News

 News 

Professor Merlin Stone - "Out with the old"

03 December 2013

The new world of FS customer-facing IT projects. Professor Merlin Stone, Non-Executive Director at Aerice, asks, do the old rules apply?

 

Author: Merlin Stone

Out with the old

The new world of FS customer-facing IT projects.  Professor Merlin Stone, Non-Executive Director at Aerice, asks, do the old rules apply?

I have recently been discussing (with large FS companies and IT suppliers) the kinds of customer-facing IT projects they are undertaking or planning.  They differ greatly from those of 10, 20 or more years ago, when a CRM system would be planned to be 100 per cent under the company's control, used for communicating with customers, whether the company or the customer initiated the conversation.  Today things are different.  For many FS companies, dialogue with customers take place on devices and using software that customers prefer, whether it is provided by the company, an aggregator, a smart app developer or a social media site.  It also increasingly takes place at times and places chosen by the customer. Of course, much dialogue is still as we envisaged long ago.  However, some customers' preference for these new forms of dialogue is strong enough to force financial services companies to take them seriously, leading them to focus on envisaging the future of how they will manage or be managed by customers.

Much project management literature implies development against a steady state background of technology and user needs.  This new world is different.  Technology is evolving rapidly, not always under the control of the "usual suspects", the big IT suppliers.  Customer needs continue to change, partly in response to the new opportunities presented them by technology.  How companies understand customer needs, using analytics software to derive insights and make appropriate responses to customers, is also changing fast.  A big question facing IT departments is, "Do the norms of project management, in particular of how to avoid partial or complete project failure, or of how to restore failing projects, still apply?"  Behind this is another question, "What if success and failure managing a project is not measured by whether you have produced a system with defined and agreed performance, but by whether you have enhanced the capability the company needs to take it more successfully and less riskily on a journey which could not have been mapped out beforehand?"  In this world, insistence on tough project management standards may paradoxically cause the project to fail if measured by these standards.  The idea of reducing project risk must be applied carefully where an important risk is of NOT changing requirements during the project as customers, competitors and markets change in ways that are hard to anticipate. The end result may be a system that works perfectly but is out of date and rejected by users and customers; changing specifications may be necessary and may need to be built into the project.

FS companies increasingly interface with customers through systems which are a product of a whole ecosystem of suppliers, each producing a component.  The more consumers use third party apps or sites, the more intense the focus will be on standards and APIs, and the more intense the focus of project management needs to be on changes in interfaces and standards and on working with partners to ensure that any proposed development is not left stranded or requiring expensive, late adaptation.  Project teams must be closely connected to the right business and IT partners, perhaps including them as team members to ensure that the link remains tight.  This may pose problems of confidentiality, but this can be managed.  It also means that those responsible for identifying and forecasting user needs (marketing, sales, service, customer administration and operations) must be active in managing scenarios of likely requirements of customers and those interfacing with them.  Customer-facing projects will increasingly require agile approaches with short development cycles.  The approach to project management may need to be light touch in businesses with a good track record of operating in this way, though novices may require a heavier touch.  The number of projects and/or project phases may be much larger than with conventional approaches, leading to the risk of poor coordination.  Here, some creativity may be required in choice of approach to project management.  Of course, some old rules of successful IT project management remain applicable, even though they were designed for situations where the context of the project is more stable and the issue is to "get the IT right".  Some become even more important in this world.  Particularly important are ones relating to change management, such as commitment and frequent, deep involvement of senior people, user/stakeholder involvement and management of their expectations, the need to get departments working together rather than conflicting with eachother, clarity and understanding of scope and objectives, team membership and partnering.  And what if a project looks like it is going off the rails?  Do the old rules of recovering projects still apply?  The answer is, on the whole, yes.  The project scope may need to be changed; reduced or re-phased.  Resources may need to be added, the team or partners changed, and of course whatever is happening must be properly communicated to the team and commitment obtained to any required changes.  Any conflict between departments must be paid close attention.  Perhaps most importantly of all, the project manager(s) (there may be several projects) need to be comfortable with managing projects which are designed to support evolving capabilities and a corporate journey rather than just providing a defined outcome at a particular date (although they may need to do that too).



Return to: News

LATEST NEWS

 

Does Ultimate Platform Flexibility deliver the Ultimate Headache for Investment Operations?

Kevin Openshaw, Partner of Fund Services at Aerice shares his views on the importance of implementing the right investment...
Read more
Aerice Expands Consultancy Portfolio with appointment of Kevin Openshaw as Partner for Fund Services

Aerice Expands Consultancy Portfolio with appointment of Kevin Openshaw as Partner for Fund Services


Read more

The Importance of Accurate and Timely Information

Whether you are an Investment Manager looking to define or enhance your Investment Book of Records or an insurer looking to comply...
Read more
our clients