COBOL – fuelling the FinTech explosion

How – and why – is COBOL, a decades-old technology, fuelling explosive growth in a new area? Our new blogger, Henning Luebberding, shares his thoughts….

FinTech investments more than doubled in 2015 and there are currently around 5000 to 6000 FinTech companies competing for market share – and billions of venture capital funding. Financial Technology is also a hypercompetitive, B2C marketplace set in a difficult, highly-regulated landscape with zero room for error.

Sensibly, most start-ups delegate managing the complex IT back-end to a more experienced partner in the banking sector. They concentrate on finding customers – and funding – while utilizing the power of their partner’s COBOL applications for the ‘heavy lifting’ of back-end IT.

Examples include Number26, who partner with Wirecard, while Fairr.de rely on Sutor Bank for IT support. So what’s in it for the more established banks? Plenty. Because unlike the unruly intrusion of challenger banks, this partnership enables older banks to become stakeholders in the disruptive innovation sweeping their marketplace.

But to meet their end of the bargain – to deliver the services FinTech start-ups need – banks must up their IT game. Arguably the definition of ‘fit for purpose’ banking technology must now include modern functionality, such as APIs for mobile and web applications, as standard.

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The challenge

This article predicts bank spending on new technologies in North America to reach $19.9 billion in 2017. Current IT must evolve. But ‘older’ COBOL is ubiquitous in this sector; the simple ‘00’ syntax was created for number crunching and COBOL has been the language of banking for 50 years.

COBOL is here for good. As recently as February of last year, COBOL’s durability, prevalence and reliability established it in the top 20 of the TIOBE Index and it continues to grow. But banks and other FS clients don’t need graphs. They want real-world answers to the business challenges their customers are giving them.

Some currently host their COBOL applications on mainframes, a technology never created for this level of flexibility. Others use distributed platforms. Few have a great appetite for the risks of rewrite or replacement. So how can the behemoths of banking offer the innovation that the more nimble FinTech start-ups demand?

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The solutions

Micro Focus enabling technologies regularly achieve modern flexibility for our financial services (FS) customers and other owners of mature COBOL and PL/I applications.

Mainframe clients exploit the contemporary Eclipse or Visual Studio technology of Enterprise Developer, a powerful integrated development environment (IDE) while Visual COBOL offers the same benefits on distributed platforms.

Visual COBOL, Enterprise Developer – and the Micro Focus Enterprise suite of application modernization tools – enable FS customers to realise a corporate FinTech strategy. They protect their IT infrastructure investments while improving application development to create the products their end-users – the bank customers – and partners demand.

Because as we noted in our recent blog on challenger banks. “Customers are trusting banks who possess good technology. And IT could well be the next major battlefield between established and challenger banks in a rapidly changing market.”

So whether banks are start-ups or just looking to keep going, a failure to innovate means being left behind…….

Share your thoughts in the comment section below

10 ways to boost COBOL application development

What would really make a difference to your working life as a developer? Faster coding? Better productivity? Easier ways for new developers to work with unfamiliar languages? Perhaps all of these. Here are 10 ways that Micro Focus Visual COBOL application development tool can really help make your job easier and faster, with fewer errors and much higher productivity.

What do COBOL developers want?

1.    Faster coding

If you want the job done quicker, you need the right appdev tools to make it happen. You can’t go wrong if your toolset is designed specifically to give the best COBOL experience. Combine them with Visual Studio and Eclipse to maintain, develop and modernize your COBOL apps. These two IDEs set the benchmark for software development. You’ll be more productive than you’ve ever known.

Editing code in Visual Studio, with Visual COBOL 2015 Editor
Editing code in Visual Studio, with Visual COBOL 2015 Editor

2.    Fewer coding errors

Compile errors often happen because of missing or incorrect punctuation, and misspellings. These kind of mistakes are far too easy to make, aren’t they? Background compilation makes it easier to avoid typos, as it immediately picks up on them so you can correct as you compile. Goodbye to hundreds of errors, hello to cleaner code.

Eclipse enhanced error markers and copybook dependency view
Eclipse enhanced error markers and copybook dependency

3.    Create modern user interfaces

Need to build an attractive, modern UI? It’s easy with COBOL. You can develop a .NET WPF or Java Swing application, and use the speedy design tools in Visual Studio and Eclipse. You can quickly deliver a new mobile application user interface using existing COBOL code, by working with HTML-5 design tools. Create your own here.

Create your own mobile service with our AirMiles Calculator demo
Create your own mobile service with our AirMiles Calculator demo

4.    Easier Object Oriented development

COBOL now has a rich set of Object Oriented (OO) extensions that are ideal for OO development and interfacing to your current procedural code. This means you can work in .NET or the Java Virtual Machine without having to write all your OO code in Java or C#. Learn more about OO programming with this infographic.

5.    Faster codebase search

Finding where to make a change in code can sometimes take ages. Developers get more done if they can search the codebase faster. As well as quick find and a regular expression search across your source files, you can benefit from context sensitive search, which tells you where a field is referenced or modified – all at the click of button. See how easy it is. Take our interactive screen test now to see COBOL development before and after, in Windows or Unix. Take screen test now

COBOL Source Information output from Visual Studio showing all occurrences of file IO usage within a program
COBOL Source Information output from Visual Studio showing all occurrences of file IO usage within a program

6.    Speedier number crunching

You can now use COBOL inside the same popular toolset that so many developers use. This means Java or .NET developers will have a much easier time picking up COBOL. It can take just a matter of hours. After that, you’re likely to create some converts as others see how good the COBOL engine is at crunching reams of data.

7.    Predicts what you’re typing

When you’re dealing with many lines of code in your COBOL apps, it’s sometimes difficult to remember field names and sections – you could have hundreds to choose from. With an easy to use tool which predicts what you’ve started typing, it doesn’t matter if you can only remember part of a data name.

8.    Shorter lines of code

.NET and Java already include vast frameworks of code you can reuse in your own app, saving you time and trouble. Need to display a message box, perform date arithmetic or display a localized message? What might have taken pages of code before, you can now do in just a few lines.

9.    Evolves to keep up with the latest

COBOL is still around for a very good reason. Application development teams must bring apps bang up to date with industry standards and this can be done easily with the right application development tools. With rich OO extensions, and XML, SQL and Unicode features, your team will be able to adhere with minimal effort.

Modern COBOL development in Eclipse
Modern COBOL development in Eclipse

10.    Works with other languages

Visual Studio and Eclipse support dozens of different languages from open source to mainstays like C++, Java, VB.NET and C#. When you’re working in .NET or the JVM, you can debug COBOL and any other language simultaneously.

Boost your productivity today with a free trial

Can’t wait to make your life easier and boost COBOL application development? Take your free 30-day Micro Focus Visual COBOL trial. All you need to do is click the link below and complete the form. You can choose from 4 Visual COBOL product trials:

  • Visual COBOL for Visual Studio
  • Visual COBOL for Eclipse – Windows®
  • Visual COBOL for Eclipse – SUSE
  • Visual COBOL for Eclipse – Red Hat

Download now and discover Visual COBOL’s easy-to-use developer toolset. Try now.

Hungry for more? See Reveal a more youthful side to your COBOL code – 12 ways to make it happen here

How many passwords do you have?

Mark Conway, Director of Product Development at Micro Focus, takes a look into Multi-factor Authentication, password security and what it all means for the developer community.

Password Proliferation….

Either they are simple and easy to crack. Or difficult to remember and get written down. They are surprisingly easy to steal. If a Windows authentication dialog pops up, how many of us would just type our password into it without thinking? Are we sure it’s not a web page displaying something that looks like a legitimate prompt but is secretly capturing input?

This isn’t news. Organizations like the Federal Government and PCI (Payment Card Industry) Security Standards Council have mandated what’s call Multi-Factor Authentication. This is often expressed as:

  • Something you know (e.g. a password).
  • Something you have (e.g. a smartcard or phone).
  • Something you are (e.g a fingerprint, or other biometric).

Passwords alone are no longer enough. We’re getting used to multi-factor through consumer sites like Google and Facebook – sometime they SMS us a PIN to use. This is multi-factor. It means that a bad guy must have intercepted your phone as well as obtained your password to get into the application ‘as you’. It’s a lot more secure. There are even some organizations which have removed passwords altogether and just rely on strong authentication.

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What does this mean for Applications Developers?

Many applications over a few years old used their own user login screens. It’s pretty simple – display a dialog with username and password; look up the username in LDAP, etc. but in the Multi-Factor world it’s not so simple. Every application has to handle the myriad of different inputs and requests required – from finger prints to one-time passwords, from smart cards to image gestures. It’s just not practical, and it definitely wouldn’t be consistent from each application.

Authentication methods are evolving fast. One of the many vendors Micro Focus is working with is Nymi (nymi.com).  Their wristband device uses an ECG to authenticate (and in future it could double as fitness band).

One thing for sure is that “logging in” is going to become more involved for users which will annoy the hell out of them! Biometrics may look like a great solution, but so far nothing is 100% reliable, and a back-up is always needed. We want the burden on normal users to be as small as possible.

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Some things that help:

Single Single On (SSO).

Once Authenticated, user should stay authenticated for their “session” – long enough to accomplish their tasks. Other applications should not ask the user to log in again. This means real SSO, not just synchronizing your CRM application logins with your LDAP server and sharing passwords.

Risk-based authentication.

Not all log ins are equal. Do all these scenarios carry the same risk?

  • User was logged in an hour ago, and wants to log in now to the same application, from the same location.
  • A user is logging in at 2am to an application they’ve never used before, and previously they’ve only worked office hours.
  • A user is logging on from a device (e.g. a phone), which they’ve never used before.
  • User is logging in from China, and they are already logged in from Brazil.

What we’re really talking about here is abstracting the notion of authentication & authorization from the application itself. We’ve known this is good practice for years, but just not always done it. With multi-factor it’s no longer an option.  This is a win-win situation: our applications become more secure for users and as Developers, we no longer have to care. That means I’ll never need to implement another login screen again…….

Don’t forget to find out more about the leading Internet Access and Security solutions from Micro Focus by visiting the NetIQ website

PL/I – 50 years young….

Relying on PL/I-based applications to tackle today’s challenges doesn’t have to be challenging. Amie Johnson checks out how the Micro Focus approach to modernization enables PL/I shops to get the most out of the rich and valuable business logic embedded in PL/I applications and support innovation.

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Did you know IBM shipped the first Pl/I compiler in 1966? Contemplating PL/I’s fifty-year anniversary made me wonder what fifty computer years feels like. Turning fifty in human years usually induces fear and anxiety because we’re forced to reckon with the fact that, according to today’s calculated life expectancy, we’ve lived more than half of our life. That’s intense. But, turning fifty in computer years seems dramatically more intense. Especially imagining if I were the CIO of a business relying on fifty year-old PL/I applications to compete in today’s world where the speed at which you can deliver services matters in fractions of a percentage point. Cue some uncertainty…..

As you can imagine, a fifty year old IT estate is an unwieldy array of disparate, heterogeneous systems, often woven together by a delicate fabric of dependencies and relationships. But the Intellectual Property captured within these estates contains nuggets of genuine gold. For example PL/I has boasting rights to some pretty remarkable accomplishments – from space travel to laying the foundation for the instant-price-quote economy that drives fierce competition in industries like insurance and travel.

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The truth is, there is still a sizable group of industry leading businesses using the differentiators delivered by their PL/I-based systems to compete and win today. And IBM has shipped new enhancements every year since 1999 including providing modernization capabilities that enable business-critical applications to interoperate with Java, process inbound and outbound XML documents, and work with Web services and the latest middleware.

Micro Focus too continues to invest in helping our PL/I customers by continuing to cultivate a team of PL/I talent that is unrivaled in the industry. Additionally, the latest update to the Enterprise Product Suite boasts an array of PL/I enhancements geared toward making the work of the PL/I teams more integrated.

Enterprise Developer support for PL/I now enables users to create projects on remote UNIX/Linux machines from the Eclipse IDE so developers can remotely edit, compile and debug their PL/I applications on the target machine from within the IDE running on Windows. This makes the use of development tools more consistent and the results from testing more relevant as the applications are running on the target environment.

Visual Studio-specific improvements include support for squiggles, IntelliSense, margins and error checking when editing, which improves developer productivity by making code development and problem determination easier.

And for organizations that need to consider a multi-platform environment or want to modernize their applications to take advantage of 64-bit server architecture, Enterprise Server offers improved functionality and greater language compatibility, making it easier to deploy PL/I workloads wherever the business needs them to be.

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CIOs today have to contend with plenty of challenges, like addressing the IT Backlog and meeting tough compliance targets while delivering new web, mobile and cloud-based services quickly. Relying on PL/I-based applications to tackle these challenges doesn’t have to be be challenging. Check out how our approach to modernization enables you to get the most from the rich and valuable business logic embedded in your PL/I applications, so you can support the business as it looks to innovate.

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IT Skills: Industry experts have their say, Part 1

IT Skills remains an important topic in many organizations. In a recent webinar, hosted by SHARE, experts from Micro Focus, IBM and IT-ology gave some tremendous insights into this important question. Jackie Anglin caught up with Micro Focus’ panelist, Ed Airey, to hear all about it

Recently I helped arrange a webinar on IT Skills, featuring a panel of experts. Hosted by Micro Focus’ Derek Britton, the panel included Ed Airey – Micro Focus’ solutions marketing director, Lonnie Emard – President of IT-ology, David Rhoderick – Manager of IBM z Systems Competitive Project Office.

Derek set the scene describing reports of concerns over dwindling technical skills, but then asked Ed and the other panelists a range of key questions. Having worked with our University partners through the Micro Focus Academic Program and a variety of customers around our COBOL-based technology, Ed has some unique insights, so I was glad to catch up with him and ask him about how the webinar went:

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Ed the first question was “How does an organization build an appropriately skilled workforce?” – how did you see it?

Ed: “That’s a great question.  To best address future IT workforce needs, an organization must first assess their current IT (application) estate.  A strong understanding of the application portfolio supporting core business will drive the necessary conversation and action to best develop or recruit that sought after talent.  Fundamentally, though, an organization must begin by examining the value within its core business application portfolio.  If such applications remain vital to the long term success of that organization then IT leadership must align its IT skills plans to that of its core business applications.  That being said, this new’ digital economy’ has added even further complexity to the skills planning process.  Supporting core business systems is important, but IT must also possess the skills needed to deliver ‘new innovation’ as requested by the business.  For an organization to appropriately respond to this challenge, it must recruit and develop IT talent with an understanding and appreciation of core business applications but also with eye to future technology and how the ‘best of both worlds’ can come together to address core business needs.”

ITSkills Q2

The second question was about how technology plays its part in the skill challenge. Thoughts?

Ed: “Yes – and we see this pretty clearly. Technology plays a hugely important role in addressing IT skills concerns.  Both IBM and Micro Focus share a long standing commitment to technology innovation and have made similar investments in this area.  Here at Micro Focus, we believe that technology can mitigate challenges organizations have in attracting ‘next gen’ talent.  In the context of business applications, many IT shops use tech that ‘did the job’ well enough, but required many years of experience to command.  But the application development landscape has changed.  According to reports, over 70% of professional software developers are building enterprise applications using either Visual Studio or Eclipse.  And these same IDEs are the development tools being taught within most IT university programs. So graduates will have modern IT development skills but also a command (and interest) for many programming languages.  Herein is the strategy for enterprise organizations to attract next generation talent in support of core business systems but also to acquire the same talent needed to modernize these applications for the future. Micro Focus and IBM have made investments in this space to simplify application development across all environments, mainframe, distributed and cloud.   Developers can now easily build and test enterprise applications (COBOL, PL/I) using the latest IDEs (Visual Studio or Eclipse) allowing organizations to leverage modern technology to bring on more skilled talent where it is needed.”

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Finally Ed, you were asked what is the long term solution?

Ed: “That’s right. Here’s how I saw it – the long term solution to addressing industry skills concern rests with the greater community and the ability of that collective group to better collaborate together, align business need to IT skill development and ultimately, deliver lasting change.  That change occurs through honest, open and continual dialogue between partners – Academic universities shaping IT curriculums to the needs of its local business partners (the enterprise).  Enterprise IT partnering more closely with their local university and IT vendors playing their role through the FREE provision and education of modern technology.  It’s only when these three forces align, can the community truly implement lasting change and a long term solution to the ‘IT skills’ concern.”

Thanks Ed – was there anything else you saw as important?

Ed: “To be honest this is an ongoing discussion for many organizations, which are constantly changing, and need to look at their talent pool regularly. But for organizations seeking to move quickly to address IT Skills uneasiness, I would suggest the following actions:

  • Begin an assessment of your current and future IT skill needs.  Ask how do these skills align to your existing CORE business application portfolio?  Develop a succession plan (shadow program) to cross train IT talent within your organization.
  • Reach out to your local university.  Develop a partnership.  Share your needs and begin to influence the IT program at that university.  Better still suggest your local university research the IBM Academic Initiative or the Micro Focus Academic program for software and educational support.”

In my next blog, we’ll recap the panel discussion including thoughts and views from IT-ology and IBM on tackling the skills opportunity that organizations have. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback too! Find me on Twitter

In the mainframe world, 13 into 16 does go

2015 was a busy year for big blue. Derek Britton ruminates over the last 12 months’ major events and industry chatter in the mainframe world, as we look forward to 2016 being another exciting year.

I’ve enjoyed the recent spate of articles and blogs from the team at Compuware, talking about the mainframe in an entertainingly assertive way (see here for examples). Many of us in the mainframe community share the passion and belief in the mainframe as the enterprise class IT server of choice. Indeed the positioning of the IBM z13 as the enterprise class server at the heart of the digital economy has considerable merit.

Elsewhere in the press, studies from a variety of sources (including BMC, Compuware, Syncsort and Delphix) reveal ongoing support for and usage of the mainframe environment.

CIOz13

While the mainframe environment is derided by some, not least those that would benefit from clients moving to an alternative environment, not all industry commentators follow that line.

The fanfare greeting the z13 last year was remarkably positive (an example from Motley Fool here) – IBM’s mainframe revenue results have followed that positive direction. Later in the year we were treated to more excitement with the release of the LinuxOne range of IBM mainframe-based Linux servers, and the recommitment to the Open Mainframe Project (with the help of SUSE).

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In recent months the mainframe has recieved some upbeat and well-considered press. SD Times ran an excellent review of the mainframe world – “Are mainframes still road worthy” which talked about a buoyant, positive market (though not without its challenges). More recently still was the Forbes article, penned by Adrian Bridgwater. In this article, the premise that the mainframe is in some way outmoded (the title calls this out immediately – “How to rescue a dead mainframe programmer”) is explored and debunked. Citing some recent software announcements, the article explores two of the key focus areas for the mainframe community right now. Notably Skills and DevOps.

On skills, the challenges were clearly identified – “all the older guys who knew … mainframe systems … are retiring”. This creates an issue when, as it goes on “existing mainframe server systems are … well suited to large-scale datacentre … environments”, and therefore need to be sustained and evolved.

The article then infers that resolving the reliance on older tooling may play its part. Micro Focus agrees wholeheartedly, such that this is less of an issue than IT leaders might fear. Antiquated technology is hard to find staff to use, yet needn’t be a problem. Modern mainframe development technology is readily available which provides the same environment for mainframe teams as is being used by other developers. This unified approach provides potential cross-pollination between various development teams and has been successfully adopted by Micro Focus customers looking to extend their supply of skilled mainframe talent. One organization now has an average mainframe developer age of 26 as a result of their Micro Focus investment.

Micro Focus’ overall approach to the Mainframe and COBOL skills question is outlined here.

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The other subject of the Forbes article and topic du jour: DevOps. You can’t move for DevOps discussions right now. At the next SHARE event in March 2016 –a barometer for the psyche of the mainframe world – the event now has its own DevOps track: “DevOps in the Enterprise”. As you would expect Micro Focus will be there and presenting our own DevOps session).

Vendors have arrived at the DevOps party at various times. Compuware are mentioned in the Forbes article as “empowering”, according to CEO Chris O’Malley, “Agile DevOps teams to master the mainframe”. Such facilities – in a genuine agile environment – present integration needs across a variety of 3rd party tools (not just those mentioned in the article). However any steps forward in integration and support between mainframe-centric tooling and DevOps technology is a step in the right direction. Micro Focus’ support, within its Enterprise product set, a range of agile tools, including its own Borland range (Atlas, Silk, AccuRev, StarTeam), plus Jenkins, Sonar Source etc. Integration with Endevor, SCLM or Changeman on the mainframe, takes that mantra further. Our customers are using such facilities today as the central hub for their DevOps-based mainframe delivery processes.

What this means, in simple terms, is that the challenges facing mainframers in the move to an agile process – poor interoperability, lack of productivity, inflexible testing capability, insufficient collaboration, low overall delivery velocity, inefficiency – stand a real chance of being fixed to create a meaningful improvement in throughput and flexibility. Learn more about how that happens here.

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Bridgwater concludes with the forward-thinking label, “Agile mainframes”. And with the right skills and technology available, which they most certainly can be; he’s right. You can see it for yourself at SHARE or join us at a DevDay this year to witness the power of agile COBOL app development from Micro Focus.

Brand new year – same old problems?

For technology trend-watchers, the New Year has begun in much the same way old one ended.

As the reports of Black Friday and Cyber Monday-prompted site crashes tail off, predictions about upcoming technology trends kick in, and early 2016 looks much like late 2015. So will last year’s failures help us meet new challenges? Let’s take a look…

Peering into my crystal ball, I see virtual reality headsets, Artificial Intelligence, and driverless vehicles leading the charge of new technology into the commercial stream. The headsets are already on Amazon.

Back in the real world, CIOs are pushing ‘must refine digital strategies’ further up the agenda. It’s a long to-do list. Cloud, big data – and the analytics needed to extract anything useful from it – the ‘move to mobile’, online security, virtualisation, hybrid architectures, containers are just seven.

Other organisations will be trying to adapt to new methodologies, such as Agile and DevOps. Meanwhile, everyone wants to be the first to market with their innovations in digital services, even while cutting costs.

Cutting through the hype, three key organisational goals will remain:

  • Maintaining and protecting brand quality
  • Accelerating time to market, either proactively or reactively
  • Improving the user experience – and creating happy customers

Market movers and shakers

Some start-ups will fly – others will stall – while challenger banks continue to invade the finance space. Retailers will focus more on digital channels, next-gen consoles and virtual reality will fuel the gaming explosion. This means five things for CIOs:

  • The nature and ease of access to this technology will take us places we have never been before – and be even more disruptive than ever.
  • Organisations not keeping up with market trends risk being left behind
  • Bringing unreliable products or services to market risks damaging brand reputation
  • Teams must deliver what the business needs, faster than ever
  • Focusing on delivering what the customer demands and not what the IT departments think the customer wants is key

So how can organisations deal with this three-pronged attack? Using better tools to work smarter will certainly help.

Under attack? Get tooled up

Micro Focus solutions can help fix these issues by enabling them to embrace DevOps, boost business agility and reduce time to market. Any one of these elements protects brand reputation. All of them together will certainly enhance it.

Atlas is an Agile requirements solution. It unites technical and operations teams with business analysts on a platform that captures market trends and innovative stakeholder ideas. This joined-up working means organisations can quickly realise the impact of changes on the product in development, enabling Agile teams to get the right product to the business quicker than ever.

Silk is a platform-neutral automated testing suite that tests application functionality, responsiveness, user experience and performance. Whether deploying on multiple mobile devices and browsers, in the Cloud or on desktops, Silk enables test runs to be managed automatically. With full visibility across the testing and development lifecycle, errors are reduced and teams test earlier in the lifecycle and embrace the DevOps ethos.

So, if this is the year that your organisation gets on the front foot and stays ahead of the curve then give your teams the means to be strategic and not reactive. If this is to be the age of AI and next-gen tech, selling products that drives customers to throw themselves in front of the nearest driverless vehicle seems like last year’s thinking.

Whether this is to be a happy New Year or twelve months of challenges is entirely in your hands.

Crawford