Advancing Your Firm’s Technology
Five Steps to Identify and Implement the Right Technology Solution
Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. For many firms, particularly ones that have been in business for many years, legacy systems may not put firms in a position to maximize use of their data or provide their clients with the best experience. Behind it all cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated and pose a greater threat. Only a decade ago, many financial services firms exhibited a strong preference for owning and maintaining their systems. Even where software licenses were acquired to bring solutions into the door, firms would maintain large server rooms so that they maintained control and “owned” the data. Much of this has changed today. Firms are increasingly open to partnering up with the right service providers to manage their technology, ensure security, improve processes, and enhance the client experience.
This is mainly due to the fact the rate of technological evolution has made it difficult, if not impossible, for many firms to keep it up on their own. By leveraging the systems and technology of the right service provider, firms are finding a cost-effective way to access state of the art technology and robust cybersecurity. Identifying the right technology solution, however, can be a daunting task. As firms look across the landscape of available providers, the number of possible choices often seems overwhelming. In the remainder of this article, we identify five steps firms may take to identify and implement the right technology solution at their firm.
STEP 1 – IDENTIFY THE AREAS OF NEED
As business evolves, firms should consider whether the right systems are in place to manage their growth or change. For example, firms may begin trading in new instruments, may offer new products, or may be attracting additional clients. In other cases, firms have been working with the same systems for so long, an evaluation may be helpful to assess if pricing structures are in line with market and whether they are missing anything on the technology front. As discussed below, involving representatives from different departments at a firm will ensure a firm completely understands the priority of current needs. This input also will help facilitate the next step, which is a thoughtful determination of stakeholders.
STEP 2 – IDENTIFY INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL STAKEHOLDERS
A need for change may be obvious, or it may be more subtle. In either case, change is almost always disruptive and having buy-in from those impacted is extremely important. A top-down approach where a firm leader initiates a plan of action without the consultation and participation of those impacted by the change may lead to issues being missed, resistance to adoption and costly turnover. Firms should determine who may be impacted by introducing a new system and seek input on how areas of work may be improved. This step can be easily overlooked. For example, firms may consider enhancing a system in one area of their business, say an order management system and consult with the primary users of that system for input. However, such a system often interacts with other systems, including a back office accounting platform, and potentially a client relationship management system. The implementation of a new system in any one of these areas may impact the workings of the other systems. This likely will impact workflows and outputs, such as reporting, that will touch more than just the primary users of the order management system. Accordingly, representatives from other departments should be included in the process, as well as agents for other vendor systems to fully understand what will be required to implement a change. If a change impacts how clients interact with the firm, then obviously that too will be a key area of concern for the firm.
STEP 3 – DEVELOP A LIST OF POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS AND VENDORS
As noted above, the sea of options for potential replacement systems is vast and it is not easy knowing where to start an evaluation. Firms may first look for inhouse expertise that may help identify other solutions. Another valuable resource is the industry itself. One of the things we find in the financial services industry is firms will openly speak with one another and share experiences; even with direct competitors. It is one of the ways our industry distinguishes itself from other industries. Therefore, it will be useful to speak with colleagues in the industry to understand how they are addressing issues. This may be done directly, or where relationships do not exist, or additional inputs are helpful, the financial services industry has a number of terrific industry groups, which may facilitate conversation or offer conferences and events where ideas are exchanged. A firm can learn a lot by understanding what their experience is with other systems and how they are using it. Experienced consultants like FiSolve also will be an excellent resource, leveraging years of experience working with and implementing different systems to help narrow choices.
STEP 4 – PERFORM A TARGETED AND RIGOROUS REVIEW PROCESS
Develop a request for proposal (“RFP”) specifically tailored to the areas of need your firm is seeking to address as part of the evaluation process. The RFP should clearly set forth the objectives of the evaluation. Questions should draw out information to understand where a potential provider may add the most value to the firm. Also, certain general questions will likely be appropriate in most reviews. For example, understanding workflow controls to ensure integrity in a process. Also, it will be useful to inquire about recent technology enhancements, as well as planned/upcoming enhancements. This information will help a firm understand how much a provider is investing back into its systems. In most system reviews, you should also understand how your firm may retrieve and use its data, so questions may be asked around reporting, data access and usage. Finally, while it should not be difficult to have a vendor agree your firm will continue to own your data, understanding how to extract your firm’s data and in what format you receive it will be important in case you choose to move in another direction down the road.
Once the RFP is formulated, the firm should invite those firms identified in Step 3 to receive and respond to the RFP. A reasonable period should be given for firms to respond, and a procedure should be included for raising questions. It is recommended that all questions received and answered be shared with all RFP recipients. If one respondent raised a question, it is likely relevant to other respondents. This also helps maintain a level playing field. Finally, specific questions around cost pricing for the system will be important.
Once responses are received, a committee (or working group) at the firm should review each submission. This should be a coordinated effort where responses are tracked and documented. Creating a spreadsheet where all information is listed and available to committee members will be a useful exercise. Committee members should keep track of their questions and any follow up questions should be submitted to each provider. At this stage, some providers may begin to distinguish themselves over other providers based on their offering, pricing, or other factors. If you have cast a wide net, then it will make life easier if there is a valid basis for eliminating any of the candidates. The most promising respondents should be invited to conduct demonstrations. The firm should be thoughtful regarding inviting demonstrations. Although an essential part of the review process, demonstrations take up time for both the firm and potential provider and should be reserved for those potential providers who show some promise.
Demonstrations should include a cross section of firm users who may bring different perspectives and needs to the evaluation. Using the order management system example again, you obviously will include representatives from a trading department. Additionally, you may wish to include representatives from the operations department if the order management system will work with a back office accounting system. You also may wish to include members of your compliance department if the order management system will include compliance coding or testing. Typically, multiple demonstrations will be necessary, however, not every department needs to participate in each demonstration. Record your observations after each demonstration. Gradually potential providers who appear to be a better fit should begin to emerge and your firm will spend more time acquiring a deeper understanding of those provider’s services, team, and processes. For example, firms will wish to understand if they will have a single point of contact for issues, or a global group, how issues will be escalated and the typical cadence around interactions with team members. It will be helpful to understand how system updates are generated, and whether they implemented automatically, or require scheduled maintenance.
References should be requested, and checks should be made to understand other users’ experiences with the system. If your firm can source its own references, then that should provide valuable insight. This also is the time to seek to understand and improve pricing proposals so that a firm may make its selection. A clear understanding of the implementation process and any associated costs is the final consideration and is discussed in the final step.
STEP FIVE – DESIGN A SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY
The implementation process is critically important to acquiring a new system. This must be carefully vetted and understood as part of the selection process. Certain implementation processes can be expensive and very time consuming. It will be a burden on existing resources and may require bringing in outside resources to assist in a successful process. Also, it is important to understand if any additional costs apply to implementation and if so, whether they are fixed or variable. These areas may add unexpected exorbitant additional costs if overlooked. Firms should be sure to understand the process and costs prior to making it selection.
Once a selection is made, the firm should appoint a point person on its side to work with a point person on the side of the provider for the implementation. Ideally the point person will be an internal member of each side’s organization. For some firms, depending on the complexity of project, or the size of their firm, an external resource may be needed to facilitate the process. Other members from the firm and provider also will participate in the process. Roles and responsibilities should be thoughtfully considered and agreed to prior to start. A written implementation plan should be created, which includes a timeline with milestones and a budget. We recommend calls on a not less than weekly basis to ensure the project is on schedule, meeting milestones and operating within budgets. The firm also should consider separately budgeting for any unexpected issues.
Set realistic goals and timelines. Keep open the lines of communication and be sure to keep your senior management engaged on progress, as well as any setbacks. Particularly for larger projects, we also recommend keeping your entire firm abreast of the process. Once the process is complete, be sure to take a moment to celebrate and acknowledge the work of those who made it happen. If the above steps have been followed, then there is high likelihood the firm and its clients will enjoy significant benefits as a result.
FiSolve Can Help
We have a deep experience in conducting due diligence of service providers and assisting firms in the process of identifying areas for improvement and suitable candidates to improve business processes. Visit us at www.fisolve.com or contact us at email@example.com more information.
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