At Intel Labs’ annual outing, Chipzilla has announced it is investing millions in a new social research center and explained how it plans to avoid the mistakes of researchers in the past.
The new Intel Science Technology Center is a $15m program funding five years of research into social and anthropological research into how people use technology. Rather than focus on how hardware and software are used, the new center will be looking at how human wetware interacts with the resulting data.
Intel has upped its RD spending in such academic sectors to over $100m in recent years, and CTO Justin Rattner said the company had come a long way from the early days when Gordon Moore would personally have to review and sign off on any research funding. But making big investments upfront, Intel could fund full-time research places and reap the rewards he said.
Chipzilla is looking to avoid the mistakes Xerox made with its vaunted Palo Alto Research Center, which invented much of the backbone of modern computing, including Ethernet, the GUI, the mouse, and laser printing, but almost none of those inventions were taken to market by Xerox, which lost out by concentrating on its existing business.
A youthful Steve Jobs famously brokered a million dollar deal to tour PARC and harvest its secrets for Apple’s early lines, something that provoked resignation threats from PARC directors, and Microsoft then
stole was inspired by the same technology. Bob Metcalfe took Ethernet public with 3Com and changed the world. But Xerox reaped none of the benefits of its research because it didn’t get the difference between invention and innovation Rattner said.
“We’re very conscious of this at Intel Labs and have spent considerable time ways to break those barriers and avoid what we call the valley of death for products in the labs that never make it to product,” he explained. ®
Rattner also caused a frisson of excitement with the mention that the start of sessions would be signaled with the “Intel bong.” This turned out to be a reference to the advertising music it has used, rather than some of California’s finest medicinal herbs.
26 June 2012
Last updated at 20:08
The new Farmville game offers more detailed animations which can be rotated by the user
Zynga has unveiled a sequel to its most successful video game to date.
Farmville 2 builds on the original real-time farming simulation adding “3D graphics” which allow players to view the world from different angles.
Users cannot carry over items from the original game, adding an incentive to buy virtual goods to speed up progress.
Investors will hope it proves popular. The firm’s stock has traded below its flotation price since April because of fears of waning interest in its titles.
Some analysts have pointed to Facebook users shifting to mobile devices. Although Zynga offers “express” versions of some of its games via the mobile Facebook app, these have not proved popular.
It has acted to counter this trend by offering a selection of titles as separate app downloads, although it has not announced plans to do this with Farmville 2.
The new game was announced at Zynga’s Unleashed press event at its San Francisco headquarters, where it was also developed.
“One of the things that people will notice right away is that it’s our first 3D game,” the firm’s chief technology officer Cadir Lee told the BBC.
Zynga says water acts in a more “lifelike” manner in the new game
“All the buildings, crops and animals are shown in 3D. You can see them from multiple directions, they can rotate, you can see them more richly – so it provides a certain pop in the game itself.
“The game also has more social elements and a lot more crafting: the crops that you harvest are what you use in the game to make things which you then use to make other things, like on a natural farm.”
According to independent traffic tracking service Appdata the original Farmville peaked with about 82 million users playing it at least once a month in March 2010.
More than two years later Zynga revealed the title was still its biggest earner, accounting for 29% of its revenue over the first three months of 2012.
The latest Appdata data suggests 21.7 million users still log on at least once a month to tend to their crops, trees and animals.
Other titles unveiled at the event included The Ville, another revamp of an earlier game. Based on Yoville, players are tasked with building a house and developing relationships with other players.
It also showed off Zynga Elite Slots, an “adventure” title featuring different fruit machines, and Chefville, a restaurant simulation in which players can entertain their friends.
Expanding the platform
The Ville offers an alternative to Electronic Arts’ The Sims Social
Third-party developers were wooed with the announcement of API (application programming interface) tools to make it easier for them to create games based on Zynga’s software.
Resulting titles are then be offered on the firm’s own website.
Participants must also offer their creations via Facebook – something that may prevent the move from causing tension with the social network.
Zynga said Atari had confirmed it would now join its network with an as yet undisclosed game.
Illegal downloaders will start receiving warning letters from internet service providers from 1 March 2014, under a draft code for the government’s anti-digital piracy regime drawn up by media regulator Ofcom.
Under the draft code, published on Tuesday by the regulator, the UK’s biggest ISPs – BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk Group and Virgin Media – will be required to send letters to customers warning them when there is an allegation from a film, TV or music company that there has been illegal downloading from their computer.
Web users who get three warning letters in a year will face having anonymous information of their downloading and filesharing history provided to copyright owners, which could then be used to gain a court order to reveal the customer’s identity and take legal action against piracy.
Internet users will be able to appeal against a report on their alleged infringement, at a cost of £20, which will be refunded if they are successful.
Ofcom said that given the logistics involved in establishing an appeals body and other elements necessary to police the draft code, which implements anti-piracy provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010, UK internet users will not start receiving letters until 1 March 2014.
Ofcom’s draft code – which, after a consultation period is expected, to pass through parliament at the end of the year – also gives a breakdown of the costs involved to set up and run the new system. As much as 75% of the costs will be met by rights holders.
The consultation on the online infringement of copyright code closes on 26 July. A separate consultation on the allocation of costs for policing the code runs until 18 September.
The anti-piracy legislation has been the focal point of a two-year battle between rights holders – many of who wanted much tougher action such as slowing or cutting off the internet connections of repeat offenders – and ISPs, which have argued that they should not have to foot the bill for enforcing the crackdown on piracy.
In March 2012, BT and TalkTalk lost a final legal challenge to force a judicial review of the Digital Economy Act, when their opposition was thrown out by the court of appeal.
While copyright owners can already seek court orders against digital pirates, the new code is designed to enable them to take legal action against the most persistent alleged infringers.
Ofcom and the government maintain that the new code has been carefully balanced to help the UK creative industries defend their intellectual property, while protecting the rights of consumers.
The music industry in particular has seen revenues dive over the past decade , which it blames on internet piracy.
“It is essential that government creates the right conditions for businesses to grow,” said creative industries minister Ed Vaizey. “We must ensure our creative industries can protect their investment. They have the right to charge people to access their content if they wish, whether in the physical world or on the internet.
“We are putting in place a system to educate people about copyright to ensure they know what legitimate content is and where to find it. The Digital Economy Act is an important part of protecting our creative industries against unlawful activity.”
However, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, argued that the draft code was flawed and potentially left libraries, hotels and bars that offer the internet to customers over Wi-Fi open to accusations of piracy.
“Digital revenues are going up, the music and film industry are moving in the right direction, yet this cumbersome policy is still lumbering forward,” said Killock.
“The appeals are a joke. Some people will almost certainly end up in court having done nothing wrong.”
The DEA also outlined certain other measures that could be considered to reduce piracy levels, including the slowing of internet connections, blocking online access or temporarily suspending accounts. These could be put back on the table by the government if the new code proves to be ineffective after its first full year of operation.
An annex to the report shows that if 70,000 copyright infringement reports are sent by rights holders to the biggest ISPs each month – BT, Virgin, TalkTalk and BSkyB — the total cost to rights holders will be £14.4m, with each letter costing £17.
The forecast is for it to become more cost effective for the rights holders to foot the bill for significantly more copyright infringement reports to go out to ISPs each month – 175,000 will cost them £15.2m, however the cost-per-letter drops to £7.20.
There is a slightly cheaper table of costs that has been set up for O2 and Everything Everywhere as they are significantly smaller ISPs.
Ofcom also said that between 2010 and 2015 it expected to have run up bills of £10.5m in relation to setting up and running the DEA’s anti-piracy regime, including drafting the code, establishing an independent appeals body, measurement and enforcement. Rights holders would foot the bill for the regime.
“These measures are designed to foster investment and innovation in the UK’s creative industries, while ensuring internet users are treated fairly and given help to access lawful content,” said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer group director.
“Ofcom will oversee a fair appeals process, and also ensure that rights holders’ investigations under the code are rigorous and transparent.”
25 June 2012
Last updated at 20:31
Microsoft hopes that its purchase of Yammer will entice more customers
Microsoft has confirmed it has bought the office social network site Yammer for $1.2bn.
The business, which is four years old and has five million users, operates like Facebook for communication within companies.
There had been reports the two were talking about a deal but Microsoft only confirmed the plan on Monday.
Yammer is used by firms including the motor giant Ford and the business services firm Deloitte.
Microsoft hopes the acquisition will make its range of software products more appealing.
Last year it bought the communications business Skype and is integrating it into its products, including its Office software which contributed 60% of its profits last year.
Yammer plans to continue to offer its service in the way it does currently.
Yammer’s chief executive David Sacks said: “When we started Yammer four years ago, we set out to do something big.
“We had a vision for how social networking could change the way we work. Joining Microsoft will accelerate that vision and give us access to the technologies, expertise and resources we’ll need to scale and innovate.”
Ailing Japanese computing giant NEC has been accused by domestic tax authorities of avoiding tax to the tune of over 10 billion yen (£80.2m), although it managed to escape punishment due to its poor financial health.
The Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau argued that NEC had orchestrated the cover-up over a three year period ending in March 2010, according to Asahi Shimbun.
NEC’s excuse was that the ¥10bn was paid to a Hong Kong-based telecoms firm by way of compensation after it was forced to pull its investment in the company in 2008, according to the paper’s sources.
The Japanese technology giant had wanted to get in on the comms firm’s success in the European mobile phone business but pulled out because of poor sales.
The tax man’s beef was apparently that the compensation payment exceeded that which NEC legally had to pay the firm according to the contract, making the whole affair seem rather fishy.
As a result, the bureau regarded the payment as a taxable entertainment expense rather than a business loss, however it did not oblige NEC to pay the fee due to its sizeable budget deficit, the report continued.
NEC has had a torrid time of late and at the beginning of the year forecast a net loss of ¥100bn (£820m) for 2011, after which it decided to slash its workforce by as many as 10,000.
The firm blamed “foreign vendors’ increasing market share in Japan” for impacting its smartphone shipments domestically, and said that the widespread flooding in Thailand at the end of 2011 had hit its operations there hard.
The firm has now joined the rank of once-proud Japanese tech pioneers including Sony, Fujitsu and Panasonic which have recently fallen on hard times, a trend which BT recently said could benefit foreign IT partners looking to invest in the country.
NEC did not immediately reply to a request for comment. ®
25 June 2012
Last updated at 00:52
Mr Little wants to create a database of voices to help diagnose Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s is a devastating disease for those living with the condition and currently there is no cure.
Diagnosis can also be slow as there are no blood tests to detect it.
But now mathematician Max Little has come up with a non-invasive, cheap test which he hopes will offer a quick new way to identify the disease.
He will be kicking off the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh calling for volunteers to contribute to a huge voice database.
Mr Little has discovered that Parkinson’s symptoms can be detected by computer algorithms that analyse voice recordings.
In a blind test of voices, the system was able to spot those with Parkinson’s with an accuracy of 86%.
Mr Little was recently made a TED Fellow.
The non-profit organisation behind the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference creates 40 such fellowships each year. The programme aims to target innovators under the age of 40 and offers them free entry to conferences and other events.
Mr Little became interested in understanding voice from a mathematical perspective while he was studying for a PhD at Oxford University in 2003.
“I was looking for a practical application and I found it in analysing voice disorders, for example when someone’s voice has broken down from over-use or after surgery on vocal cords,” he told the BBC.
“I didn’t occur to me at the time that people with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders could also be detected by the system.”
But a chance meeting with someone from Intel changed that.
Andy Grove, one of Intel’s founders and ex-chief executive, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000 and has since pledged millions of his personal fortune to fund research into the disease.
This includes funds for the chipmaker to develop its own projects to monitor the symptoms.
“They were using devices that detect breakdown in dexterity and accelerometers but they had also recorded the voices of around 50 patients with Parkinson’s,” explained Mr Little.
The recordings were detailed as the team had recorded the patients once a week over a six-month period.
“They had an enormous amount of data but they didn’t know what to do with it. So we wondered whether my technique would work,” said Mr Little.
“They set me a blind test to see if I can tell them which ones had Parkinson’s. I had 86% accuracy using the techniques I’d developed.”
The technology works partly by tracking the motion of vocal cords
The system “learns” to detect differences in voice patterns.
“This is machine learning. We are collecting a large amount of data when we know if someone has the disease or not and we train the database to learn how to separate out the true symptoms of the disease from other factors.”
Voice patterns can change for a number of reasons, including throat surgery, heavy smoking and even just having a common cold.
But Mr Little believes the system will be smart enough to tell the difference.
“It is not as simple as listening for a tremor in the voice. That tremor has to be in context of other measures and the system has to take in other factors such as if someone has a cold.”
Now he is looking for volunteers to contribute to a vast voice bank to help the database to learn even more.
He is aiming to record up to 10,000 voices and has set up local numbers in 10 countries around the world. In the UK the number is 01865 521168.
Anyone can call and they need to state whether or not they have been diagnosed with the disease.
There is also a website where people can find out more about the project.
“The more people that call in, the better,” he said.
“If we get 10,000 recordings we’d be very happy but even a tenth of that would be great,”
He hopes that the technology will be available to doctors within the next two years.
“We’re not intending this to be a replacement for clinical experts, rather, it can very cheaply help identify people who might be at high risk of having the disease and for those with the disease, it can augment treatment decisions by providing data about how symptoms are changing in-between check-ups with the neurologist,” he said.
There could also be a role for the technology in clinical trials.
“The technology makes it easy for people to report their progress whilst on a new drug, for example,” he added.
“If you can catch the disease early it will make a huge difference to care costs. It could become a key technology in reducing the burden of care on the NHS.”
Judge Richard Posner of Chicago has ended the Apple-versus-Motorola legal battle, at least in America: not only has he dismissed the case, he has done so “with prejudice”, meaning the two companies can’t defibrillate the lawsuit with a new filing.
Earlier this month, Posner had warned the companies that dismissal was likely. At the time, he had said that it was unlikely that either party would be able to prove that damages were warranted in the case and prevented the trial from starting. Now, the judge has confirmed that opinion in the strongest possible terms.
Posner: Neither party is entitled to an injunction
As before, neither party survives Posner’s judgment: testimony by Apple’s Nathaniel Polish is spiked as inviting “guesswork”, while Motorola is characterized as “going for broke” and providing “no reasonable evidence for calculating a reasonable royalty”.
Posner also ruled that injunctive relief was out of the question, since Motorola’s FRAND (fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory) commitments allow anybody to use its patents as long as they paid the FRAND royalty.
“How could it be permitted to enjoin Apple from using an invention that it contends Apple must use if it wants to make a cell phone with UMTS telecommunications capability – without which it would not be a cell phone,” he asks.
Moreover, against Motorola, he also states that if Apple did reject Motorola’s request for a 2.25 per cent FRAND royalty (a point contended in evidence, but in any case now irrelevant), the two were arguing about price, not whether Motorola was obliged to license its patents under its FRAND obligations.
“Neither party is entitled to an injunction,” Posner writes, because “neither has shown that damages would not be an adequate remedy … the parties have failed to present enough evidence to create a triable issue”. Furthermore, “although both parties asked for injunctive relief, neither named an expert witness who would testify about such relief”.
Posner also skewers Apple’s submissions made after his previous tentative judgment, saying that the company tried to “turn the case into an Apple versus Motorola popularity contest … Apple wanted me to allow into evidence media reports attesting to what a terrific product the iPhone is” – something which Posner said had no bearing on the patent dispute.
He further notes “danger that Apple’s goal in obtaining an injunction is harassment of its bitter rival…The notion that these minor-seeming infringements have cost Apple market share and consumer goodwill is implausible, has virtually no support in the record, and so fails to indicate that the benefits to Apple from an injunction would exceed the costs to Motorola.”
For readers who want to consume the entire 38-page document, AllThingsD has a copy here.
So: if Apple wants to block Motorola’s products, or if Motorola wants to counter-sue, they’ll just have to continue forum-shopping around the world in the hope of finding a co-operative judge. We can only hope they fail everywhere. ®
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to investigate Facebook’s $1bn bid for Instagram, because it is concerned the giant social network might choke off picture uploads to other sites from the app, or else restrict other apps’ ability to upload to it.
The UK competition regulator has asked for comments from interested parties, and given them until 5 July – just two weeks away – to respond. The OFT aims first to decide whether it has jurisdiction over the takeover, and will then determine whether to drop its investigation if it does not or cannot see any harmful effects, or to either seek undertakings from the two companies or refer the entire bid to the UK Competition Commission, by 23 August.
Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social networks ever, starting in October 2010 and reaching 30m users solely through its iPhone app in less than 18 months. The service’s simple function allows people to take pictures and then upload them to its own social network, and also to send them to Facebook or Twitter, as well as emailing them. An Android version of the app has been downloaded millions of times.
Facebook’s audacious $1bn bid for Instagram in April marked a key shift for Mark Zuckerberg’s globe-spanning social network. It aimed to add Instagram users – many of whom already posted their photos to Facebook – into its purview.
Facebook’s move, which was approved solely by Zuckerberg, was also seen as a way for it to shift up into the mobile space, where it has admitted it struggles to make money because it had not yet begun serving adverts to users.
While the OFT investigation might derail the takeover, Facebook may initially be more concerned about the ongoing investigation in the US of the same deal by the Federal Trade Commission, which is looking at the same questions as the OFT – namely, whether the takeover might cut off future competition that had been planned by Instagram.
Facebook said in a statement: “We’ll continue to work closely with the OFT and look forward to answering any questions that arise.”
The US social networking giant is understood to have already responded to the OFT’s initial queries, although neither side is yet sure whether the organisation has jurisdiction over the deal.
The OFT has jurisdiction under the 2002 Enterprise Act if two or more enterprises merge to create one with an annual turnover in the UK of more than £70m, or a 25% share of a market is created or enhanced. Facebook has not yet released data about its revenues in the UK, and it is also unclear what share of the UK photo upload market it might have.
23 June 2012
Last updated at 08:52
Turing was found dead in his bed by his housekeeper
Alan Turing, the British mathematical genius and codebreaker born 100 years ago on 23 June, may not have committed suicide, as is widely believed.
At a conference in Oxford on Saturday, Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland will question the evidence that was presented at the 1954 inquest.
He believes the evidence would not today be accepted as sufficient to establish a suicide verdict.
Indeed, he argues, Turing’s death may equally probably have been an accident.
What is well known and accepted is that Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning.
His housekeeper famously found the 41-year-old mathematician dead in his bed, with a half-eaten apple on his bedside table.
It is widely said that Turing had been haunted by the story of the poisoned apple in the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and had resorted to the same desperate measure to end the persecution he was suffering as a result of his homosexuality.
But according to Prof Copeland, it was Turing’s habit to take an apple at bedtime, and that it was quite usual for him not to finish it; the half-eaten remains found near his body cannot be seen as an indication of a deliberate act.
Indeed, the police never tested the apple for the presence of cyanide.
Moreover, Prof Copeland emphasises, a coroner these days would demand evidence of pre-meditation before announcing a verdict of suicide, yet nothing in the accounts of Turing’s last days suggest he was in anything but a cheerful mood.
He had left a note on his office desk, as was his practice, the previous Friday to remind himself of the tasks to be done on his return after the Bank Holiday weekend.
Nevertheless, at the inquest, the coroner, Mr JAK Ferns declared: “In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next.” What he meant by “of his type” is unclear.
The motive for suicide is easy to imagine. In 1952, after he had reported a petty burglary, Turing found himself being investigated for “acts of gross indecency” after he revealed he had had a male lover in his house.
Faced with the prospect of imprisonment, and perhaps with it the loss of the mathematics post he held at Manchester University, which gave him access to one of the world’s only computers, Turing accepted the alternative of “chemical castration” – hormone treatment that was supposed to suppress his sexual urges.
It is often repeated that the chemicals caused him to grow breasts, though Turing is only known to have mentioned this once.
The authorities’ continuing interest in Turing became apparent in 1953 when a gay Norwegian acquaintance, Kjell, announced by postcard his intention to visit him at his Wilmslow home, but mysteriously never arrived.
Turing told a friend, by way of explanation: “At one stage, the police over the north of England were out searching for him.”
With six decades of hindsight, these oppressive attentions, the nation’s failure to appreciate his wartime contributions, his apparent sidelining at the Manchester computer department, have led to a tragic picture of Turing being hounded during his last years, and suicide being a natural outcome.
But Prof Copeland argues that on the contrary, Turing’s career was at an intellectual high, and that he had borne his treatment “with good humour”.
Of the Kjell affair, Turing had written that “for sheer incident, it rivalled the Arnold [gross-indecency] story”; and immediately after his conviction had told a friend: “The day of the trial was by no means disagreeable.
“Whilst in custody with the other criminals, I had a very agreeable sense of irresponsibility, rather like being back at school.”
On the face of it, these are not the expressions of someone ground down by adversity.
What is more, Turing had tolerated the year-long hormone treatment and the terms of his probation (“my shining virtue was terrific”) with amused fortitude, and another year had since passed seemingly without incident.
In statements to the coroner, friends had attested to his good humour in the days before his death.
His neighbour described him throwing “such a jolly [tea] party” for her and her son four days before he died.
His close friend Robin Gandy, who had stayed with him the weekend before, said that Turing “seemed, if anything, happier than usual”.
Yet the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide “while the balance of his mind was disturbed”.
Prof Copeland believes the alternative explanation made at the time by Turing’s mother is equally likely.
Turing had cyanide in his house for chemical experiments he conducted in his tiny spare room – the nightmare room he had dubbed it.
Bombe decryption machine: We should focus on Turing’s genius, says Prof Copeland
He had been electrolysing solutions of the poison, and electroplating spoons with gold, a process that requires potassium cyanide. Although famed for his cerebral powers, Turing had also always shown an experimental bent, and these activities were not unusual for him.
But Turing was careless, Prof Copeland argues.
The electrolysis experiment was wired into the ceiling light socket.
On another occasion, an experiment had resulted in severe electric shocks.
And he was known for tasting chemicals to identify them.
Perhaps he had accidentally put his apple into a puddle of cyanide.
Or perhaps, more likely, he had accidentally inhaled cyanide vapours from the bubbling liquid.
Prof Copeland notes that the nightmare room had a “strong smell” of cyanide after Turing’s death; that inhalation leads to a slower death than ingestion; and that the distribution of the poison in Turing’s organs was more consistent with inhalation than with ingestion.
In his authoritative biography, Andrew Hodges suggests that the experiment was a ruse to disguise suicide, a scenario Turing had apparently mentioned to a friend in the past.
Turing was injected with Stilboestrol – a synthesised form of oestrogen
But Jack Copeland argues the evidence should be taken at face value – that an accidental death is certainly consistent with all the currently known circumstances.
The problem, he complains, is that the investigation was conducted so poorly that even murder cannot be ruled out. An “open verdict”, recognising this degree of ignorance, would be his preferred position.
None of this excuses the treatment of Turing during his final years, says Prof Copeland.
“Turing was hounded,” he told the BBC, adding: “Yet he remained cheerful and humorous.”
“The thing is to tell the truth in so far as we know it, and not to speculate.
“In a way we have in modern times been recreating the narrative of Turing’s life, and we have recreated him as an unhappy young man who committed suicide. But the evidence is not there.
“The exact circumstances of Turing’s death will probably always be unclear,” Prof Copeland concludes.
“Perhaps we should just shrug our shoulders, and focus on Turing’s life and extraordinary work.”
Roland Pease has produced two episodes of Discovery on the BBC World Service devoted to Turing. In the first, he follows the events leading up to Turing’s design for a fully programmable computer (Ace) at the National Physical Laboratory. In the second episode, to be broadcast on Monday, he explores the life and legacy of Turing. Both programmes are presented by Standup Mathematician Matt Parker.
On the fourth day of a IT systems choke-up that has left customers unable to access money and in some cases unable to buy food or travel, Natwest and RBS – which both belong to the RBS group – still have no idea when the issues will be fixed.
A spokesperson said the banking group had been working overnight to fix the problems but that there was no precise timeline available: “We’re going for as fast as possible,” the spokesbod quipped.
A statement released mid-morning seemed to rule out the possibility that it would be fixed by the end of today:
We are continuing to experience technical issues with our systems, which is impacting a large number of our customers. As a result, money credited to accounts overnight may not be appearing on balances today.
RBS Group – which also runs Ulster Bank – stressed that the glitch was a purely technical issue. The screw-up has been pinned down to a flaw with payment-processing software, and primarily means that bank balances don’t register inbound payments.
However, the knock-on effect means that a whole range of services seem to be unavailable too: customers also reported being unable to transfer money between their own bank accounts.
The RBS Group has promised that customers will not lose out financially: “We will ensure that no customers will be permanently out of pocket as a result.” However many have already suffered big problems from the freeze-up in funds.
Back-end sorts have been weighing in with different opinions on what caused the crash. Michael Allen, director of IT service management at Compuware, said:
The problem is that IT systems have become vastly more complex. Delivering an e-banking service could be reliant on 20 different IT systems. If even a small change is made to one of these systems, it can cause major problems for the whole banking service, which could be what’s happened at NatWest. Finding the root cause of the problem is probably something NatWest is struggling with because of the complexity of the IT systems in any bank.
The Queen has been unaffected by the glitches, for although Coutts (Her Maj’s bank) is part of the RBS Group, it uses different, presumably superior software, that appears to work.
RBS has cut back on permanent IT staff in the past few years: trimming 1,000 people in 2010 alone. In the effort to keep “frontline staff” available, the tech department was one area where the axe fell when the banking group was slashing the headcount. ®