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Podcast: The Computer Weekly Downtime Upload – Episode 44

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly and Brian McKenna are joined by Cliff Saran to discuss the end of support for Windows 7, the latest developments in IR35 in the private sector, Will Carling and AWS in respect of the Six Nations, data literacy, and IT at Davos

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly and Brian McKenna are joined by Cliff Saran, Computer Weekly’s managing editor (technology), to discuss the end of support of Windows 7, IR35 in the private sector, Will Carling and AWS in respect of the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Union tournament, data literacy, and IT at Davos.

  • Clare McDonald was missing this week, flying back, as she was, from Barcelona, where she had been at an IAG Hangar 51 accelerator demo day listening to startups talk about what they’d achieved over the course of a 10-week programme. 
  • Cliff was first up on the podcast to talk us through what the end of support for Windows 7 means for CIOs. He has written extensively on this topic for CW. “Windows 7: Dead or alive?” outlines how, far from being dead and buried, Windows 7 is set to remain alive and kicking in many organisations as they struggle with complex migration challenges. And “Windows 7: The pieces are coming together for a PC rethink” shows how CIOs must assess their hardware refresh strategy as they migrate their organisations to Windows 10, which has been growing in the enterprise since 2015. On the very day that Windows 7 support ended, 14 January 2020, Microsoft released a critical patch for a major flaw in the 10-year-old operating system, which foreshadows the possibility that unsupported Windows 7 estates could be less well supported in the future. Many machines in the NHS, as an example, will continue to run on Windows 7 for many years to come, Cliff points out. And even with PCs, corporate IT departments will take a long time to upgrade from Windows 7 to 10. Moreover, there is a shortage of Intel processors that means many organisations won’t be able to refresh their hardware to accommodate Windows 10 as quickly as they might like.
  • Cliff says he is a “big fan of desktop as a service” since you can run many applications in the cloud, and those that are Windows only can be run on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure, and from any user device, not necessarily a traditional PC or laptop.
  • Long, long ago, before there was a Windows 7, CW was featuring stories about IR35. And now Caroline gives us the latest. In April 2020, private sector organisations will, she explains, assume responsibility for determining how the contractors they engage with should be taxed: on the same basis as permanent salaried employees or as off-payroll freelance workers. This is placing an administrative burden on companies which might take the easy way out by dispensing with freelance labour of this form, which could mean losing specialist skills that IT contractors often can provide. Cliff makes the point, in relation to CW’s coverage over many years, that specialist IT skills have always often lived in “contractor land”, and that is as true for instances of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science skills today, as it has been, over many years, of skills typically back-filled by big systems integrators from the contractor community. There are calls for delays from IT contractors and from the recruitment industry. And Caroline reports that many contractors will “bench” themselves, which will mean the economy losing out on their labour, and might force a rethink on companies and on the government.
  • As well as being CW’s tax expert, Caroline is our authority on all matters AWS, and cloud more generally. That was a source of some light, sporty relief as she covered AWS’s data analytics activities in relation to its sponsorship of the Rugby Union Six Nations tournament that begins on 1 February. The 2020 Six Nations will see the cloud services giant provide fans with an expanded range of real-time, in-game rugby statistics as they follow all the action from the tournament. Caroline interviewed Will Carling, former England rugby captain, at the launch event at the Tobacco Docks in the east end of London. He said: “This depth [of insights] is not something they [fans] have had before, which will enable new fans to understand the crucial parts of the game more easily, and provide the avid fans with a little bit more insight into the game,” he said. “We have had tackle count before, but now you will have tackles and dominant tackles, and dominant tackles are the ones that actually make a difference to a game, because they stop momentum.” Caroline drew on her university days experience of watching Leicester Tigers to inform her piece about the “machine learning wizardry” AWS is bringing to bear in this, the second year of their sponsorship. The data analytics includes heat maps that give visibility into rucking, she reports. Carling himself emerges as a data evangelist from the interview – “Data makes heroes,” he said – and he also highlighted the role this sort of analysis could play in boosting the women’s game.
  • And this evangelism is, says Brian, good to hear because data literacy is an area where the UK could do a lot better, at least according to research published last week by business intelligence (BI) software supplier Qlik and consultancy Accenture, under the umbrella of The Data Literacy Project. This has found that employees spend at least one hour a week procrastinating over data-related tasks, racking up billions in lost productivity per year. Brian draws attention to one particular statistic that was picked out, in an interview, by James Fisher, chief product officer at Qlik: 37% of respondents trust decisions more when based on data. This means that 63% of the 9,000 respondents, who were spread across the globe, do not attach a high value to data even when it is well managed and presented. Could this be down to a basic lack of education in data literacy, and that the UK is especially ill-served when it comes to maths education? Some 10% of the UK respondents felt their schooling had prepared them to deal with business data, as opposed to 17% of the Americans and 19% of the Japanese. The team debates these findings before moving on from data to Davos.
  • Not literally, since, as Brian complains, Computer Weekly does not get invited to the World Economic Forum’s annual snow jamboree for the global elite. Instead, Cliff has to make do with a pre-event briefing in London. Cliff has written about the role the technology sector could play in addressing the climate change emergency that was the main theme of Davos this year. As is well known, Greta Thunberg, the climate campaigner, and Donald Trump, the US president, spoke at the event, representing two different viewpoints. The previous week, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella made the headlines, with an audacious plan to eradicate the company’s historic carbon footprint by reversing all its emissions since 1975. In a wide-ranging piece of analysis for Computer Weekly, based on the pre-event briefing given by Børge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, Cliff wrote: “Datacentres are electro-intensive and, according to industry group TechUK, the UK’s commercial sector consumes 2.89TWh of power a year. In November 2019, TechUK’s UK datacentre sector energy routemap reported that while 75% of datacentre electricity is renewable, the industry uses air cooling, which releases heat into the environment.” But for the inside gossip at Davos itself, Brian says he depends on such mainstream media outlets as The Economist. He recommends an Economist podcast where they pose the question: “Does the world need Davos?”. The Economist’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, ultimately answers in the affirmative, saying the summit has a role as a convenor for people and ideas that would have to be invented if it did not exist. Davos emerges from their discussion as a teenage party where everyone is star struck by everyone else.
  • As the great and the good come back from their sojourn on the Swiss mountain-top, eager to get down to making the world they run a better place, no doubt, the podcast team looks ahead to next week’s episode, in which the Travelex ransomware tale, discussed in a previous episode, will be recapped, among other things.

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