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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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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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