Category Archives: Content & Applications

CMA ruling requires open API for banks to bring finances into single app

Mobile bankingThe Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has released the final report from its retail banking market investigation enforcing widespread technological upgrades in some of the industry’s more traditional institutions, report

The five person investigation committee, which was initially launched in November 2014, were required to decide whether features of the retail banking industry distorted competition within the UK. After two years, the report stated traditional retail banks were not doing enough to ensure the consumer is receiving the best possible deal, and has now set out a number of new rules including the introduction of an open API to enable customer’s access to all their finances, irrelevant of organization, on a single app.

“The reforms we have announced today will shake up retail banking for years to come, and ensure that both personal customers and small businesses get a better deal from their banks,” said Alasdair Smith, Chair of the retail banking investigation. “Our central reform is the Open Banking programme to harness the technological changes which we have seen transform other markets. We want customers to be able to access new and innovative apps which will tailor services, information and advice to their individual needs.”

The development and adoption of an open API standard will have to be in place in all retail banks by Q1 2018, and will enable customers to see their finances, whether they be current accounts, savings accounts or mortgages, in a single app. By providing a single place for all accounts, the CMA hopes this will benefit consumers in a number of ways including avoiding fees incurred by unauthorized overdrafts, which currently adds £1.2 billion a year to the pockets of the retail banks.

Other rules from the CMA include enforcing banks to make all products available to customers through mobile applications, including loans, investments and mortgages. Despite the promise of banking apps, the report has concluded the technology in the more established retail banks is lagging behind other industries. Technology has proved to be a leveller in other sectors, AirBnB is a prime example of technology encouraging the growth of a SME, though this would not appear to be the case in the retail banking sector.

“Mobile financial services have long been approached as a luxury to the banked population in Britain, with banks offering limited services only through their respective applications,” said Maya Barkay, Product Marketing Manager for Mobile Financial Services at Amdocs. “In fact, the true potential of mobile financial services as a whole is being best explored in developing countries, such as Kenya and the Philippines, where these services are providing both basic and advanced financial services to a previously unbanked population.

“Regulation has time and time again been proven an essential enabler to mobile financial services, and this new ruling from the CMA is ensuring that British citizens will finally have the opportunity to harness mobile financial banking in a more useful and user-friendly way.”

The rules set in place are set to encourage more competition in the retail banking market, as larger organizations do not currently have to work hard enough to acquire or retain customers. Moving banks, irrelevant of the money which can be saved is too difficult, thus making growth for challenger banks more difficult and not encouraging competition in the industry.

Despite the efforts of the CMA to increase competition in the industry and provide more of a level playing field for smaller banks, some in the industry do not believe the report has gone far enough.

“As expected, the CMA’s report has fallen short and failed to deliver solutions to a number of the key issues it identified, in particular those facing SMEs seeking larger loans,” said Rishi Khosla, CEO of OakNorth Bank. “The CMA has explicitly stated in its report that a combination of factors make it difficult for new entrants and smaller banks such as OakNorth to effectively compete. Yet despite this, the solutions it’s provided for SME lending are limited to unsecured loans of up to £25,000, so won’t address the issues facing SMEs that need secured or larger loans.

“The fact that the CMA is simply going to pass the buck to the Treasury who won’t look to launch their own investigation until two years from now is extremely disappointing. There are millions of SMEs that are struggling to secure growth capital who may now need to wait up to four years for the situation to improve.”

While the CMA’s ruling does have the best interest of the consumer in mind, aiming to create a more transparent and competitive banking environment, the reception will not be truly known until the Open Banking app is released. During a time where security is top of the agenda and headlines detailing data breaches are not uncommon, it is not clear how many customers would agree to have all their financial information in one place.

YouTube targets small biz and moves up download rankings

Curved video wallApp Annie has released its monthly Index which shows the popularity of dating app Tinder is once again on the rise, YouTube is climbing the content ranks and online video platform iQIYI is fast catching category leaders, reports

The App Annie Index highlights the top-performing games and apps for the iOS App Store and Google Play, states online video platform iQIYI has re-entered the top 10 for revenues over June, and has continued to demonstrate strong growth. Last month it announced it had surpassed 20 million paid subscribers to its streaming service, demonstrating Chinese customers are willing to pay for premium content. This news comes only six months after it reached the 10 million mark, and represents a 765% annual increase in the number of paid subscribers.

Although there has been news of restrictions in Chinese press in recent weeks, the attractiveness of iQIYI to consumers might partly be down to relationships which are in place with international organizations. iQIYI often broadcasts popular international shows and currently has content agreements in place with numerous brands including Universal Pictures and Fox. The team would also appear to have international expansion in mind, as it launched a revamp to its iQiyi Taiwan product, as well as capitalizing on the popularity of virtual reality, as it announced its own VR apps and a partner incentive program during its iQIYI World Conference in May.

Virtual reality could represent a significant opportunity in China, though it does in all technologically advanced nations, as the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology believes it could be worth in the region of 55 billion yuan by 2020, approximately $8 billion. Deloitte Global also predicts the VR segment will become a billion dollar industry in 2016, estimating sales of 2.5 million VR headsets and 10 million games worldwide.

From a content perspective, the Index highlights the recent focus on video content is not limited to Facebook and Twitter, as YouTube re-enters the top 10 for content platforms. Facebook still remains top of the rankings for worldwide downloads, though it would appear efforts YouTube has been putting into revamping its content platform in recent months have been paying off, as the US leads the charge with a wave of new downloads across the month.

One of the new initiatives launched by the YouTube team was Director Onsite, a project which helps small business owners create content for advertising on the platform. For those who commit to $150 of advertising spend, a YouTube approved film director will visit the business and shoot a short promotional video to be used on the platform. The initiative is one of numerous activities from the wider Google business, which seems keen on attracting more small and medium sized business to continue the growth of advertising revenues.

“With respect to consumers, we continue to invest in innovative opportunities that create great experiences and improve their lives,” said Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, during the company’s quarterly earnings call. “And we’re empowering small businesses globally by providing greater reach to customers, not just in their towns, but across countries and around the world.”

Tinder also saw a slight increase across the month, confirming its place as the highest revenues for the dating app segment. In June, it was the most-used app in the Lifestyle category on iPhone in the 13–24 year old demographic in the US, with only one other dating app featuring in the top five. While Tinder is one of the more recognized brands for millennials, it would be worth noting its target audience is limited to those aged 18 and above, and for the most part are single, while the vast majority of other apps in the rankings have much wider demographics.

Docker buys Conductant to catalyse coding development

CodingContainer technology pioneer Docker has bought start up Conductant, best known for creating the Aurora strand of the Apache Mesos clustering system. Conductant’s software is used to catalyse faster development of large scale code.

Announcing the acquisition on its website Docker spokesman Solomon Hykes placed more emphasis on the talent, rather than the technology, that is being brought in with the take over of an early stage start up. Welcoming the Conductant ‘team’ to the Docker ‘family’ Hykes outlined the contributions that founders Bill Farner, David Chung and John Sirois made to operating and scaling production systems at Google, Twitter and Zynga.

Farna, who created the Aurora Project, will lead the process of integrating the clustering technology into the fabric of its container software. Docker’s expansion policy is to buy emerging software tool makers and integrate them into its container software core, according to Hykes. In January BCN reported how Docker has acquired Unikernel Systems in order to channel its hypervisor and unikernel experience into the development of Docker’s container systems. “We believe our job is integrating these technologies in tools that are easy to use and help people create new things. We did this for Linux containers, to help make applications more portable,” wrote Hykes.

Aurora, an extension of the Apache Mesos clustering system, is specifically designed for hyper scale production environments. Hykes claimed it is recognized as the most scalable and operationally-robust component of the Mesos stack, which in turn helps to create the conditions for operations-driven development (ODD). The experiences of the Conductant team, operating global scale clouds for Google, Twitter and Zyng, forced them to develop new techniques for rapid development. Bill Farner’s team at Twitter built Aurora to automate massive server farms that could be managed by handful of engineers.

Docker now plans to incorporate the best ideas from Aurora into Docker Swarm, which allows for any app to go on any infrastructure on any scale, and integrate Aurora as an optional component of the official Docker stack. One option is to integrate Aurora with Docker Swarm to form a powerful large-scale web operations stack.

While Swarm is designed to be the standard base layer to scale all kinds of applications, Aurora is optimized for large-scale consumer apps reaching hundreds of millions of users. “By making two of the most popular open-source infrastructure projects interoperate better, we believe both communities will benefit,” said Hykes.

Spotify shifts all music from data centres to Google Cloud

Spotify_Icon_RGB_GreenMusic streaming service Spotify has announced that it is to switch formats for storing tunes for customers and is copying all the music from its data centres onto the Google’s Cloud Platform.

In a blog written by Spotify’s VP of Engineering & Infrastructure, Nicholas Harteau explained that though the company’s data centres had served it well, the cloud is now sufficiently mature to surpass the level of quality, performance and cost Spotify got from owning its infrastructure. Spotify will now get its platform infrastructure from Google Cloud Platform ‘everywhere’, Harteau revealed.

“This is a big deal,” he said. Though Spotify has taken a traditional approach to delivering its music streams, it no longer feels it needs to buy or lease data-centre space, server hardware and networking gear to guarantee being as close to its customers as possible, according to Harteau.

“Like good engineers, we asked ourselves: do we really need to do all this stuff? For a long time the answer was yes. Recently that balance has shifted,” he said.

Operating data centres was a painful necessity for Spotify since it began in 2008 because it was the only way to guarantee the quality, performance and cost for its cloud. However, these days the storage, computing and network services available from cloud providers are as high quality, high performance and low cost as anything Spotify could create from the traditional ownership model, said Harteau.

Harteau explained why Spotify preferred Google’s cloud service to that of runaway market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS). The decision was shaped by Spotify’s experience with Google’s data platform and tools. “Good infrastructure isn’t just about keeping things up and running, it’s about making all of our teams more efficient and more effective, and Google’s data stack does that for us in spades,” he continued.

Harteau cited the Dataproc’s batch processing, event delivery with Pub/Sub and the ‘nearly magical’ capacity of BigQuery as the three most persuasive features of Google’s cloud service offering.

Google launches Dataproc after successful beta trials

Google cloud platformGoogle has announced that its big data analysis tool Dataproc is now on general release. The utility, which was one of the factors that persuaded Spotify to choose Google’s Cloud Platform over Amazon Web Services is a managed tool based on the Hadoop and Spark open source big data software.

The service first became available in beta in September and was tested by global music streaming service Spotify, which was evaluating whether it should move its music files away from its own data centres and into the public cloud – and which cloud service could support it. Dataproc in its beta form supported the MapReduce engine, the Pig platform for writing programmes and the Hive data warehousing software. Google says it has added new features and sharpened the tool since then.

While in its beta testing phase, Cloud Dataproc added features such as property tuning, VM metadata and tagging and cluster versioning. “In general availability new versions of Cloud Dataproc will be frequently released with new features, functions and software components,” said Google product manager James Malone.

Cloud Dataproc aims to minimise cost and complexity, which are the two major distractions of data processing, according to Malone.

“Spark and Hadoop should not break the bank and you should pay for what you actually use,” he said. As a result, Cloud Dataproc is priced at 1 cent per virtual CPU per hour. Billing is by the minute with a 10-minute minimum.

Analysis should run faster, Malone said, because clusters in Cloud Dataproc can start and stop operations in less than 90 seconds, where they take minutes in other big data systems. This can make analyses run up to ten times faster. The new general release of Cloud Dataproc will have better management, since clusters don’t need specialist administration people or software.

Cloud Dataproc also tackles two other data processing bugbears, scale and productivity, promised Malone. This tool complements a separate service called Google Cloud Dataflow for batch and stream processing. The underlying technology for the service has been accepted as an Apache incubator project under the name Apache Beam.

AWS targets games developers with Lumberyard and Gamelift services

computer game developmentAmazon Web Services (AWS) has launched new services, Lumberyard and Gamelift, to help developers create games and build communities of fans. By simplifying the infrastructure work it could help keep games developers loyal to its cloud services.

Amazon Lumberyard is a free, 3D game engine which developers can use to create games on any IT platform while using the computing and storage resources of the AWS Cloud. According to Amazon, Lumberyard’s visual scripting tool can open up the games development market because it allows non-technical game developers to add cloud-connected features to a game. It claims that features such as community news feeds, daily gifts or server-side combat resolution can be added in minutes through a drag-and-drop graphical user interface.

The other new AWS service, GameLift, aims to simplify the launch and operational management of session-based multiplayer games. Used in combination the two new services will make it easier for games developers to ramp up capacity to order as demand for high-performance game servers fluctuates. The services makes it easier for games developers to cater for fluctuating demand without the expense of additional engineering effort or upfront costs, says AWS.

Amazon Lumberyard is free and available today in beta for developers building PC and console games. A version for mobile and virtual reality (VR) platforms is ‘coming soon’ it says. GameLift is charged on a per-player basis, with fees currently $1.50 per 1,000 daily active users on top of the standard AWS services fees.

Developers typically need to bring 20 technology components to build the highest-quality games, according to Mike Frazzini, Amazon Games’s VP. The expense of resources such as real-time graphics rendering, animation systems and physics simulation make this a prohibitive and risky market to be in.

“Game developers asked for a game engine with the power of commercial engines but significantly less expensive and deeply integrated with AWS for the back,” said Frazzini. AWS now provides that with Lumberyard and GameLift, he said.

Developing and maintaining a back-end infrastructure for multiplayer games requires time, money and expertise that are beyond the reach of most developers, according to Chris Jones, Obsidian Entertainment’s CTO. “GameLift removes much of that burden from the developer, allowing them to focus their energy on bringing their game ideas to life,” said Jones.

Cloud backup could save phone retailers days of support time – study

contentCloud-based backup and transfer systems could save 7.3 wasted lifetimes, according to recent 451 Research into the time consuming inefficiencies of modern phone sales, reports

American consumers lost 4.5 million hours waiting for their content to be transferred between their old and new smartphones in-store this holiday season, according to the study conducted on behalf of Synchronoss Technologies. That wasted time converts into 187,500 days, 514 years or 7.3 wasted human lifetimes. Cloud based backups, which run in the background, will give smart phone users their lives back, Synchronoss claims.

As 59% of Americans buy new smartphones in physical stores, and each customer now has an average of 10.8GB of picture files, videos and games to transfer over the in-store Wi-Fi connecting their old and new devices, waiting times are likely to get increasingly long, according to Synchronoss. The picture is largely the same in Europe, with 64% of sales in the UK being conducted in store and with an even bigger proportion, 67%, in France. The store channel was used by 62% of Germans, 51% of Italians and 65% of Spanish phone purchasers.

In the study, conducted independently by 451 Research over the holiday season, 33.3 million devices were sold in that period throughout the US and 19.6 million of them were bought in a shop, with 23% of these shoppers asking the sales reps to transfer their personal content for them. At a transfer rate of 10.8GB per hour, that equates to a 4.5 million hours of waiting time.

Device financing, leasing and accelerated upgrade programmes will only make the demand for upgrades – and the subsequent waiting time situation – worse, according to Synchronous, which argued that its new cloud based Backup & Transfer service is the answer.

“Carriers and retailers must deploy backup and transfer solutions so customer content is securely hosted in the cloud before they walk into stores and can be ported to a new device at any time,”

said Daniel Rizer, Synchronoss’s EVP of Product Management.

Matrixx partners with Vlocity for cloud content platform

Cloud Computing color vector illustration.The lengthy gestation period for new products and services from mobile operators could be radically shortened by a new cloud-based service from a team of app software developers, reports

Telco software developer Matrixx Software and cloud apps vendor Vlocity have jointly launched Go Digital, in a bid to simplify the provision of video and music streaming, roaming passes and lifestyle applications for comms and digital service providers. Go Digital is based on the Salesforce platform and combines Vlocity’s cloud apps with Matrixx’s digital commerce platform. Vlocity claims it is Salesforce’s preferred ISV partner for the comms industry.

With comms service providers (CSPs) hamstrung by their clunky legacy platforms, many struggle to execute on their digital agendas, the partners behind Go Digital claim. The new service allows clients to define their own experience, giving them the option to try, buy and manage digital services. Clients can choose from video and music streaming services, track their usage in real-time, make one-click purchases, share selected balances with friends, add roaming passes on-the-fly and consume services in manageable chunks. Go Digital’s founder say they’ve also cracked another problem that has dogged the CSPs, by creating a consistent service experience, regardless of the device or network they use.

Go Digital gives each client a virtual control centre to manage their digital services and it promises service providers a one-click customer experience with multiple payment options for additional mobile services. The solution is immediately available and reference customer include Swisscom, Telstra and Sky Italia.

“Go Digital creates a significant new revenue opportunity that can be rapidly deployed in any carrier or service provider, of any size, anywhere in the world. The possibilities are endless,” said Vlocity founder David Schmaier. Matrixx and Vlocity will showcase Go Digital at February’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Microsoft maps out 2016 BizTalk Server, Azure Stack and cloud integration plans

AzureMicrosoft has unveiled its plans to integrate its cast of cloud services and servers in the coming year. Cloud users can now download a roadmap for the direction of its integration products such as the BizTalk application-integration server, Azure Stack and the Logic Apps included in the Azure App Service offering.

The initiative is the idea of new Azure CTO Mark Russinovich in a bid to keep customers aware of the changes that are being made now that many integration processes are out of their domain. Traditionally, integration has been conducted on the customer’s premises or through a business to business arrangement, but in the cloud era the systems they want integrated are typically outside of their control, Russinovich said in the company blog. “Everything from sales leads to invoicing, email and social media, is going to be well beyond the corporate firewall,” he said.

As modern integration goes from corporate computer systems to an increasingly mobile world, there needs to be a change of approach on both ends. On a technical level, this change is unpinned by application programming interfaces (APIs) within lightweight, modern, HTTP/REST-based protocols using JSON, Russinovich said. On a cultural level, Microsoft is to open more channels of communication with its cloud users through updates such as this.

Before the tenth release of BizTalk Server, in Q4 2016, it will release a Community Technology Preview and a beta of the product in Q3. BizTalk Server 2016 is to align with Windows Server 2016, SQL 2016, Office 2016 and the latest Visual Studio. The latest BizTalk release will straddle both the on-premise and cloud worlds, supporting SQL 2016’s AlwaysOn Availability Groups whether they are hosted on Azure or in house.

BizTalk Server will also have better interfaces with and Office 365, as Microsoft bids to improve the hybrid experience. New, improved BizTalk adapters for Informix, MQ and DB2 have also been promised, along with better PowerShell integration.

Halfway through 2016 Microsoft will host another integration summit, Integrate 2016, as the vendor signals its intent to take its Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) responsibilities seriously too.

According to the roadmap Microsoft should imminently release a preview of a planned Logic Apps Update with Logic Apps becoming generally available in Q2. Azure Stack will be available in Q4.

Mendix targets technical debt avoidance with PaaS release

Mendix aPaaSApplication platform as a service (aPaaS) vendor Mendix has launched a new Application Quality Monitor service, in partnership with software quality advisor SIG. The cloud-based service will initially monitor the upkeep of Mendix applications.

Bimodal IT specialist Mendix claims to help companies create a two-tier service, combining the basic foundations of a reliable but conventional IT infrastructure with the option for ‘Mode 2 capabilities’ to provide better speed and agility. According to Mendix, many CIOs fail to pay enough attention to detail when implementing Mode 2, which can lead to mistake on refactoring and ballooning ‘technical debt’.

Technical debt is defined by researcher Gartner as the loose ends that need resolving and the refactoring required as a result of the development process. The debt may take many forms, from design debt, to documentation debt, to unused and duplicated code. Addressing technical debt will be one of the big challenges of the cloud, according to Gartner. A new genre of cloud vendors will be needed to ensure that software is well-designed, well-written and maintainable, it says.

“Anyone can go faster; the challenge is doing so sustainably,” says Gartner analyst Mary Mesaglio in an April report released by the firm.

The Mendix Application Quality Monitor performs a daily monitoring of software quality, improving maintainability and cutting lifecycle costs. The cloud service is powered by SIG, which performs a static analysis of Mendix application models according to ISO 25010 standard for maintainability. The analysis covers key aspects of the application such as the ability to analyse, modify and divide it into modules. It rates the applications on values such as volume, duplication, unit complexity and dependencies. A dashboard offers the quality rating on a scale from 1 to 5, and highlights potential areas for further investigation. The ratings are based on benchmarks of thousands of projects.

There’s a strong correlation between the cost and effort of handling issues and enhancements and the maintainability rating of an application, according to Joost Visser, head of research at SIG and Professor of Large Scale Software Systems at Radboud University. “Issue resolution time and enhancement effort increase exponentially for applications with lower ratings,” he said.