In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Clare McDonald, Caroline Donnelly, and Brian McKenna discuss the Budget, the role of graph database technology in anti-money laundering compliance, and the Everywoman Tech Awards.
- Caroline kicks the podcast off with a recap of the technology aspects of the Budget of 11 March 2020, the first one given by new chancellor Rishi Sunak. Sunak announced a £22bn yearly injection into research and development in the UK, reported CW’s Lis Evenstad, on her first day back from maternity leave. So, a big day for Rishi and Lis.
- The Covid-19 coronavirus-induced public health emergency has also necessitated investment. In the Budget, Sunak revealed a £30bn support package. On 17 March, he announced an additional £350bn of loans to support businesses. (The CW Downtime Upload podcast episode was recorded on Friday 13 March).
- But the R&D spend, if we can step back from the pandemic, is truly eye-catching, says Caroline – the biggest in 40 years and ahead of the US, China, France and Japan, as a percentage of GDP. Caroline noted, however, a certain vagueness in the chancellor’s presentation. Nevertheless, government will also create a new funding agency, whose main focus will be “high-risk, high-reward research”, which sounds intriguing.
- Caroline also notes that CW reporter Sebastian Klovig Skelton picked up on a story that the government has launched a cross-regulator taskforce to investigate the possible regulation of digital platforms and advertising. As part of the Budget, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced the creation of a “Digital Markets Taskforce”, which will report to the government in six months’ time on a pro-competitive regime for digital platform markets. Will this prove to be another initiative that we hear about, but never hear much about again? Time (in the form of six months, it would seem) will tell.
- The Budget itself was disappointing, as an event for the IT contractor community, says Caroline. A hoped-for delay in the IR35 reforms failed to materialise, sparking fury from contractor groups. (However, the Chancellor subsequently announced a deferral of the reforms, as part of the updated coronavirus business support package on 17 March).
- There will be another Budget later in the year, as well as the comprehensive spending review (CSR) – the three-year budget across Whitehall that has been rolled over from 2019. Brian picks up on a story about how DCMS is looking for a crack team of data experts to do a six-week project for £60,000 in March and April to help prepare for the CSR by reviewing how government shares data. His fellow podcasters decline to follow up on his ambitious suggestion that the podcast trio throw their collective hat into the ring. “I’m busy,” says Caroline. Brian speculates that Dominic Cummings could be the brains behind this project, which, though modest, looks strategic.
- From financial matters at state level, Brian then focuses on a massive pain point for banks and other financial institutions: money laundering – or, rather, how difficult it is for banks to comply with anti-money laundering regulations, such as those from the EU.
- It is often mind-boggingly difficult to say who owns a company. At the Neo4j graph conference (one of the very few events going on in London that week), Brian met Paul Westcott, product director, customers due diligence at Dun & Bradstreet, to find out how they use the Neo4j graph database plus Linkurious data visualisation software to show who owns what for banks and other professional services firms. It is a similar use case to that shown in the famous Panama Papers disclosure scandal of 2016, in which Neo4j and Linkurious were also deployed.
- In his conference talk, Westcott gave the example of complexity in company ownership of who owns football clubs. We all know Roman Abramovich is the beneficial owner of Chelsea FC, but at Companies House, the owner is listed as Fordstram Ltd. But bank professionals confront much more complex ownership cases when they are doing things like anti-money laundering investigations, and Dun & Bradstreet sells a microservice that feeds into financial institutions’ “know your customer” systems and combines graph with visualisation on AWS infrastructure, reports Brian.
- Clare then circles back to the previous week’s podcast, when the team were joined by CW production editor Claire Cormack to discuss the Everywoman Tech Forum. Clare gives a bit more detail about the 2020 FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards, which were given out on the evening of the event at a dinner. This was the 10th year of the awards, which are informed by the idea that “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so it is important to recognise women who are blazing a trail in technology.
- Clare picks out the prominence of young women this year, and mentions the male agent of change reward, too – which this year went to Duncan Greenwood, vice-president and general manager for NEMEA at VMware.
- The team close out the podcast by noting that their diaries are now full of telephone, Skype and Zoom conversations, and that they will be continuing the podcast remotely while the current public health crisis continues.
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