The cloud as an answer | Tit for futile Tat | Reflections on covid-19 |

Pandemic’s Pendulum

This week the global recorded deaths from covid-19 surpassed 1 million. Perhaps another million have gone unrecorded. Since the start of the pandemic, nine months ago already, the weekly cases logged by the World Health Organisation have been trending very slowly upwards and, in the seven days to September 30th, breached 2 million for the first time. The virus is burning through parts of the emerging world. India has been registering over 90,000 cases a day. Some European countries that thought they had suppressed the disease are in the throes of a second wave. In America the official death toll this week exceeded 200,000; the seven day total is rising in 26 states. Those figures represent a lot of suffering. Roughly 1% of survivors have long-term viral damage such as crippling fatigue and scarred lungs. In developing countries, especially, bereavement is compounded by poverty and hunger. The northern winter will force people indoors, where the disease spreads much more easily than in the open air. Seasonal flu could add to the burden on health systems. Amid the gloom, keep three things in mind. The statistics contain good news as well as bad. Treatments and medicines are making covid-19 less deadly: new vaccines and drugs will soon add to their effects. And societies have the tools to control the disease today. Yet it is here, in the basics of public health, where too many governments are still failing their people. Covid-19 will remain a threat for months, possibly years. They must do better.

One way or the other the pandemic has bought us time to better understand the virus. At the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, the Summit supercomputer set about crunching data on more than 40,000 genes from 17,000 genetic samples in an effort to better understand covid-19. When Summit was done, an ‘eureka’ moment happened amongst the researchers: The computer had revealed a new theory about how covid-19 impacts the body: the ‘bradykinin hypothesis’. The hypothesis provides a model that explains many aspects of covid-19, including some of its most bizarre symptoms. According to the team’s findings, a covid-19 infection generally begins when the virus enters the body through ACE2 receptors in the nose, (The receptors, which the virus is known to target, are abundant there.). The virus then proceeds through the body, entering cells in other places where ACE2 is also present: the intestines, kidneys, and heart. This likely accounts for at least some of the disease’s cardiac and GI symptoms. But once Covid-19 has established itself in the body, things start to get really interesting. The data Summit analyzed shows that covid-19 isn’t content to simply infect cells that already express lots of ACE2 receptors. Instead, it actively hijacks the body’s own systems, tricking it into upregulating ACE2 receptors in places where they’re usually expressed at low or medium levels, including the lungs.

“In this sense, Covid-19 is like a burglar who slips in your unlocked second-floor window and starts to ransack your house. Once inside, though, they don’t just take your stuff — they also throw open all your doors and windows so their accomplices can rush in and help pillage more efficiently.”

The current computing power of cloud applications showed its worth. It still took Summit — analyzing 2.5 billion genetic combinations — about a week. Nevertheless, the transfer from classical licensed computing infrastructures to servers racking up somewhere in a basement has shown to become more of a reality. At least, the public markets reacted vividly to the transformation from licensed software to cloud data analytics, storage and warehousing. Snowflake, a cloud data warehousing firm, recorded the biggest software IPO ever, doubling its shares on their first day of trading. Microsoft started its project Natick, an underwater cloud datacenter, runned solely on wind energy providing data services to customer’s near coastlines. Another signal was Accenture’s, global leader in IT consultancy, announcement of a 3 billion dollar investment to help clients become ‘cloud first’ businesses. In order to help me understand this stepwise procedure, I called in the help of Loïc Claeys, clinical consultant at Accenture and cloud specialist. His blueprint for such stepwise procedure is laid out clearly.

Loïc: “What we call a cloud transformation or journey to cloud, although a complex and frequently a multi-year adventure, boils down to nailing three steps:

  1. Define a holistic cloud data strategy. This requires input from both business and technology stakeholders within the company. The starting point here is always the drivers of business value, an essential part of the approach. Once clarified, one can start discussing governance of the program and Innovation. Innovation is vital in a cloud transformation.
  2. Migrate and structure the data. Building the right infrastructure is also part of this step, but as cloud technology is always at your fingertips and highly scalable, most effort goes into migrating and structuring the data and applications in the cloud. You want to avoid bringing unnecessary data with you and for the elements you migrate you want to bring it to the next level in terms of structure.
  3. Identify the right skills and tools to do the job. As for any transformation, you need the right people using the right tools to make it successful. Therefore it is important to assess where you need additional support. Talents such as cloud experts and data scientists don’t come easy. Leveraging external resources is key to support the expertise of your workforce with additional support in the right areas.

Accenture Cloud First launches with 3 billion dollar investment (image: https://aithority.com/computing)

As an advisory partner of a company starting a cloud transformation, we always start from the business value case. Although each transformation is defined by similar key steps, each journey is unique and based on the actual needs a company has. To give some examples of the myriad of situations that can drive a cloud transformation: a company can be switching from capex to opex, it can be involved in M&A or divestitures, it may have challenges to accelerate the deployment of new services etc. In collaboration with the company a business value case is built on the three main levers: revenue growth, risk and reduced costs. Cloud technology actively contributes towards these levers, a notion that only recently starts to be widely recognized among executives. (think of the classic misconceptions of cloud security, reliability and contribution to business value).

The business case is then translated into a cloud strategy and operating model, clearly showing how customer value will be created. As part of this exercise we will also conduct an assessment on cloud applications to determine the most suited provider(s). Strong partnerships and deep industry knowledge are key to bring the right advisory, this is why both are always present in discussions with a client. Next comes the actual transformation approach and planning. How and when can we optimally migrate the key components of a company’s application landscape to the cloud, ensuring adoption from all stakeholders? Especially the last one will either make or break the success of the transformation (“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” — Peter Drucker is also applicable in cloud).

Once these elements are defined, one typically starts looking at the support needed for the cloud transformation. Managing the operations during implementation on one hand, and security on the other are vital supporting parts of the larger transformation. This is typically where advisory hands over to the actual execution of the implementation done by technology experts and reverts to a more supporting role.”

Thank you Loïc! Still a large part of operating costs will go to over demanding providers and volatile energy bills which not many have been able to pull off!

For more on this topic check out: https://fstechadvisory.accenture.com/three-steps-to-journey-within-cloud/

Goodbye Trumpism

“He’s a liar.” “You’re the liar.” “Will you shut up, man.” Joe Biden and Donald Trump sparred in the first presidential debate. The atmosphere was unedifying. Polarization doesn’t begin to describe the current state of American politics. The dominant metaphor of our time is warfare, and it was on full display during the first Presidential debate. The rules may be changed for the two remaining debates, to make it harder for candidates to interrupt each other. Joe Biden spent the evening jabbing at Mr. Trump for bringing the country to its knees. And the president went for what he hoped would be a knockout blow, accusing his opponent of being a weak man who would succumb to the left’s plan to dramatically expand government and cripple business. Fear of just such a leftward lurch under Mr. Biden is circulating among some American business leaders. However, the charge is wide of the mark. Mr. Biden has rejected the Utopian ideas of the left. His tax and spending proposals are reasonable. They imply only a modestly bigger state and attempt to deal with genuine problems facing America, including shoddy infrastructure, climate change and the travails of small business. In fact, the flaw in Mr. Biden’s plans is that in some areas, they are not far-reaching enough. When Mr. Trump took power in 2017 he hoped to unleash the animal spirits of business by offering bosses a hotline to the Oval Office and slashing red tape and taxes. Before covid-19, bits of this plan were working, helped by loose policy at the Federal Reserve. Small-business confidence was near a 30-year high; stocks were on a tear and the wages of the poorest quartile of workers were growing by 4.7 % a year, the fastest since 2008. Voters rank the economy as a priority and, were it not for the virus that record may have been enough to re-elect him. Yet, partly owing to the pandemic, Mr Trump’s shortcomings have also become clear. Long-term problems have festered, including crumbling infrastructure and a patchy social safety-net. The underlying dynamism of business remains weak. Investment is muted and fewer firms have been created even as big ones gain clout. Mr Trump’s chaotic style, involving the public shaming of firms and attacks on the rule of law, is a tax on growth. Deregulation has turned into a careless bonfire of rules. The confrontation with China has yielded few concessions, while destabilising the global trading system.

As the 46th president, Mr Biden would alleviate some of these problems simply by being a competent administrator who believes in institutions, heeds advice and cares about outcomes. Those qualities will be needed in 2021, as perhaps 5 million face long-term unemployment and many small firms confront bankruptcy. Mr Biden’s economic priority would be to pass a huge “recovery” bill, worth perhaps 2–3 trillion dollars, depending on whether a stimulus plan passes Congress before the election. This would include short-term money, boosting unemployment insurance and help for state and local governments, which face a budget hole. Mr Biden would also extend grants or loans to small businesses which have not received as much aid as big firms. He would ease tensions with China, soothing the markets. And if a vaccine arrives, his co-operative rather transactional approach to foreign relations would make its global distribution easier and allow borders to reopen and trade to recover faster. My money is on Sleepy Joe.

See you next week,
Laurent

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