Over the course of my 40-year career helping wealth management companies of all sizes build and transform technology infrastructure and client experience, I have accumulated a list of lessons learned to help successfully navigate even the most complex undertakings. To help companies achieve their vision and avoid common missteps of major transformation initiatives, we put together the following three-phase blueprint for technology transformation.
Phase I: Discovery and Due Diligence
Begin with a clear business objective and define outcomes.
This sounds obvious, but many wealth management companies still don’t get it right. Start by defining what you are trying to achieve through transformation, not by defining what the transformation needs to include. Assess if the goal is viable and achievable, and then explore the most effective way to leverage technology to solve for that goal. There is so much that can go wrong in a large-scale project, it’s critical that leadership agree on the business goal of the transformation, and how the initiative will benefit the company and its stakeholders. This vision must be shared and compelling enough to keep the organization focused and motivated throughout your journey.
Put every question on the table.
What level of transformation do you want, how quickly do you need to implement and how do you want to sequence the phases? Are you just replicating what you do today or is there an opportunity to do things differently (time to challenge “it’s always been done this way” thinking)? What is your acceptance and go-live criteria, what is your strategy for testing and ensuring production readiness? You must also decide if you will build, buy or partner and to what degree? The answers to the many questions you must be asking will drive what you’re building and keep you on the right path.
Critically assess your readiness.
Are you ready to take on this task, do you have the money, the talent? Do you understand how your current system and processes work and what it will take to change them? Have you engaged your regulatory and internal partners early enough in the process? Do you understand the marketplace, competitive position and the voice of your clients? Answering these questions requires careful documentation of the legacy platform and internal resources—a task that should be performed before the project is greenlit, not as part of the transformation process itself. Misperceptions about how the existing platform works and your readiness for change can undermine the entire plan with time and cost consequences.
Phase II: Planning
Start with sound data.
Setting the right project goals requires comprehensive data on things like business volumes, response times, service levels and systems performance. It also requires accurate data including use cases, business requirements, and resource and testing requirements throughout the process. A consistently problematic issue is the difficulty wealth firms have outlining their requirements because people that originally designed the technology are no longer available. It’s important to conduct testing with production comparisons early on so teams can use the results to identify key requirements.
Establish tollgates to measure progress against objectives.
The only way to succeed in such a broad and complicated undertaking is by setting clear, measurable goals that can be achieved within a well-defined timeline—and to establish a monitoring process that will assess progress and facilitate strategic adjustments as needed. It is critical for transformation projects to be broken into digestible segments with tollgates along the way to revalidate objectives. Breaking the project into parts serves another critical purpose: it helps build and sustain momentum (the final item on our blueprint) and delivers value as you proceed.
Build the right governance.
The impact, scope and complexity of rebuilding your technology platform while the business is running requires dedicated executive sponsorship and daily management. In operational terms, that means building a governance structure including cross functional leaders, project managers and creating systems of accountability. It is also essential to conduct town halls and send communications to all involved in the transformation so there is alignment on priority, plans and time to celebrate!
Find the right partners.
The old notion of build or buy is obsolete. Today, technology vendors are true partners, consulting on design and implementation, and creating solutions that can plug into the existing technology using modular infrastructure that allows the organization to reduce risks by making transformation an incremental process.
Phase III: Execution
Create buy-in from the start.
A transformation project driven only by technology staff is not going to succeed the way it would if it involves other stakeholders. Even if the end result is perfect for business and workflow needs, a solution imposed on the business units from the outside will limit support and depress usage.
Go all-in with resources.
Companies often fail to assign dedicated talent to transformations and wait until too late in the process to involve those who will eventually manage the new capabilities. The shuffling of talent gets even more complicated when staffers tasked with covering the day-to-day start feeling overworked and left out of the exciting and high-profile transformation project. Smart companies help assuage those feelings with compensation and retention incentives.
These are hard projects that can be disruptive to business and, just as importantly, to the daily lives of your employees. To succeed, you will have to maintain momentum and support. Step one in this process is building buy-in from the start. Step two is breaking up the project into discrete parts, with clear goals, that deliver “wins” with obvious value to the organization along the way. Step three is communications and celebrations of success along the way. The final step: creating incentives that ensure the people designing, building and using the new systems have skin in the game.
Mike Alexander is President of Wealth Solutions at Broadridge