How to ensure a successful solution implementation: What to ask potential providers
You have recognized that you have a problem with your current IT infrastructure and/or operating model and have initiated a due diligence process to see what solutions are available and who provides them. After countless hours of meetings and innumerable Powerpoints, you have narrowed the list of vendors and are preparing to negotiate terms with your preferred solution provider.
Before you start talking contracts, ask yourself how much of the due diligence process has focused on the actual implementation and launch of your new investment management solution?
A lot of the sales process is convincing you that the provider has the best solution with the requisite features, provision of business benefits and a palatable total cost of ownership. On the latter point, note that the implementation cost will be the biggest single expense in the first year after selecting a solution provider.
Your buying team has no doubt established a relationship with the preferred providers, in particular their sales team. Once the license agreement has been signed, the sales team fades into the background and a new group comes in - the implementation team that is responsible for executing on the promises and visions put forth by the sales team.
This is where the real work begins – delivering on the expectations set during the sales process. As an investment manager, the world you live in can seem incredibly complex- a multitude of intermediaries, regulations, interdependencies, workflows and so on. The point of the change management exercise you will need to run in conjunction with the implementation/launch is to make this complexity seem simple to your staff while ensuring that the benefits and return on investment (ROI) promised during the sales cycle is delivered on.
If done right, an implementation project ensures that your staff finds the new solution easy to use, everything works as intended, and the expectations set during the sales process are in fact met/exceeded. The purpose of this article is to articulate and demystify the elements necessary to ensure a successful implementation project, providing you with key questions to ask potential solution providers.
What is the plan for the transitions from pre-sales to go-live?
During the sales cycle you will primarily meet salespeople and product/services experts. Ask the solution provider what the transition plans are. By transition plans, we mean:
- Pre-sales to implementation project (onboarding)
- Onboarding to go-live (launch)
- Launch to ongoing support
Is there a structured process for passing information on from the sales team to the implementation team? Is there any continuity of resources to facilitate these transitions so make them as smooth/quick as possible? How early in the sales cycle is implementation discussed (ideally with those responsible for it)?
The SimCorp Compass Delivery Model as shown below is an example of a holistic delivery model that has a structure for each of these transitions.
- Client story
Freddie Mac achieves a world-class operating infrastructure
"For us, having modern and powerful technology that’s easy to update is absolutely essential to achieving a resilient operating model that is future-fit." - Hassan Thalji, Senior Vice President, Freddie Mac
Who will be running/working on your implementation project?
Have you met one or more of the leaders that would assume responsibility for your implementation project? If not, then the sales team has made commitments to you on behalf of people you have never met and who at best only had peripheral involvement in your sales process. And this is where potential troubles begin.
Before you sign any license agreements, insist on meeting with the senior members of the implementation team. Ensure that they are aligned with the sales team in terms of what can be delivered by when. Also note that in many cases, the implementation team may come from another company (for example, a consulting firm). To what degree are the external consultants bound by what the sales team has committed to? What kind of partnership does the external firm have with the solution provider, and what qualifications and experience do the external consultants bring to the table?
Be sure to ask what kind of training and certifications the implementation team possess. What standard are the implementation consultants held to before they are allowed to work directly with clients?
It is imperative that you are comfortable with the people that are responsible for ensuring your investment management solution is implemented successfully.
With an average of seven years of experience each, our professional services team leverages 5,000+ person years of experience implementing SimCorp’s solutions.
How will your investment identity be preserved - both now and in the future?
The implementation team needs to outline how they intend to preserve the uniqueness that differentiates you from your peers and compels clients to place their mandates with you instead of them.
In general, there are two approaches, neither of which will be particularly beneficial if the two are not combined.
- The first is a one size fits all approach, where you are forced to do business the way your solution provider wants you to do business. This means preset best practice processes and workflows, restrictions in terms of data sources, risk models, venues, integration with third party solutions and more. Customization is difficult if not impossible, and as your solution will be implemented the same way as everyone else on the same solution, your unique investment identity is essentially lost.
- The second is an approach where everything is customizable and flexible, and your investment identity can be preserved. The major drawbacks here are that your solution quickly becomes bespoke, upgrades/adjustments become far more difficult, and over time you will benefit less and less from best practice.
Ask the implementation team how they intend to leverage the best practices they have built up over time, while ensuring that you have the flexibility to adjust as needed. This combination ensures that your investment identity is preserved going forward.
- Client story
Front office drives STP from portfolio optimization to accounting at MEAG
"The flexibility of the SimCorp solution enabled us to achieve our goals and deadlines. SimCorp gave us the opportunity to build our platform as we saw fit for our business. They took a best-practice-based, yet customizable, approach to the implementation process. The team working with us were qualified, dependable consultants and developers, collaborating with us to determine realistic goals and appropriate decision criteria throughout the execution." - Claudio-Peter Prutz, Head of Digital Business Services and Organizational Development, MEAG
What are the timelines and budget?
Part of any implementation plan is the timelines - when will each milestone be achieved, how long will it take, are there adequate contingencies if a timeline is threatened, and how long is the entire project expected to take?
Despite everyone’s best efforts, an implementation will bring a certain degree of disruption to a company. Giving staff an idea of how long the project is expected to take and the steps involved will remove ambiguity and ease change management efforts.
You also cannot escape the budget question - how much is the implementation going to cost? Keep in mind that what you are going to get from the implementation team is the budget for their time and resources. You also need to consider the time and cost of your own staff for activities such as meetings/workshops, training, testing, and so on.
Keeping the timelines and budgets within agreed parameters, while also fully delivering on the elements of the implementation project, will determine how successful your implementation is as well as contribute to a TCO/ROI in line with your business case.
- Client story
Bank of Thailand tackles operational efficiency and reduces risk
"Our close partnership and collaboration with the vendor, throughout, has been key to the success of both the implementation of the system and also achieving our vision for corporate excellence. We have had great management support, both from our vendor and within the bank, which ensured the project was delivered both on time and on budget." - Wongjan Sripaoraya, Head of Reserve Management Department, Bank of Thailand
Can the solution providers provide proof points or client evidence?
Solution providers can say virtually anything in a Powerpoint presentation or a meeting. Ask them to provide similar examples of implementations they have performed in the past. And do they have any client quotes or quantitative ratings indicating the level of satisfaction with the implementation?
This is key. While the solution providers may have made a convincing sales case, and followed it up with a plausible and practical implementation project plan, can they back it up with evidence from the real world? Are there investment managers similar to you that have successfully completed the type of journey that you are about to embark upon - on time, on budget and clearly articulated benefits and ROI? Can you talk to one or more of them?
- Client story
Belfius Bank sheds light on what front office managers expect from their technology infrastructure
"SimCorp has always offered very realistic timelines in the implementation and they bring in the right specialist at the right time. We feel challenged when they ask the hard questions of our business analysts and IT people." - Jo De Mil, Senior Product Manager, Belfius Bank
It’s a big decision - make sure you make an informed one
There is no way around it - an investment management solution implementation is one of the biggest change management initiatives that your company will undertake. It is not simply the installation of a new system, it is the engine that that underpins your operations and helps makes sure that your strategic ambitions are realized.
This is why your choice of an investment management solution should not be centered solely around license costs, features and the like, but rather how the solution provider intends to implement and deploy, train your people, test everything and provide post-launch support.
Ultimately, you need to ask the solution providers how they intend to realize the visions they have put forth. To deliver on promises made and expectations set. Making sure that however they implement your solution, it preserves your unique investment identity and addresses the issues that compelled you to look for a new solution in the first place.
Choosing the right solution provider is a critically important decision for your company’s future, not to mention the careers of the buying committee. By asking the right questions and ensuring that the provider implements your solution on time, on budget, and on scope, your chances of success are greatly improved.