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Trading floors need new IT

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Since the JSE adopted SETS – London’s Stock Exchange electronic order book – it has more doubled its trade, showing that technology has an incredible impact on the financial world, writes CHRIS BUCHANAN, Director of Client Solutions at Dell EMC.

In 2002 the Johannesburg Stock Exchange adopted SETS, the London Stock Exchange’s flagship electronic order book. When a 2013 research paper studied the impact of this, it found the JSE was more liquid, had doubled its trade and lowered trading costs. There is no doubt that good technology has an incredible impact on the fast-moving yet nuanced world of financial trading.

Modern-day financial trading floors are a far cry from the noisy, frantic telephone-centred scenes of the 1980s. Significant upward trends in computing, data distribution and automated trading techniques have placed IT at the core of these environments. Trading floors are now dynamic hotbeds of IT innovation, where latency is king, and where even a few minutes of downtime can result in multi-million dollar losses. At the New York Stock Exchange, computers even have the exact same cable lengths so one doesn’t beat any others by being a little shorter and therefore faster to the mark.

But this is placing IT management teams under intense pressure to ensure operating environments are perfect. Whether performing maintenance, patching vital software updates, carrying out regular moves/adds/changes (MACs) according to traders’ requirements or ensuring processes are compliant with ever-changing security regulations, these teams have their work cut out.

With these unique challenges, organisations can benefit from Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) – the practice of hosting a desktop operating system within a virtual machine running on a centralised server, with users accessing this virtual environment through any endpoint device. When assessing how best to adapt their IT strategy there are a number of areas financial trading houses should consider:

Workforce transformation

The first of these is IT management. On a trading floor, MACs – a set of tasks that IT teams regularly perform to keep computing equipment up-to-date and aligned with user requirements – happen continuously. With traders regularly relocating and demanding ever-so-slightly different configurations of hardware and software – IT teams can find themselves on a carousel of moving parts, each one scrutinised.

The prevalence of multiple devices and mobile working compounds this challenge – laptops must be kept up to date and software applications patched to mobile devices so that trades can be executed on the move. For many financial institutions, this array of devices often includes multiple PCs per trader – sometimes one per monitor – which must be moved and managed individually.

With VDI, workstations are moved to the datacenter and can be replaced by location-agnostic thin clients, which are centrally configured, eliminating the need for a member of the IT team to visit the user’s desk. Utilising thin clients improves reliability and, in the case of MACs, enables immediate reconfiguration, getting the trader back online and sustaining invaluable uptime. For this reason, organisations such as Kotak Securities have implemented thin clients in order to benefit from the devices’ secure, high performance capabilities, and reduce the IT management burden.

Application deployment

Software deployments present another significant challenge for IT. Traders use customised application sets for news monitoring, price analysis and communication, amongst a range of other purposes. Deploying and updating these manually, across the myriad of devices, is time-intensive and adds further weight to the IT management workload.

With virtual desktops, all software deployments and updates are administered centrally, enabling the complex web of applications to be coordinated from a single system. Not only does this reduce time spent “keeping the lights on”, but also enables IT teams to focus on innovation. In a world where IT innovation can lead to millions in additional revenue, this is a significant ‘value-add’.

Security and compliance

Amongst the IT management issues regularly faced by financial institutions, security is also close to the top of the list. As data protection regulation continues to tighten and malware techniques become more varied, monitoring endpoints and storage methods becomes a business necessity.

For trading houses handling market-sensitive information, this level of protection is nothing new. Many organisations already utilise virtual desktops to remain aware of where their data resides and how it is communicated both internally and externally. With all data held in the datacenter, information is secure, and reporting/auditing is more straightforward.

The threat of malware is, comparatively, a new challenge. For traders on the move, even when operating in a virtualized environment, it is essential to keep endpoints safe from would-be hackers. To do so, organisations can patch embedded endpoint security software. This additional layer of threat protection ensures vital information is kept safe and is easily managed across all devices.

Energy consumption

The final challenge for financial trading houses seeking to get more from their IT is its impact on energy consumption. In terms of building regulations, many of the world’s financial offices are already maxed out in terms of energy usage, not least because datacenters are often housed on site. Moving workstations to the datacenter and replacing with low energy consumption desktops, such as thin clients, has a significant impact on power consumption, and air-con demands. VDI also enables more straightforward integration of hybrid cloud storage techniques, again, removing power-intensive datacenter components from the building.

VDI is helping the financial sector to overcome some of its core IT challenges. Through centralized client management across a range of devices, companies no longer have to dispatch technicians to traders’ desk or to remote deployments. Traders are not disrupted, and IT personnel can execute repairs and software upgrades in minutes rather than hours. This frees up time for IT innovation, all while ensuring vital data is kept safe.

To ease the regulatory and budget pressures facing IT departments across the finance industry, VDI is a safe bet.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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