Podcast: The Computer Weekly Downtime Upload – Episode 47

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna discuss IR35 protests, the Oracle vs SAP cloud applications dog fight, and a Goldman Sachs cloud service for its banking sector

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna find themselves guestless in the podcast chamber. Undaunted, they first touch on the coronavirus, now named as Covid-19 and causing IT conferences (such as Mobile World Conference in Barcelona) to be cancelled; and on the unexpected resignation of the former chancellor Sajid Javid, whose record on technology the team discussed in episode 20, as part of a multi-episode effort to meticulously dissect all the candidates for the Prime Ministership in the summer of 2019.

The podcast trio then move on to talk about an IR35 contractor protest directed at Javid, whose resignation the protesters had failed to predict. Caroline is, as ever, the cicerone here.  

The other main topics discussed in this episode are the intensifying Oracle vs SAP cloud applications dog fight, and a Goldman Sachs cloud service for its financial services peer companies: an instance, as Caroline puts it, of “coopetition”.

Caroline gets the episode going properly with the first main topic: the abovementioned IR35 protest at Westminster. Javid was the politician who was seeing through the IR35 reforms. That role now falls to Rishi Sunak, the son-in-law of the co-founder of Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy.

With contractors due to stage the anti-IR35 reform protest march at the Houses of Parliament, stakeholders had penned an open letter to Javid outlining their concerns about how the changes are affecting the self-employed sector.

The signatories of the letter included trade associations, contractor consultancies and media partners, and it details their concerns about the on-the-ground impacts the reforms are already having, despite the fact they do not officially come into force until 6 April 2020.

From this date, all medium to large private sector organisations will assume responsibility for determining how the contractors they engage with should be taxed, based on the work they do and how it is performed.

Previously, it was down to contractors to assess for themselves whether the way they work means they should be taxed in the same way as salaried workers (inside IR35) or off-payroll employees (outside IR35).

There were, reports Caroline, around 700 protestors, many with placards calling on Sajid Javid to stop the IR35 reforms coming into play in the private sector in April. And their ranks included not just IT contractors, but others, such as social workers and NHS workers – any limited company contractor who is likely to be affected. “There are genuine concerns about what the impact could be, across the whole economy,” Caroline says.

Brian says on the podcast that the war between SAP and Oracle is hotting up, and that was in evidence at last week’s Oracle Open World in London.

SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) customers are grappling with the thorny issue of whether to continue with their ECC6 enterprise resource planning systems or to move on to the supplier’s S/4 Hana system, based on SAP’s in-memory, columnar database; or to switch to another supplier. The conundrum has been given new force by SAP’s granting of a stay of execution to ECC6.

The German firm’s arch-rival is Oracle, and Big Red has not been slow to attempt to seduce SAP applications customers to its cloud applications ERP suite. Back in 2018, the late Mark Hurd, then co-CEO, told Computer Weekly that Oracle expected defections from SAP with the end of lifing of ECC6.

At Oracle Open World in London last week, and just before, Brian says he spoke to a series of senior Oracle executives, raising the battle for ECC6 customers with SAP as one point of conversation. He says on the podcast that he is working on an analytical article that draws on these interviews that will be published soon.

He also cites a couple of unrelated interviews that he says he found interesting: with Alison Derbenwick Miller, who heads Oracle for Research, and James Kelloway, Energy Intelligence Manager at the National Grid.

Kelloway’s data science team has been using Oracle technology as part of their effort to better predict solar energy generation in the UK, which is, in turn, an element in the drive – in which the National Grid is a player – to decarbonise the country’s energy use.

Oracle for Research’s mission features the extension of the use of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure by academic scientists. Two outcomes of that are research projects at the University of Bristol: one to combat the tropical disease Chikungunya, the second to aid in the search for a smoking cessation drug, both covered in CW.

Still harping on cloud, Caroline picks up and expatiates on a story written by Karl Flinders about Goldman Sachs and its development of a cloud service that it might sell to other financial services firms.

Karl reports that the US bank is considering converting its cloud investments into technology platform that could be sold as a service to other financial services companies. According to Yahoo Finance, an internal memo from Goldman Sachs’ co-CIO, Marco Argenti – a former Amazon Web Services (AWS) employee – the bank could take lessons on how to monetise its cloud expertise from Amazon.

Caroline says this development is ironic, in that cloud services had been considered a no-go area for financial services about a decade ago. And that there is a parallel with how AWS emerged from the IT infrastructural needs of Amazon.com.

She also wondered if there would be competitive pushback from other banks, given the sensitivity of financial data, which is of a different order to the data in other sectors. But, it could become an exemplar of “coopetition”, where competing firms also collaborate, concludes Caroline.

The team close out the episode by commenting on how events tend to disrupt the best laid plans of both journalists and chancellors. Finally, a lunch-hungry Brian draws the episode to an end with uncharacteristic alacrity.

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Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade

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