Tag Archives: financial

Supporting modern technology policy for the financial services industry – guidelines by the European Banking Authority | Transform

The financial services community has unprecedented opportunity ahead. With new technologies like cloud, AI and blockchain, firms are creating new customer experiences, managing risk more effectively, combating financial crime, and meeting critical operational objectives. Banks, insurers and other services providers are choosing digital innovation to address these opportunities at a time when competition is increasing from every angle – from traditional and non-traditional players alike.

At the same time, our experience is that lack of clarity in regulation can hinder adoption of these exciting technologies, as regulatory compliance remains fundamental to financial institutions using technology they trust.  Indeed, the common question I get from customers is: Will regulators let me use your technology, and have you built in the capabilities to help me meet my compliance obligations?

A portrait of Dave Dadoun, assistant general counsel for Microsoft.
Dave Dadoun.

With this in mind, we applaud the European Banking Authority’s (EBA) revised Guidelines on outsourcing arrangements which, in part, address the use of cloud computing. For several years now we have shared perspectives with regulators on how regulation can be modernized to address cloud computing without diminishing the security, privacy, transparency and compliance safeguards necessary in a native cloud or hybrid-cloud world. In fact, cloud computing can afford financial institutions greater risk assurance – particularly on key things like managing data, securing data, addressing cyber threats and maintaining resilience.

At the core of the revised guidelines are a set of flexible principles addressing cloud in financial services. Indeed, the EBA has been clear these “guidelines are subject to the principle of proportionality,” and should be “applied in a manner that is appropriate, taking into account, in particular, the institution’s or payment institution’s size … and the nature, scope and complexity of its activities.” In addition, the guidelines set out to harmonize approaches across jurisdictions, a big step forward for financial institutions to have predictability and consistency among regulators in Europe. We think the EBA took this smart move to support leading-edge innovation and responsible adoption, and prepare for more advanced technology like machine learning and AI going forward.

Given these guidelines reflect a modernized approach that transcends Europe, we have updated our global Financial Services Amendment for customers to reflect these key changes. We have also created a regulatory mapping document which shows how our cloud services and underlying contractual commitments map to these requirements in an EU Checklist. The EU Checklist is accessible on the Microsoft Service Trust Portal. In essence, Europe offers the benchmark in establishing rules to permit use of cloud for financial services and we are proud to align to such requirements.

Because this is such an important milestone for the financial sector, we wanted to share our point-of-view on a few key aspects of the guidelines, which may help firms accelerate technology transformation with the Microsoft cloud going forward:

  • Auditability: As cloud has become more prevalent, we think it is natural to extend audit rights to cloud vendors in circumstances that warrant it. We also think that audits are not a one-size-fits-all approach but adaptable based on use cases – particularly whether it involves running core banking systems in the cloud. Microsoft has provided innovations to help supervise and audit hyper-scale cloud, including:
  • Data localization: We are pleased there are no data localization requirements in the EBA guidance. Rather, customers must assess the legal, security and other risks where data is stored, as opposed to mandating data be stored strictly in Europe. We help customers manage and assess such risk by providing:
    • Contractual commitments to store data at rest in a specified region (including Europe).
    • Transparency where data is stored.
    • Full commitments to meet key privacy requirements, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
    • Flow-through of such commitments to our subcontractors.
  • Subcontractors. The guidelines address subcontractors, particularly those that provide “critical or important” functions. Management, governance and oversight of Microsoft’s subcontractors is core to what we do.  Among other things:
    • Microsoft’s subcontractors are subject to a vetting process and must follow the same privacy and governance controls we ourselves implement to protect customer data.
    • We provide transparency about subcontractors who may have access to customer data and provide 180 days notification about any new subcontractors as well.
    • We provide customers termination rights should they conclude a subcontractor presents a material increase in risk to a critical or important function of their operations.
  • Core platforms: We welcome the EBA’s position providing clarity that core platforms may run in the cloud. What matters is governance, documenting protocols, the security and resiliency of such systems, and having appropriate oversight (and audit rights), and commitments to terminate an agreement, if and when that becomes necessary. These are all capabilities Microsoft offers to its customers and we now see movement among leading banks to put core systems into our cloud because of the benefits we provide.
  • Business Continuity and Exit Planning. Institutions must have business continuity plans and test them periodically for use of critical or important functions. Microsoft has supported our customers to meet this requirement, including providing a Modern Cloud Risk Assessment toolkit and, in addition, in the Service Trust Portal documentation on our service resilience architecture, our Enterprise Business Continuity Management team (EBCM), and a quarterly report detailing results from our recent EBCM testing. In addition, we have supported our customers in preparing exit planning documentation, and we work with industry bodies like the European Banking Federation towards further industry guidance for these new EBA requirements.
  • Concentration risk: The EBA addresses the need to assess whether concentration risk may exist due to potential systemic failures in use of cloud services (and other legacy infrastructure). However, this is balanced with understanding what the risks are of a single point of failure, and to balance those risks and trade-offs from existing legacy systems. In short, financial institutions should assess the resiliency and safeguards provided with our hyper-scale cloud services, which can offer a more robust approach than systems in place today. When making those assessments, financial institutions may decide to lean-in more with cloud as they transform their businesses going forward.

The EBA framework is a great step forward to help modernize regulation and take advantage of cloud computing. We look forward to participating in ongoing industry discussion, such as new guidance under consideration by the European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority concerning use of cloud services, as well as assisting other regions and countries in their journey to creating more modern policy that both supports innovation while protecting the integrity of critical global infrastructure.

For more information on Microsoft in the financial services industry, please go here.

Top photo courtesy of the European Banking Authority.

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Economic worry may be impacting HR budgets

On last week’s earnings call with financial analysts, Workday Inc. CEO Aneel Bhusri was asked for his opinion on the broader economic outlook. He was both vague and definitive. His company wasn’t seeing problems in its own product pipeline, “but there is no question there is uncertainty in the air,” he said.

In HR departments, the uncertainty has turned into action, according to Gartner. In a survey of 171 HR managers, 92% said they are now “prioritizing budgeting and cost optimization initiatives.”

This means HR managers are taking specific steps to control spending, said Daniel Dirks, managing vice president at Gartner’s HR practice. The most likely effects are on department hiring and technology buying decisions, he said.

A hiring freeze would be near the top of HR budget actions, “because it is relatively easy to do,” Dirks said. HR managers are also taking a hard look at their tech vendor contracts. They are “making sure what was promised in the contract is really being delivered,” he said.

But no worries, so far, in HR tech

The concern about an economic downturn is not turning up in HR vendor spending.

On Aug. 29, Workday, for instance, reported total revenues of nearly $888 million, an increase of 32% from the same quarter a year ago.

There is no question there is uncertainty in the air.
Aneel BhusriCEO, Workday

ADP LLC recently reported a revenue increase of 6% to $14.2 billion. Lisa Ellis, a MoffettNathanson partner who leads its payments, processors, and IT services business, described the increase as “great results” on a July 31 analyst call. Ellis also noted on the call that ADP’s guidance for 2020 “implies a pretty robust outlook on the U.S. economy.”

Venture capital (VC) investments in HR remain strong, according to HRWins, which reported nearly $1.5 billion in global HR VC investment in the second quarter. It sees 2019 VC investment outpacing last year by a strong margin.

Nonetheless, Dirks said there is a “change in sentiment and in mindset” in HR because of the economy. For the last 10 years, HR priorities have focused on finding talent and investing in tech; cost optimization is now emerging as a new priority. But Dirks said the new priority isn’t necessarily emerging at the expense of HR’s other priorities.

Gartner is also advising HR managers to play a broader role in watching the economy. It recommends teaming up with peers in finance and sales, for instance, to look at broader economic data.

HR managers have expertise in the labor market and may be able to identify market shifts. This could include, for instance, an increase in part-time hiring, if firms are becoming more conservative in hiring full time.

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Blockchain solutions — and disruption — pondered at EmTech 2018

CAMBRIDGE — The World Bank, one of the most powerful financial institutions on the planet, is experimenting with blockchain as a tool to track agricultural goods and raise capital.

Gideon Lichfield, the editor in chief of the MIT Technology Review, found some irony in that.

“This technology that was invented by somebody whose true identity we still don’t know — Satoshi Nakamoto — specifically to take power away from financial institutions and put currency in the hands of the people is now being used by the ultimate, central, financial institution,” Lichfield told an audience at EmTech 2018, a conference focused on big data, artificial intelligence and technology.

The crowd gathered at MIT’s Media Lab had just heard from two thinkers in the increasingly mainstream field of blockchain, a method of distributed ledgers that can dramatically alter how transactions are made and verified.

Ledgers themselves date back to cuneiform records etched into tablets 7,000 years ago at the dawn of civilization, said Michael Casey, an author and senior advisor to the Digital Currency Initiative at Media Lab. If blockchain solutions decentralize financial ledgers in the future, that change could disrupt the flow of money into the world’s financial hubs. Using the 21st century version of the ledger, governments and other institutions could invest the money they save on financing in other causes.

The lack of trust in the record-keeping function has a huge impact on the world.
Michael Caseysenior advisor to the Digital Currency Initiative, MIT Media Lab

“If they could raise money more cheaply, you’d have a lot more funds to put into education, to put into health,” Casey said. “Why should [the cost of financing] go into the hands of a large investment bank when it could be going back to the poor?”

Blockchain solutions could also help the so-called underbanked and unbanked gain access to financial services. Distributed ledgers accrue credibility by replicating transaction records across a network of computers. Casey said that credibility could benefit people in places like Nairobi, Kenya, who have difficulty leveraging value from their real estate because banks distrust their property records.

“The lack of trust in the record-keeping function has a huge impact on the world,” he said.

The World Bank's Prema Shrikrishna and MIT Media Lab's Michael Casey discuss blockchain's potential at EmTech 2018.
The World Bank’s Prema Shrikrishna and MIT Media Lab’s Michael Casey discuss blockchain’s potential to provide a new model of trust at EmTech 2018.

World Bank experiments with blockchain solutions

The altruistic applications of blockchain were a focus of Casey’s EmTech talk with Prema Shrikrishna, who works on blockchain projects at World Bank Group.

Teaming up with the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank is currently designing a blockchain architecture to track oil palm from the farm to mills, where it becomes palm oil — an agricultural staple in everything from chocolate to candles. By tracking the origin of the raw material, most of which is produced in Indonesia, blockchain could reward farmers for sustainable practices, according to Shrikrishna.

Among other World Bank experiments with blockchain: 

Education. The World Bank is developing a system for rewarding students playing an educational game called Evoke, which is designed to teach skills for success in modern society, Shrikrishna said.

Vaccine management. In December, Oleg Kucheryavenko, a public health professional who works with the World Bank, wrote on the institution’s blog that blockchain could provide a “cost-effective solution” for vaccine distribution. Vaccines have a shelf-life, Kucheryavenko wrote, and the supply chain is “too complex to be taken for granted, with vaccines changing ownership from manufacturers to distributors, re-packagers and wholesalers before reaching its destination.”

Financing. In August, the World Bank sold blockchain-enabled bonds through the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which raised about $80.5 million, according to Reuters.

Blockchain’s best use cases

Members of the audience at the talk had varying aspirations for blockchain’s use.

Rahul Panicker, chief innovation officer at Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which focuses on technological solutions to large-scale societal problems, believes blockchain can be harnessed for humanitarian causes.

“It was very encouraging to see an organization like the World Bank being willing to look at these frontier technologies, and especially a technology like blockchain that has the ability to reduce friction in the financial system,” said Panicker, after attending the talk. “The whole purpose of blockchain is actually to minimize the burden of trust. The cost of trust is especially high in the developing world, so the fact that organizations like the World Bank are willing to look at this can mean big things for the disempowered.”

Tom Hennessey, an attendee, posited that financial settlement was the most readily available application.

Tomas Jansen, of Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, said a lot of refugees arrive in Europe without identification papers because they belong to a marginalized group or lost their documents. Jansen wanted to hear ideas from the blockchain experts on how to address those problems.

Shrikrishna sidestepped the political ramifications, but she noted that World Bank has a program called Identification for Development that is working on integrating ID databases and creating an identity that would be “portable across borders.”

She said the World Bank is “technology agnostic” in seeking to solve problems around the globe, and stressed that the financial institution’s approach with blockchain has been both “very cautious” and “very experimental.”

Blockchain disruption

World Bank is hardly alone in its exploration of blockchain solutions to solve problems and change how business is done. Analysts expect blockchain to have a major impact on businesses, which are eyeing its potential to manage supply chains, verify documents, and trade securities. The firm Gartner estimates blockchain will add $3.1 trillion to the world economy by 2030. Some industry sectors have been quicker than others to start experimenting.

Describing blockchain as at an “inflection point,” a recent report by the consultancy Deloitte found that financial services executives are “leading the way in using blockchain to reexamine processes and functions that have remained static for decades,” and emerging players are using blockchain to challenge traditional business models.

Meanwhile, blockchain’s most developed use case — bitcoin — is driving most of the interest in the technology, while taking those invested in the cryptocurrency on a roller coaster ride.

So far development of a “stable coin” has been a “difficult nut to crack,” according to Casey, who used to cover currencies for The Wall Street Journal.

To stabilize the tender, a coin could be pegged to other metrics, or it could be backed by a reserve of funds to try to create more stability, Casey said. One way or another, he predicted, developers will find success.

“Something’s going to work. Something’s going to break as well,” Casey said.

M12 announces $4 million global competition for women entrepreneurs – Stories

Microsoft’s venture fund, M12, partners with EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group to accelerate funding for women leaders

REDMOND, Wash. — July 26, 2018 M12, Microsoft Corp.’s venture fund, in collaboration with the EQT Ventures fund and SVB Financial Group, on Thursday announced the Female Founders Competition, seeking to accelerate funding for top women-led startups focused on enterprise technology solutions. Two winners will share $4 million in venture funding, as well as access to technology resources, mentoring and more.

Women entrepreneurs receive a disproportionately small amount of venture funding, with only 2.2 percent of the total invested in 2017 going to women-founded startups. Studies have shown that investing in companies founded by women delivers significantly higher returns than the market average. By shining a light on this highly talented, but underfunded group of entrepreneurs, M12 and its partners seek to not only fund innovative female entrepreneurs, but to spotlight the funding gap that exists and the benefits of more equitable distribution of capital.

“We formed M12 to make smart bets on innovative people and their ideas, and the Female Founders Competition is an extension of that mandate,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of Business Development at Microsoft. “This isn’t about checking a box; it’s an opportunity to remind the VC community that investing in women is more than just good values, it’s good business.”

“The EQT Ventures team is all about backing founders with the ambition, drive and vision to build a global success story,” said Alastair Mitchell, partner and investment advisor at EQT Ventures. “This competition reflects this and offers women entrepreneurs a great platform from which to launch their business, providing them with access to capital and mentorship. It also raises awareness of the funding gap between male and female founders, and the EQT Ventures team wants to play an active role in bridging that gap.”

Submissions will be accepted from July 26, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2018, and open across three regions: Europe, Israel, and North America (U.S., Canada and Mexico). Companies will be eligible to apply if they have at least one woman founder, have raised less than $4 million in combined equity funding and/or loans at day of application, and offer or intend to release a product, service or platform that addresses a critical business problem.

“At SVB, we strive to help innovative companies succeed,” said Tracy Isacke, head of Corporate Venture at Silicon Valley Bank. “Research tells us diverse teams are more successful. We believe this is true for our business, our clients’ businesses and the innovation economy at large. Our partnership with Microsoft has created a great opportunity for SVB to engage in this competition and is one of the many ways we are supporting diverse representation in the global innovation ecosystem.”

Up to 10 finalists will pitch in person for the chance to be one of the two startups that earn a $2 million investment as well as access to technology resources, mentoring and additional support. The competition also seeks to drive greater awareness for both finalists and winners, with the potential for future funding from the broader VC community. Full guidelines and contest information can be found on M12’s application page.

About EQT Ventures

EQT Ventures is a European VC fund with commitments of just over €566 million. The fund is based in Luxembourg and has investment advisors stationed in Stockholm, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco and Berlin. Fueled by some of Europe’s most experienced company builders, EQT Ventures helps the next generation of entrepreneurs with capital and hands on support. EQT Ventures is part of EQT, a leading investment firm with approximately EUR 50 billion in raised capital across 27 funds. EQT funds have portfolio companies in Europe, Asia and the US with total sales of more than EUR 19 billion and approximately 110,000 employees.

About SVB Financial Group

For 35 years, SVB Financial Group (NASDAQ: SIVB) and its subsidiaries have helped innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast. SVB Financial Group’s businesses, including Silicon Valley Bank, offer commercial and private banking, asset management, private wealth management, brokerage and investment services and funds management services to companies in the technology, life science and healthcare, private equity and venture capital, and premium wine industries. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, SVB Financial Group operates in centers of innovation around the world. Learn more at svb.com.

About M12

As the corporate venture arm for Microsoft, M12 (formerly Microsoft Ventures) invests in enterprise software companies in the Series A through C funding stage. As part of its value-add to portfolio companies, M12 offers unique access to strategic go-to-market resources and relationships globally. Visit https://m12.vc/ to learn more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, [email protected]

Lucy Wimmer, PR for EQT Ventures, +44(0) (755) 128-9177, [email protected]

Julia Thompson, PR for Silicon Valley Bank, (415) 764-4707, [email protected]

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

Financial firms, vendors push self-service software delivery

The heavily regulated financial industry requires more help with software delivery than any other. In particular, self-service software delivery appeals to firms that frequently revise codebases to accommodate policy changes and other forces.

“People don’t like writing [help desk] tickets. And, often, engineers don’t want to interact with other people at all,” said Niko Kurtti, a production engineer at Ottawa-based e-commerce platform vendor Shopify, who was half-joking at the recent QCon conference in New York City. “It’s just easier to have the machine take care of it.”

A handful of companies have stepped up to address this issue. Atomist has added self-service features to its Software Delivery Machine (SDM), with its API for Software that manages the different parts of the DevOps pipeline.

“It’s more like self-service with guardrails,” said Rod Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Atomist, based in San Francisco. “They want things to be easy and quick, but also regulated.”

Atomist adheres to the policies companies uniquely apply to their system. So, for example, if Atomist wants to add a security scan for errant open source code, rather than update each microservice by hand, Atomist makes the change once and replicates it across all the system’s services. The self-service software aspect of Atomist helps developers and DevOps teams consistently create projects and avoid IT help desk tickets — or tickets with other departments in the organization — to test or add new features.

Another entry into the self-service space is LaunchDarkly, based in Oakland, Calif., which sells a management platform for developers and operations teams to control the feature lifecycle from conception to delivery. The company’s software integrates release management into the development process and focuses on delivery. It puts all the potential features into the release and allows developers to flip a switch on features and functions for different end users. This lets a common code set deliver different functions and test different code simultaneously, rather than multiple different releases and code branches.

Rod Johnson, CEO, AtomistRod Johnson

Other examples of companies that sell similar products include startups Netsil, which focuses on monitoring Kubernetes and Docker-based microservices apps; Mobincube, which primarily targets mobile app development; and Bonitasoft, which comes out of the business process management and workflow engine world.

Some enterprises, though, choose to skip this product class and roll out their own self-service software delivery options, with scripts and integration with native tools.

Pulumi doesn’t necessarily aim to compete directly in the automation space, but it does want to standardize cloud app development and shares the idea of defining things like configuration in code, rather than YAML. Also, CloudBees and the Jenkins community have a complementary service, Jenkins X, which integrates Kubernetes with Jenkins.

Atomist addresses software delivery as a per-organization or per-team concern, rather than per project, which enables customers to apply consistent policies and governance. It provides a consistent model to automate tasks that matter to software teams, such as project creation and dependency updates.

CI/CD evolves with code automation and containers

Atomist is applying programming language concepts to add a new kind of automation and predictability to software delivery.
Mik KerstenCEO, Tasktop Technologies

With SDM, Atomist is creating a programmable pipeline that bridges a gap between coding languages and delivery pipelines, which some view as the next big innovation to follow CI/CD.

“Atomist is applying programming language concepts to add a new kind of automation and predictability to software delivery,” said Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop Technologies, a DevOps toolmaker based in Vancouver, B.C.

To date, the worlds of application code and CI/CD have been disconnected and based on completely different technologies and paradigms. Atomist’s programmable domain models span the application to deployment, so DevOps shops can use and code automations and directly interact with events in the pipeline through Slack, Kersten noted.

The ability to code automations is particularly attractive, said one software architect for a New York investment bank, who declined to be identified. “That would save our developers and DevOps [teams] lots of time and effort,” he said.

Atomist pledged SDM’s support for Docker and Kubernetes at the DockerCon 2018 conference in San Francisco last month. With this support, any Atomist user’s SDM would respond to code change events from the Atomist platform, automatically build new Docker containers as required and deploy them into the right Kubernetes environments based on that user’s unique software delivery needs established via their own policies.

“The actual management of containers within the software delivery process has been lacking in the market so far,” said Edwin Yuen, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. “By integrating Dockerized apps and K8s into their SDM, as well as ChatOps and other tools, Atomist is looking to help operationalize container deployments, which is the next area of focus, as container applications go into broader adoption.”

How a first-time teacher brought new energy to education in rural Morocco |

Teaching wasn’t really on my to-do list. My ambition was to be a financial manager once I graduated from university, but instead I followed my father’s path into teaching. And in my country, Morocco, that means consigning yourself to an isolated region for the first few years of your career. No electricity, no drinkable water, and in winter you might have to cross rivers just to get to school.

Unlike many educators around the world, one of my challenges wasn’t to integrate technology into a modern urban classroom – it was to make it work in a rural environment, where students, their parents and their siblings have never so much as touched a PC or used the internet. But even in this situation, or maybe because of it, I started to change my mind about my career. I began to like my new job. Those innocent eyes waiting for me every morning pushed me into giving everything I have to improve education for children in rural places.

As a teacher and messenger of knowledge, situated in hard conditions, I had two choices: surrender to the reality, or choose the path of innovative educators. Click To Tweet

My classroom didn’t have electricity. The internet and mobile signals in the area were weak, and I had to walk a five-mile round trip, six days per week, over the mountains to get to the school. Still, I believed in the power of information and communication through technology, and I tried hard to surpass any technical or logistical problems, just to take my students to another climate of learning and bring my classroom to life. Where to start?

 

With most students here passing their time after school (and even at dawn) herding and guarding sheep, looking for water or helping their families at shelters, school just wasn’t the biggest priority. To figure out how to reduce absence, I needed to know more about it.

First, I used Microsoft Excel as a master tool to collect and analyze absence data, with clear definitions of when dropouts were happening. I asked for the absence data archive from the principal director and combined it with what I recorded every school day. From the results I concluded the highest rate of absence was on Fridays, which coincided with the most popular day for student to play, meet friends and step out of their routine life. It was all happening at the souk, an atmospheric and vibrant marketplace full of food and furniture, toys, candy, old comic books and other goods. In trying to think of something bigger, something more exciting and more attractive to get the students to their teacher, I decided to visit the souk myself and make a plan.

I bought a second laptop and additional batteries, so I wouldn’t have to worry about losing power in the class. It was a little hard at the beginning, carry two laptops in my bag for a 5-mile round trip to get to the school, but after some weeks I got used to it.

Each Friday, a raffle would be waiting for my students at the classroom. During recess, we’d organize a draw, and the winner would have the chance to use the laptop and choose between watching cartoons, playing an educational video games, or writing on Microsoft Word.

At the beginning, I thought my students would choose to play games or watch videos when they had their chance, but I was wrong. Most of them preferred to explore Word and they became so excited when they typed in their names and some words and paragraphs.

Giving my students the opportunity to use the PC and freely connect with technology had a powerful impact on combating the absence phenomenon. My students now prefer coming to school and they’re starting to convince their parents and siblings about the importance of school and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). More recently, we’ve been holding a “Friday Surprise” each week, where students can express themselves and develop their skills by creating handmade decorations, using the laptop to look for creative ideas, to draw, or do other things that improve communication, collaboration, presentation, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking.

There are some other educational issues we see in the multi-grade classroom. Some multi-grade teachers may teach two grades in the same class, while others may teach three or four grades. I’m teaching six grades. The students in these grades are usually of the same age but may differ in their abilities, which means:

  • Planning can be time consuming.
  • Teachers may be frustrated due to their geographical isolation.
  • Physical conditions may be unattractive. Some classrooms are very small and overcrowded.
  • Few materials are available for multi-grade teaching.

To take this challenge on, I thought about how being a teacher in a rural area didn’t prevent me from increasing my knowledge, or developing my professional and personal skills. I tried to use the internet to get away from the isolation and be a part of the community of innovative educators. After learning about new methods and experiences all over the planet, I decided to let my students choose, by themselves, to come to school, even on special days, rather than imposing it on them. With ICT, I would rather make them eager to build knowledge. I encouraged them to try new things and never be afraid of change. That why using ICT has had a positive impact not only in my classroom, but on the whole school environment.

For me, the weak infrastructure, the absence of digital tools and unawareness of how important education is are no excuse – we can still create and think of innovative ways to make our students love coming to school.

To meet the varied needs of multi-grade students, teachers need in-depth knowledge of child development and learning and a larger repertoire of instructional strategies than most single-grade teachers possess. They must be able to design open-ended, divergent learning experiences accessible to students functioning at different levels. They must know when and how to use homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping and how to design cooperative group tasks. They must be proficient in assessing, evaluating, and recording student progress using qualitative methods.

Multi-grade teachers must be able to facilitate positive group interaction and to teach social skills and independent learning skills to individual students. They must know how to plan and work cooperatively with colleagues, as team teaching is commonly combined with multi-grade organization. Finally, they must be able to explain multi-grade practices to parents and other community members, building understanding and support for their use.

The wealth of digital tools makes it easy to create your own educational materials, and there are many advantages in doing so. As a teacher, the learning for your students is strengthened by your voice and pedagogy. The students can study at their own pace and learn at their level. These are some of my strategies:

  • Consider students’ needs and their knowledge differentiation, by presenting my own lesson plan.
  • Make the explanation more attractive for my students.
  • Effectively manage the lesson’s time.
  • Develop game-based learning.
  • Improve real-world problem solving and collaboration

Microsoft technologies helped me perform my tasks more quickly and efficiently. Specifically:

  1. Planning: Microsoft offers planning templates that you can customize to your requirement. You can update and reuse these when you teach the lessons again.
  2. Record keeping: By maintaining electronic documents you can quickly access and update information, making it easier to share and cross reference.
  3. Assessing: With Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint you can design assessments with automated marking.
  4. Coordinating and communicating: E-mail is a useful option to communicate. Microsoft Outlook offers the option of a shared calendar, which makes coordination efficient. You can use a blog or webpage that parents visit for updates.
  5. Collaborating: Shared workspaces or collaboration tools, such as SharePoint, Skype, Skype for Business, and Office 365 make it easier to collaborate on documents and hold virtual meetings.

For me, as a primary school teacher, my love for this noble job has grown far beyond what I ever expected. I have learned that the teacher doesn’t just light up minds, but hearts as well. I learned that teaching is art and love before it’s a job. I learned that education has no borders.

Top image: Bayla Khalid attending Education Exchange 2018 in Singapore, where he met educators from around the world.

To learn more about Microsoft Education and our tools and technology that help foster inclusion and support personalizing learning for every student, click here.

Many challenges ahead following Avaya bankruptcy proceedings

Avaya has exited bankruptcy court with the financial footing it needs to compete in the unified communications and contact-center markets. The next step is to regain the customer trust that eroded over the last year as the company fought to remove business-crushing debt.

Avaya exited federal bankruptcy court last week with roughly half the debt that had forced the company to reorganize its business under Chapter 11. The lower debt obligation resulting from the Avaya bankruptcy settlement produced a healthier company, with more than $300 million in cash on its balance sheet.

Besides the stronger finances, Avaya has a new management team led by former COO Jim Chirico, who took over for CEO Kevin Kennedy when he retired Oct. 1. Also, the company has a new board of directors to help guide it against its many competitors — the largest of which include Cisco, Microsoft and Huawei.

The positives, however, only let Avaya back into the market. Succeeding will depend on making prospective customers aware of the product innovations that got little attention while the company battled creditors in court.

“Very few of their customers, much less their prospective customers, heard the [marketing] messages,” said Drew Kraus, analyst at Gartner.

Additionally, Avaya has to reverse a tarnished reputation. In the years heading to bankruptcy, the company tackled declining revenue by cutting spending, which led to the loss of experienced managers in sales and professional and customer services, Kraus said. As a result, Avaya’s relationship with customers deteriorated “pretty badly.”

“Good technology with crappy service gets you nowhere,” Krauss said.

Addressing shortcomings following Avaya bankruptcy proceedings

Avaya has made changes to correct its sins of the past. For example, the company has carved the United States into smaller regions, so sales teams can respond faster to leads, said Jim Geary, the general manager for sales and service for Avaya in the Americas. The company has also added 10 to 15 consultants charged with helping businesses respond to market disruptions caused by a more digital world.

“It’s not necessarily about the Avaya products and solutions, but it’s really to the deep dives into what customers are trying to solve,” Geary said.

A survey conducted this year of companies using Avaya UC products found the vendor has “stopped the bleeding, and that customers are generally satisfied,” said Irwin Lazar, an analyst for Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Companies sticking with Avaya UC products are doing so because of Breeze, the vendor’s application development platform, Lazar said. Breeze lets developers customize communication applications, so they’re more useful to an organization. On the contact-center side, Avaya has made inroads with companies through another customization platform, called Oceana.

“Their [Oceana] platform competes well against Genesys and Cisco in the contact-center space, and they have an opportunity to grow, especially internationally,” Lazar said.

UC challenges following Avaya bankruptcy settlement

Avaya’s ability to increases its share of the UC market, however, will be harder. “I don’t see them growing their customer base in UC in the mid- to large enterprise [market], given how that is dominated now by Cisco and Microsoft,” Lazar said.

A growing UC market segment where Avaya lacks a competitive product is cloud-based UC as a service (UCaaS), which is increasingly popular with small and medium-sized businesses, analysts said. In October, Synergy Research Group, based in Reno, Nev., reported that the UCaaS market was on track to increase 29% this year to more than $1.6 billion.

Avaya, however, isn’t ignoring UCaaS and plans to announce products for the market at its ENGAGE customer conference at the end of January, Geary said. “Look for us to be very active in that space in the coming quarters.”

Sibos 2017

The financial services industry banks on the Microsoft Cloud for digital transformation

Financial services organizations are at a transformational tipping point. Faced with fierce market pressures – nimble disruptors, complex regulations, digital native customers – technology transformation in the industry is essential, and it’s increasingly becoming a competitive edge. Firms leading the charge into this new era are transforming customer experiences, fostering a new culture of work, optimizing operations and driving product innovation, and they are using Microsoft cloud, AI and blockchain technologies in their journey to become digital leaders of the future. TD Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui and Credito Agricola are among the organizations that have embraced this digital transformation happening in every part of the world.

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The financial services industry banks on the Microsoft Cloud for digital transformation – The Official Microsoft Blog

Financial services organizations are at a transformational tipping point. Faced with fierce market pressures – nimble disruptors, complex regulations, digital native customers – technology transformation in the industry is essential, and it’s increasingly becoming a competitive edge. Firms leading the charge into this new era are transforming customer experiences, fostering a new culture of work, optimizing operations and driving product innovation, and they are using Microsoft cloud, AI and blockchain technologies in their journey to become digital leaders of the future. TD Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui and Credito Agricola are among the organizations that have embraced this digital transformation happening in every part of the world.

Next week at Sibos, the premier financial services industry event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, myself and others from Microsoft will speak alongside other innovative business leaders driving transformation. Here are some of the scenarios and solutions Microsoft customers and partners are implementing along their journey:

Fostering a new culture of work

Fostering a digital culture is a paradigm shift, one which financial institutions must embark. Jumpstarting this culture shift means designing a workplace where every work style can thrive – one that harnesses digital intelligence to improve experiences, unleashes creativity and enables mobility while keeping organizations, people and information secure. With modern tools, employees from the first line to the back office can do their best work.

State Bank of India, a 200-year-old institution, is working with Microsoft to create a modern workplace for its 263,000 employees across 23,423 branches servicing more than 500 million customer accounts, including some in the most remote locations of the country. SBI has adopted Office 365 to enhance communication and collaboration among its workforce, and believes that Microsoft is delivering the best productivity experience for its employees while ensuring the highest standards of security, compliance and adherence to regulatory requirements.

Emirates NBD is creating more creative and collaborative workspaces for their employees, and has selected Office 365 as well as Surface Hub to deliver on their digital transformation efforts.

Transforming customer experiences

Customer expectations have changed and will continue to evolve at the speed of technology. The imperative for financial services firms is to engage customers in a way that is natural, tailored and delightful at every turn. The most innovative firms will create experiences that harness data from customers to derive actionable insights and deliver greater market success.

TD Bank is known for legendary customer service and aims to match their marquee in-person experience through digital wherever customers may be – at home, at work or on-the-go. With more than 12 million digitally active customers and expectations evolving at the speed of technology, TD has turned to Microsoft Azure and data platform services to help deliver on their promise of legendary service at every touchpoint.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation is transforming their employee workstyles and enhancing their customer experience with the Microsoft Cloud. In addition to building a secure and highly productive office environment utilizing Azure and Office 365, SMBC has also introduced an interactive automatic response system for customer service, powered by the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit and AI services.

Optimizing operations

Shifting line-of-business applications and other capabilities to the cloud is a foundational step along the digital transformation journey that enables banks to save big and reinvest dollars in more innovative, value-add banking services. It also enables firms to be more agile like their industry disruptor counterparts.

UBS is using Azure to power its risk management platform, technology that requires enormous computing power, to run millions of calculations daily on demand. The result — speeding calculation time by 100 percent, saving 40 percent in infrastructure costs, gaining nearly infinite scale within minutes — means the firm can have more working capital on hand and employees can make quicker, more informed decisions for their clients.

Société Générale is using Azure’s high-performance computing capabilities to power the credit value adjustment (CVA) intraday calculation, a critical front-office function, enabling cost-effective, almost limitless on-demand computing power.

Driving product innovation

Driving product and business model innovation allows organizations to harness data as a strategic asset, shifting from hindsight to foresight, automating manual processes, delivering personalization to customers, and innovating with new business models, services, products and experiences to differentiate and capture emerging opportunities.

Crédito Agricola considers open banking as a future standard for the financial services industry. The bank’s digital strategy on open banking seeks to leverage the cloud to provide seamless and frictionless interactions that delight their customers, while complying with regulation. Credito Agricola is using Microsoft Azure to deliver open banking capabilities like API management gateway, security and identity, as well as analytics and insights, with plans to extend their core banking services to third-party service providers.

Microsoft is collaborating with The Monetary Authority of Singapore and The Association of Banks in Singapore to support Project Ubin 2, using Azure to explore the use of blockchain for the clearing and settlement of payments and securities, a key milestone in Singapore’s ambition of becoming a Smart Financial Center.

For the financial services industry, a firm’s deliberate and strategic move to the cloud hinges on security, privacy and regulatory compliance. Microsoft is committed to earning the trust of our financial services customers. We engage with regulators in key markets to share information about our services, the related controls and our approach to enabling customer compliance. We also take input from leading banks and insurers across the globe on an ongoing basis to improve our offerings to help meet regulatory requirements. We do all of this to continue building our customers’ trust in cloud technology.

It’s incredible and humbling to be on this transformational journey with so many ambitious digital leaders. Come visit us at booth No. C46 if you’re in Toronto or follow our stories at our press site. You can also join my session at the Innotribe, “Creating Space for Innovation,” on Tuesday, Oct. 17, and see Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella provide the Sibos closing plenary on Thursday, Oct. 19. Satya’s plenary will also be livestreamed here.

TTW

Tags: financial services, Sibos