

These concerns need to be managed in the short term, but they may also become longer-term issues for those employees who opt to work from home for the foreseeable future. Employment contracts should be updated as necessary, and certain terms such as place of work may need to be renegotiated.

Some employers may also wish to reconsider salaries. For example, some employees are paid a premium to work in central London: it may be decided that such high salaries are not justified if they do not need to live in London or spend thousands of pounds commuting. Conversely, if employees work from home, they may wish to be provided with home office equipment and possibly recover other expenses.

The workplace

Some work cannot be done from home and employees, such as those who work in factories, supermarkets or on building sites, have in many cases continued going to the workplace throughout lockdown. These employers have different problems, such as implementing new health and safety measures in the workplace and ensuring employees abide by them. They may also have new data protection issues as they seek to collect more health data about employees, which might require new policies or changes to their privacy notice.

An increasing number of employers will face issues of this kind as they start to plan for the return of staff currently furloughed or working from home.

Sickness policies

Employers’ policies on sickness absence and sick pay are unlikely adequately to cover employees who are self-isolating in accordance with government guidance but not unwell. Although we hope that Covid-19 will not be with us forever, it would be good practice to amend sickness absence provisions to set out expectations for employees who are either suffering from the virus, shielding or otherwise self-isolating. Alternatively, a temporary policy could be introduced covering these matters.

What should employers do now?

Amy Cooper

Amy Cooper

Some problems employers are facing will only require short term solutions, while others might need permanent changes to contracts and policies. Bear in mind that we may see a second wave of coronavirus in the coming months which might result in another lockdown, or there could be local lockdowns or further requirements for vulnerable employees to shield. Employers should think about whether they need any of the following:

  • A temporary homeworking policy dealing specifically with health and safety, information security and data privacy, supervision and management, provision of homeworking equipment or how to expense any necessary items. If employers think employees may wish to work from home much more in future, they should start considering what sort of permanent homeworking policy they may require.
  • An updated health and safety policy or a return to work policy that considers relevant matters in the workplace (e.g. masks, 1m+ distancing, safety equipment, cleaning, shared spaces, one-way systems) and also how to manage employees’ commute so as to reduce risks. A return to work policy could also deal with data privacy issues and new conditions on processing health information.
  • Revision of disciplinary, grievance and performance management procedures to cater for remote working, for example, holding meetings by video conferencing, accompaniment, conduct of investigations.
  • A temporary change to sickness policies to deal with employees who are not sick but are self-isolating, quarantined after returning from abroad, or ‘shielding’ because they are clinically extremely vulnerable. Employers may want to pay employees sick pay in these circumstances even if they’re not ill, for example, to prevent those who may be ill from coming into the workplace and infecting others. They may also wish to amend policies to deal with any notification or evidential requirements.
  • Any changes to contracts of employment? Employers may wish to consider a range of new contractual provisions, such as including a right to lay off employees if work diminishes, or rights to alter working hours, the place of work, or to redeploy employees (e.g. to cover work if other employees are sick). If an employee’s place of work is changing permanently, the employer may want to renegotiate the contract.

Employers should take advice on their specific situation before attempting to make changes to contracts and policies. This can be a troublesome area and, if not handled correctly, could lead to employees claiming constructive dismissal on the basis that the employer has committed a fundamental breach of the employment contract. And remember that, even where employees agree to changes, the employer is still constrained not to exercise its contractual rights unreasonably by the term of mutual trust and confidence that is implied into every contract of employment.

Employers should also bear in mind that if their contracts and policies are regarded too unfavourably, employees may simply vote with their feet and choose to work elsewhere. On the other hand, judicious changes to employment contracts of employment could give employers valuable flexibility to operate in the emerging, post-Covid world of work.

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Business

Board Report Highlights Complex Decision-Making Process Across Banking and Finance sector

Board Report Highlights Complex Decision-Making Process Across Banking and Finance sector 3

‘The State Of Decision-Making’ report from Board, reveals business decisions made in silos without modern planning tools

A third (33%) of Banking & Finance decision-makers believe decisions made in silos, despite majority (63%) of decisions being implemented worldwide

More than half (57%) of Banking & Finance decision-makers rely on spreadsheets for decision-making despite modern planning tools now available

The #1 decision-making platform, has today released ‘The State Of Decision-Making’ report focussing on how UK organisations make their important business decisions.

Based on a survey of 500 senior decision-makers, across industries including, Banking & Financial Services, Consumer Goods, Manufacturing, Pharmaceutical, Professional Services, Retail, and Transport & Logistics,  ‘The State Of Decision-Making’ report from Board shows that today’s business decision-making process is increasingly complex, with multiple departments and seniority levels all responsible for some form of decision-making, leading to a lack of cohesion between units and a waste of business resources.

The State Of Decision-Making’ research found that while a clear majority of respondents (63%) working within the banking and finance sector say the important decisions they are responsible for get implemented globally, the decision-making process itself is not joined-up across the business, with one third (33%) also saying that crucial business decisions are made in departmental silos.

The research, conducted on behalf of Board International by independent research organisation 3GEM, also asked respondents the tools they use to make decisions and, while almost every action within an organisation today will lead to the creation of new data, it seems many businesses are not using the crucial insights which data can provide to make important decisions.

More than half (55%) of respondents in the banking and finance industry said they were making business decisions based on data and insights, but ‘gut feeling’ decisions are still made by up to 44% of companies. What’s more over half (57%) of the sector’s companies still rely on spreadsheets to aid their decision-making, despite more modern and reliable tools now available.

“In today’s fast-paced, data rich and evolving business environment, making quick and effective decisions is critical to both compete and survive,” explains Gavin Fallon, Managing Director for UK, Nordics & South Africa at Board International. “Important decisions are being made at any one time across multiple business functions, but all too often, important decision-making is disconnected, modular or fragmented.”

The research also asked respondents about the challenges banking and finance decision-makers face at their organisation,  with nearly a third (29%) citing a lack of available data and insights and one quarter (25%) citing the fact there are too many people in the decision-making process as their biggest frustrations. However, industry decision-makers believe that the process can be improved with the introduction of new technology, with the majority (57%) of respondents saying this would make their decision-making better, while 41% also felt increased use of data and insights would help.

“Businesses have to plan every day for a far more uncertain future and set themselves up to prepare for change and keep changing against the backdrop of a more volatile and uncertain marketplace than ever,” continues Fallon. “A bad decision can have wide-ranging impact across the whole organisation and no business can afford to waste time and resources on bets that may or may not come off.  As the business environment increases in complexity, the ability to not just react, but predict, in real-time, becomes more important than ever.”

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