A Rock and a Hard Place... Digital Transformation in Financial Services
By Mark Hucker, Managing Director - VG (Volaw Group)
Once upon a time, a business could try to solve its legacy system problems by studying gaps and opportunities, looking at a range of alternative products, issuing a Request for Proposal, evaluating the responses, making a decision and negotiating a contract… and then launching what might become a light-dimming, morale-sapping implementation project. Provided the business could afford the time and cost, there was even a chance that the new system would enhance functionality without creating a whole new range of gaps and risks… (Clearly this is written from a veteran of various IT projects – so please forgive me!).
Two factors have made this approach obsolete in the financial services sector in 2018: The pace of change across all aspects of the business – and the demand for data.
Disruptive technologies and social media have changed how we interact with clients, and the services we need to offer. And perhaps even more importantly, these have shortened the planning horizon to the next wave of change. At the same time, the requirement for data (within the business as valuable intellectual property, and from counterparties, regulators and governments) has increased exponentially with ever changing classification, content and formatting to complicate matters. And that is before we even consider the ever-increasing demands and risks of cybersecurity, which are keeping many in the industry awake at night.
The bottom line is that you cannot afford to stand still while you choose and implement a major system, and even if you do the goalposts will have moved by the time you bring it online! And by the way, execution risk is likely to be so significant that even if you can still see the goal, you may not ‘be able to score’!
VG is an independent fiduciary and administration solution provider. Operating in a highly regulated and competitive environment, its simple goals in growing its business are to delight its clients and to recruit and retain the best staff. VG is committed to positive change and is constantly looking for ways to enhance its service.
VG deferred a decision on replacing one of its core systems in 2017 because of other priorities and projects, but in 2018 it became obvious that deferral would become (at least semi-) permanent… However, inactivity does come at a price. We considered replacing the system because it was relatively creaky and user-unfriendly, difficult to adapt, or develop. Ensuring completeness and accuracy of data, and then accessing and manipulating it, was time-consuming and expensive. We needed to find a way to achieve our business goals without slowing the pace of transformation.
In common with other businesses of all sizes, our data problems do not arise solely from one older, creakier system. We operate a raft of different systems added over time to fulfil a need but implemented piecemeal and without ensuring full connectivity. For anyone who is familiar with the work of Douglas Adams then you may believe in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” but it certainly helps if your systems can talk directly to each other!
Ensuring the interconnectedness of all things (with apologies to Douglas Adams!)
So for those businesses in the financial sector who are currently between this particular rock and a hard place, how can you move the dial without a huge investment in time and technology?
We at VG first thought about robotics, used to ‘build a bridge’ between systems to deliver regular activity or reporting. These are sophisticated tools that can be designed to resolve specific business issues (in terms of data accuracy, completeness, cleansing or testing) but, for us at least, they seemed relatively inflexible and expensive. They require external expertise to design and create and would only be truly “adaptable” for a business with the necessary system skills in-house…
However, from those discussions, we did identify a partner and a tool that has started a revolution in VG’s business.
Our partner was Continuum Consulting, based in Jersey, led by Dan Hare. Dan instead listened to our specific business needs and talked about a potential solution in the language we used.
And the tool? It’s called Alteryx and VG is certainly not the only business in Jersey to recognise its potential. In fact, we are probably much nearer to the beginning of the learning curve than some other local users. But as a company that has looked after clients’ assets for more than 35 years, with legacy systems to match, we recognise that it can make a real and positive difference for our clients and our staff.
In layman’s terms (and with apologies to Dan), Alteryx pulls data from our various legacy systems and enables us to combine it and to perform various functions on it (including validation, classification and analysis). Best of all, business users can set up and amend these processes themselves because no coding is required. Our first implementation, supported by Continuum as a proof of concept, enabled us to automate a management dashboard that previously took at least 1½ half days of skilled resource to produce. This in turn meant that we could run it daily instead of monthly – and improve our response time to clients.
But this is very much the beginning for VG, and Alteryx has become a byword for change in our business. We are already prioritising a long list of mini-projects using the tool and I regularly hear in project meetings, “can we use Alteryx for that…?”
Business users have become data analysts, are now investigating their data sets to discover how better to support our customers, using analytics to unearth new insights about how they use our services and therefore how we can help them get more from them.
Gone are the days of creating new gaps and risks, as old implementations were wont to do. With self-service analytics, financial businesses can allow its business executives to develop insights more efficiently. That’s what we’re doing, and it promises to really change how we look after our customers. For us, it looks like 2018 is the start of a very different ‘next’ 35 years in financial services.