IBM CodeNet teaches AI to translate programming languages

Bobby Hellard

11 May, 2021

IBM unveiled a suite of new artificial intelligence (AI) services on Monday ahead of its virtual IBM Think 2021 conference. 

The new features include software that teaches AI how to translate code, a cloud migration service, and more functions for the firm’s Watson Assistant. 

The most interesting of the announcements was a Rosetta Stone-like service for programming code called ‘CodeNet‘, which is an expansive dataset designed to teach AI and machine learning systems how to translate code. It comprises some 14 million snippets and 500 million lines of code spread across more than 55 legacy and active languages, such as Cobol, Java, C++, and Python. The dataset is constructed in a way that allows for bidirectional translation, enabling Cobol legacy code to be translated into Java, for example. 

“Given its wealth of programmes written in a multitude of languages, we believe Project CodeNet can serve as a benchmark dataset for source-to-source translation and do for AI and code what the ImageNet dataset did years ago for computer vision,” the firm said. 

AI featured heavily in the updates, with new features for Cloud Pak for Data, an SaaS integration platform called ‘Watson Orchestrate’, and a Watson Assistant collaboration with healthcare providers handling increased workloads due to the pandemic. The tech giant also revealed ‘Maximo Mobile’, a mobile platform based on IBM’s Maximo asset management service. 

The updates also included a new cloud migration service called ‘Mono2Micro’ that also uses AI to analyse large enterprise applications and provide recommendations on how to best adapt them for the move to the cloud. IBM said it can simplify and speed up an error-prone process, which can reduce costs and maximise returns on investment.

Beyond artificial intelligence, the announcements included a hybrid cloud-based financial services platform, built with Red Hat OpenShift. There was also a $1 billion investment to support IBM’s partner ecosystem which includes skills training, and a streamlined service for quantum computing called Qiskit Runtime.

NHS Digital accused of conflict of interest over Accenture contracts

Bobby Hellard

11 May, 2021

NHS Digital has been accused of a potential conflict of interest over contracts given to IT service Accenture, where two of its board members previously worked. 

David Rowland, the director of the Centre for Health and Public Interest (CHPI) told The Financial Times that the close links between the two firms were “concerning”.

The digital body, which provides data and IT systems for the NHS, handed over 15% of its yearly budget to Accenture, with contracts worth around £33 million out of its total £218 million operating expenditure, according to its own 2018-2019 accounts. 

What’s more, the family of another non-executive, Deborah Oakley, is also listed as owning shares in Accenture, according to a ‘Declarations and Conflicts of Interest Register’ that was published on 30 June last year. Oakley has said the shares were held by her husband and she herself has never worked at the consultancy. However, the large sums of public money that have been exchanged has caught the attention of the CHPI think tank. 

Rowland told the FT that it is “concerning that there are a number of close links between the two organisations which give rise to potential conflicts of interest and opportunities for undue influence”. 

In a statement given to IT Pro, Accenture said its contracts with NHS Digital “were awarded following a competitive public tender process.

“We are proud of our work supporting major NHS projects including the delivery of Microsoft Teams during Covid and significant improvements to NHS Mail, Office 365 and cyber security services for all NHS users,” it added.

Accenture is already facing criticism for charging high fees for its services during the pandemic, including its work on the government’s £37 billion test and trace programme. The consultancy firms received 18 contracts related to the UK’s pandemic response, according to the research firm Trussell.

Since the start of 2016, it has also won a total of 94 contracts from public authorities worth around £480m. 

Oracle wins Premier League contract to provide in-match performance data

Zach Marzouk

6 May, 2021

Oracle has won a contract with Premier League to provide it with technology to power new in-match statistics that aim to give a deeper understanding of live action on the pitch.

Starting with the 2021/22 season, “Match Insights – Powered by Oracle Cloud” will present advanced player performance data and statistics during global broadcast coverage, and across the Premier League’s social channels.

This includes the tracking of player positions, a live win probability scale, and a momentum tracker that measures the likelihood of the team in possession scoring a goal in the next 10 seconds.

Machine learning models are also set to be developed to generate immediate results based on live data streams, real-time tracking data, and facts collected on each of the League’s players and from thousands of previous matches.

“We are always looking at new ways to bring the Premier League to life and enhance the analysis of the competition,” said Premier League chief executive, Richard Masters. “Oracle is a global brand with a great track record of driving innovation, and we look forward to working together to bring new levels of engagement to fans around the world.”

Oracle’s deal follows similar efforts by tech companies to offer technical expertise to the footballing world, including AWS’s partnership with the Bundesliga last year. Germany’s top football league signed up to a range of machine learning, analytical, and storage services to build a statistical platform that provides viewers with real-time data on player statistics, game outcomes, and predictions on future play.

Meanwhile, the sports industry was urged to reform its cyber security last year after the managing director of a Premier League football club narrowly avoided losing out £1 million to a phishing scam. According to a report from the National Cyber Security Centre, the managing director entered his credentials into a fake Office 365 page operated by hackers.

Dell launches flagship Apex services brand

Sabina Weston

6 May, 2021

Dell has unveiled more details surrounding its Apex services platform as part of the first day of its annual Dell Technologies World event.

First announced by the company in October of last year, the Apex Project aims to consolidate Dell’s ‘as a service’ cloud products as well as facilitate the process of acquiring, managing, maintaining, and servicing physical IT infrastructure by its customers.

Less than three months after launching a private cloud platform, Apex Cloud Services now also includes hybrid cloud and deployment, the latter of which was found to be up to 86% faster than a do-it-yourself hybrid cloud model, according to a recent Storage Review report, commissioned by Dell.

Apart from the addition to its Cloud Services, Dell has also unveiled Apex Data Storage Services, Apex Custom Solutions, as well as the Apex Console.

Apex Data Storage Services offers three performance tiers of block and file enterprise storage, with capacity starting as low as 50 terabytes. Available as one or three-year subscriptions, the new offering lets businesses “focus on data, not drives”, according to Dell CMO Allison Dew.

Apex Custom Solutions, described as “the industry’s broadest infrastructure portfolio to customers as-a-Service”, is comprised of Apex Flex On Demand and Apex Data Center Utility, which allow enterprises to customise their aaS experience based on their “specific technology needs, operational model, and consumption habits,” said Dew. While Flex On Demand provides Dell Technologies servers, storage, data protection, and hyperconverged infrastructure as-a-Service, the Data Center Utility suite supplies custom metering and managed services applied across customers’ data centres.

“You can pick any infrastructure from Dell Technologies, and any level of management you would like. We then deliver it to you on an aaS basis. From storage or server racks, all the way to a complete data centre, APEX custom solutions can help you turn your IT infrastructure into a custom solution to meet your individual needs,” said Dew.

Lastly, Dell unveiled the Apex Console, which lets customers monitor and manage Apex services using actionable insights and predictive analytics. Described by Dew as a “real-time access to system health and performance of your services”, the console provides usage and spending reports which help businesses adjust their Dell services to their needs and budget.

According to the CMO, staying on top of current tech trends and advancements can make managing digital transformation “a complex undertaking” for businesses.

“Enter Dell Technologies Apex, a breakthrough portfolio of aaS offerings that help simplify your digital transformation by increasing IT agility and control,” she said, adding that the new offerings are available starting 5 May.

Speaking at an introductory panel of Dell Technologies EMEA executives, SVP Claire Vyvyan highlighted the differences between Apex and the public cloud.

“It’s very different because we can bring it at scale, we can bring it to the edge of your infrastructure, we can bring it to your data centre, (…) we can work with your preferred service providers rather than in big global data centres,” she told Dell Technologies World attendees. “And I think that’s going to be really important in the future, when the proliferation of data is at the edge.”

How COVID accelerated Kreston Reeves’ agile transformation

Adam Shepherd

6 May, 2021

Much like accountants themselves, accountancy firms often have an unfair reputation for being stuffy, risk-averse and a little behind the times. The finance sector generally isn’t the first to adopt emerging technologies, often preferring to play it safe and wait until products have proven themselves before cautiously dipping a toe in. Sometimes, however, you have to jump in with both feet, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organisations to jump-start their digital transformation efforts.

For London-based accountancy firm Kreston Reeves, the onset of remote working wasn’t a radical departure from the norm. The company runs eight offices throughout the UK, and has been using Citrix’s virtual desktop and application products for the best part of a decade, delivered on top of Nutanix’s hyper-converged infrastructure. This, combined with cloud services like Microsoft 365, gave the company a strong existing foundation to build on when COVID forced staff out of their offices.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were quite relaxed about people working from home,” says Kreston Reeves IT and operations director, Chris Madden, “although on a realistic day, you may have perhaps 40 people working from home and the rest would be in an office or client meetings – so you’ve probably got about a 500 versus 40 split, which is probably typical for our industry. We were moving towards an agile working model, but hadn’t quite got there. And then obviously, the pandemic struck, at which point everybody worked from home, whether they wanted to or not!”

Face time

While the company’s existing Citrix deployment meant that staff were already able to access all their usual applications while working remotely, collaboration was taken care of by a rapid rollout of Microsoft Teams, which Madden says has been invaluable for collaboration both inside and outside the business. 

“We went into the pandemic, got everybody set up, and then immediately started pushing out Microsoft Teams, particularly video conferencing, within our Citrix environment,” he explains. “That meant that people were able to carry on face to face communication, but more importantly with our clients, because [they] have an accountant they want to get advice from, and it’s a lot nicer if they can still see their accountant, even if they can’t get in the same room.”

The biggest surprise, he says, is how quickly the company has adapted to home working. If the business and its employees hadn’t been forced to change their behaviours and mindsets, he speculates that it would still be talking about how to roll remote working out.

“The only issues that we had, really, were getting everybody set up on the remote access apps to get the security codes for the two-factor authentication, and also any other apps they needed. So there was a rush to the help desk and the IT team to say ‘I need all this set up immediately’ from about 500 people, but in terms of the technology stack, it was there, it was working, and it did what it was supposed to do, which was quite a relief.”

From a hardware perspective, the shift to home working required additional investment in peripherals like headsets, webcams, docking stations and external screens, but it also gave Madden and his team the opportunity to replace the Dell Wyse thin-client devices used by many employees with laptops. The Citrix add-on for Microsoft Teams didn’t play nicely with the thin OS the company’s Wyse terminals ran on, he says, so rather than upgrading all of its thin-client devices, the company chose to pivot to laptops for all. This approach also gives the benefit of a single, consistent user experience for all its staff whether they’re at home or in the office.

Accelerated agility

This feeds into the firm’s plans for post-pandemic transformation; once things open back up, Kreston Reeves is going fully agile. The company implemented a desk-booking system earlier in the pandemic to help with risk management and social distancing for staff who had to be in the office, and plans to use that once lockdowns lift to support a hot-desking environment. 

“Hopefully, that will enable better collaboration,” says Madden; “you’ll get to know your colleagues a lot better. By giving everybody laptops and having the desks set up the same, it means you can just plug in at any old desk that you happen to be using. And so hopefully it should mean that we’re making more productive use of the space.”

Madden anticipates that this new model will involve staff working from home for roughly half the week and says that this flexibility has been a hit with staff, as it allows them to save time and money on their commute. As part of this process, Kreston Reeves has also reevaluated its use of office space, and plans to downsize its London premises.

“I think what it’s allowed us to do is look at our property footprint, what we’re using offices for, and why people want to go into an office. That’s feeding into our review of our office space and what we’re going to need for the future; so we’re looking to move our London office, and if this was done a few years ago, we’d have probably carried on with a desk per person,” he says. “Now we’re going into a location where there will be about 30% fewer desks than people.”

Another major change that COVID has enabled is the use of remote collaboration with clients. In addition to video conferencing with clients, recent regulatory changes have allowed Kreston Reeves to audit customers’ accounts remotely, rather than sending a battalion of auditors with laptops to their premises. This, Madden says, will save staff a lot of time that would previously be spent travelling up and down the country.

“I think it will bring a lot of changes, and I think it will probably mean people are more productive, probably get more out of their day. But that also means they probably get a better work-life balance, because it’s not all about working ever more hours, and because you haven’t got a commute, it’s an extra hour of work. It’s about giving that hour back and saying, well actually, we can get everything we need you to do in that time scale, and you’ve now saved yourself several hours of travel time a day, and that’s back for you.”

Looking to the future, the company has started experimenting with AI and robotic process automation technology to improve its operational efficiency, and is planning to invest more heavily in cloud services for back-office tasks. Madden explains that although the accountancy industry is still reliant on niche on-premise software products, many supporting services can be transitioned to cloud-based equivalents to take advantage of cost and availability benefits.

“I think the sector as a whole is a cautious sector, which is one of its strengths and one of its weaknesses, depending on your point of view. I do think it’s accelerated, and talking to some of my peers, there’s very much a sense that the pace of change is quicker.”

“The key thing for businesses is, how do you capture that willingness during the pandemic to move at pace and be willing to change, when you’re now back in the offices? And that’s going to be the biggest challenge for businesses, I think.”

IT Pro 20/20: Understanding our complicated relationship with AI

Dale Walker

5 May, 2021

Welcome to issue 16 of IT Pro 20/20.

This time we look at our strained, confusing, and often contentious relationship with artificial intelligence, and how that is shaping development.

We’ve addressed some of the more concerning issues surrounding the eager rollout of the technology, including whether AI has the potential to make us lazy, and whether it will make spying on employees a simple matter of flicking a switch.

It’s not all artificial intelligence, though. As a special bonus, we’ve also spoken to some of the leading figures behind Lithuania’s campaign to become Europe’s fintech capital – ousting the UK in the process.


The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on 31 May – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

Facebook Workplace hits 7 million paid subscribers

Bobby Hellard

5 May, 2021

Facebook’s enterprise communications platform, Workplace, now has seven million paid subscribers, representing a 40% increase year-on-year.

Launched in 2016, Workplace has traditionally been one of Facebook’s lowest-earning business units, often counted alongside the likes of Oculus and Portal under the “other” section of its financial results.

However, its steady growth and brand association has helped it secure some high profile customers, including the likes of Spotify and Starbucks – although it still lags behind market rivals Slack and Microsoft Teams.

“We built Workplace as an internal version of Facebook to run our own company, and it was so useful we started letting other organisations use it too, including everyone from Spotify to Starbucks to the World Health Organisation,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “More companies are starting to use our virtual reality tools for work as well, and I’m excited to build more new ways for people to work together that weren’t possible before.”

Microsoft Teams revealed last month that it has surpassed 145 million daily active users – a yearly increase of 93%. Slack no longer reveals user numbers but, as of September 2019, the company recorded 12 million daily active users, almost double that of Facebook’s Workplace.

As it looks to continue increasing users, Workplace has also announced a few new features, such as a live Q&A function and an integration with Microsoft 365 and Google G Suite’s calendar. There are also ‘diversity-focused’ updates, such as emojis with different skin tones and a service that allows users to show their colleagues the correct way to pronounce their name.

The feature offers both audio pronunciation and phonetic spellings.

Out of office – on forever: Meet the companies leaving the office for good

Carly Page

5 May, 2021

This article originally appeared in the March edition of IT Pro 20/20, available here. To sign up to receive each new issue in your inbox, click here.

The COVID pandemic has forced a radical shift in the way we work. Since March 2020, when the government first advised that everyone should “start working from home where they possibly can”, businesses have been forced to ditch traditional workplaces and transition to a remote-first way of working.

While the shift was undoubtedly frantic and stressful for many organisations, particularly those that previously required employees to endure long commutes and overpriced lunches five days a week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic has broken through cultural and technological barriers that prevented remote work in the past. As a result, many companies are now figuring out that working remotely is the future of work, public health crisis or not.

While it’s likely that hybrid work – a mix of remote and office-based working – will become the norm for the majority of once-office based employees, some companies are ditching the office for good. Twitter, for example, has told employees that they can continue to work from home indefinitely and Microsoft, though initially wary of home-based working, has also given its staff the option to ditch the commute for good.


Another big name embracing remote working is Dropbox, which recently announced it’s becoming a “virtual-first” company. Not only will working from home become the norm for employees, but the remote experience will go one step further with “non-linear workdays”, meaning core collaboration hours will be set up with overlap between time zones, with employees encouraged to design their own schedules beyond that.

Andy Wilson, director of new products initiatives at Dropbox, tells IT Pro that the company is already reaping the benefits of a virtual-first approach – and not just because its San Francisco headquarters recently sold for a record-breaking $1.08 billion (£777 million).

“Over the year, we’ve seen the obvious benefits of a virtual first approach. We’ve been able to live out our product truths; being a distributed team, building for distributed teams,” says Wilson. “Our employees have had more control over how they work, and as we move out of lockdown, they’re going to have more flexibility in terms of where they can work.

“While shifting to a virtual-first model, we must provide the right tools to enable our employees to collaborate as effectively as possible. Video calls are key, but other tools are important to get work done. By using our own tools such as Paper and Spaces, the teams were already working together asynchronously across the globe – it quickly became normal for us to collaborate on projects across time zones.

“We’ve also been adopting popular applications, such as Slack, to create a more effective and productive virtual way of working. For example, we recently moved our IT support to work across Slack – this has improved response times and allowed team members to gain instant support wherever they are.

“As we build teams from around the world, our ability to brainstorm in co-authoring tools like Paper means that teams can hand off work, or ideas, to others in different time zones to pick up. It’s something that we’ve seen our customers pioneer as they move projects and content across time zones to speed up delivery.”


It’s not just big name technology companies that are leading the charge. Panaseer, a continuous controls monitoring platform for enterprise cyber security, has also recognised that, after a year of successful remote working, it has become a viable long-term solution.

Sophie Harrison, chief of staff at Panaseer, tells IT Pro: “We closed both our London and New York offices during the lockdown, to test a new remote working model. Our leadership team managed the communications, as we recognised this was a fundamental shift in working practices. We implemented a number of tactics to ensure our team were engaged in both the decision and new working model, including running weekly surveys and developing a cross-functional ‘winning from home’ group to garner feedback.

“We have developed collaborative initiatives to ensure our employees feel supported and still part of a team. This includes a monthly productivity allowance for all employees to assist with running home office costs, an Amazon voucher to ‘pimp’ the home office and passes to use co-working  spaces. Our social team has run games nights, group activities and weekly HIIT classes.”

These initiatives have received an overwhelmingly positive response from Panaseer’s employees, Harrison says, which is why the company now plans to implement remote working on a permanent basis.

“We are committed to maintaining our culture and values virtually, and we are constantly measuring our team’s satisfaction. Our leadership team has set an example by communicating more appropriate flexible working guidelines and offering better remote meeting and internal comms practices.”


HomeHero, an AI-powered digital home manager that helps users to run all of their services from one platform, also has no plans to return to the office.

Internal employee research at the start of the pandemic found that a significant majority of HomeHero’s team supported a permanent shift to remote working. While flexible and remote working has always been a part of the culture at HomeHero, the business is now a remote first organisation, with no plans to return to the office.

Kenny Alegbe, founder and CEO, HomeHero, said: “We’ve had nothing but positivity from our team about the move to being a remote first business. I hold weekly company wide updates to keep the team informed and connected and we have a ‘bunker’ in Central London, that the team can use for workshops and brainstorms whenever they want (and restrictions allow).

“We have found that not only has remote working boosted morale and productivity, it has also facilitated a fantastic work life balance for our colleagues.”

The business uses Slack, Notion and Google Hangouts as part of its day to day business tools and also supports team members in funding remote office spaces near to their home, as well as kitting out personal offices too. The team is also keen to keep that Friday feeling with a variety of social events being hosted on Google Hangout, including sunset drinks in Mykonos, wine tasting in Provence, film club and a cocktail masterclass.

“The people at HomeHero are driving this business to be a success and I want to give them whatever they need to continue on this trajectory,” Alegbe added. “I have listened to the team and we are now a remote first organisation and we will continue to evolve our ways of working to ensure they work best for the team.”


Similarly, Manchester-based WordPress web hosting company 34SP has been so impressed by the results it saw from staff working remotely, it has decided to shift to this way of working on a full-time basis.

Stuart Melling, business development director at 34SP, tells IT Pro: “Before COVID-19 hit, we routinely offered WFH as a staff perk. This meant that one day every week, an employee could choose to work from their home, or indeed any remote location.  This meant we were particularly prepared from a tech stand point (Slack, Zoom, VoIP, VPNs etc), and with the start of the pandemic we naturally sent everyone to work from home, and indeed, they remain there today.

“Everyone was a little apprehensive about what the change would mean in terms of productivity but what we found really surprised us. In all areas of the company, things have materially changed for the better. In our customer service department we’ve set a series of records in terms of quality – as rated by our own clients.

“As 2020 started to come to an end, we were so impressed by the results, we announced the change would become permanent in 2021. Some of our staff have decided to relocate around the country, and indeed, internationally given the flexibility afforded. Everyone’s fairly thrilled about the change, and as business owners, we are too.

“I can’t imagine why we’d force people to return just for the sake of it.  I keep reading that some have struggled with knowledge sharing, mentorship, creativity etc, but for us, we’ve just re-imagined new ways to undertake all those tasks and improve on them.”

Microsoft launches open source tool Counterfeit to prevent AI hacking

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

4 May, 2021

Microsoft has launched an open source tool to help developers assess the security of their machine learning systems.

The Counterfit project, now available on GitHub, comprises a command-line tool and generic automation layer to allow developers to simulate cyber attacks against AI systems.

Microsoft’s red team have used Counterfit to test its own AI models, while the wider company is also exploring using the tool in AI development.

Anyone can download the tool and deploy it through Azure Shell, to run in-browser, or locally in an Anaconda Python environment.

It can assess AI models hosted in various cloud environments, on-premises, or in the edge. Microsoft also promoted its flexibility by highlighting the fact that it’s agnostic to AI models and also supports a variety of data types, including text, images, or generic input.

“Our tool makes published attack algorithms accessible to the security community and helps to provide an extensible interface from which to build, manage, and launch attacks on AI models,” Microsoft said.

“This tool is part of broader efforts at Microsoft to empower engineers to securely develop and deploy AI systems.”

The three key ways that security professionals can deploy Counterfit is by pen testing and red teaming AI systems, scanning AI systems for vulnerabilities, and logging attacks against AI models.

The tool comes preloaded with attack algorithms, while security professionals can also use the built-in cmd2 scripting engine to hook into Counterfit from existing offensive tools for testing purposes.

Optionally, businesses can scan AI systems with relevant attacks any number of times to create baselines, with continuous runs as vulnerabilities are addressed, helping to measure ongoing progress.

Microsoft developed the tool out of a need to assess its own systems for vulnerabilities. Counterfit began life as a handful of attack scripts written to target individual AI models, and gradually evolved into an automation tool to attack multiple systems at scale.

The company claims it’s engaged with a variety of its partners, customers, and government entities in testing the tool against machine learning models in their own environments.

Sony inks integration deal with chat app Discord

Bobby Hellard

4 May, 2021

Discord has signed a partnership and investment deal with Sony, in a move that likely puts to bed any rumours surrounding a potential takeover of the chat platform by Microsoft.

The amount given by Sony has not been disclosed but it is thought to be a small fee that came within Discord’s latest round of funding, which is thought to have raised $100 million, according to TechCrunch.

Sony’s partnership will involve integration with PlayStation as the two companies plan to “bring the Discord and PlayStation experiences closer together on console and mobile starting early next year”, according to Sony.

In March, Discord was reportedly exploring a potential sale, with Microsoft being the most likely suitor for a deal worth around $10 billion. However, talks between the two firms reportedly ended soon after, with Discord deciding to go down the route of becoming a listed company instead.

Microsoft’s plans for the chat app were unclear, but it was speculated that the tech giant would integrate the service with Xbox and maybe even use data from its growing pool of users to inform other Microsoft services.

The communications platform found success among gamers as a voice chat app, but it has since found more varied use cases during the pandemic. While Epic Games were also said to be in talks with Discord, non-gaming entities, such as Twitter and Amazon, were also rumoured to be interested.

Sony’s partnership will involve integration with PlayStation as the two companies plan to “bring the Discord and PlayStation experiences closer together on console and mobile starting early next year”, according to Sony.

Microsoft has been on a spending spree of late, including the recent acquisition of AI firm Nuance Communications for $19.7 billion and game maker Zenimax for $7.5 billion.

It was also rumoured to be interested in Pinterest and opened talks to buy Chinese social media firm TikTok last year, but ultimately lost out to Oracle. That deal, however, has been put on hold by the US government.