Written by Conrad Owens, Lead Business Consultant at Saratoga
Businesses across the board are increasingly experiencing the pressures of having to deliver better, faster and cheaper operational solutions. Often these internal organisational pressures and limitations impact the speed and quality of the services they can in turn provide to their customers. As an added layer established businesses may need to navigate complex legacy systems, intertwined with processes which were not designed with this rapid pace of change in mind.
Addressing these challenges requires companies to make important technology decisions, and some of the biggest technology considerations include the need to move off these legacy systems to effectively mitigate risks and reduce costs.
But business is not just about technology and large companies’ operational capabilities combine people, processes and systems, with mandates to perform within agreed service levels and cost structures. Organisations are functional ecosystems with intricate co-dependencies, making business systems and processes very difficult to navigate, understand and ultimately improve.
“By providing a frank assessment of our clients’ technology landscape, together with a transparent process and clearly articulated solution options, we are able to provide our clients with the clarity they need in order to make the best possible decision in the midst of significant business and technological complexity”, says Mark Gebhardt, CEO of Saratoga.
Partnering with a trusted advisor
As a provider of professional solution delivery and technology advisory services, Saratoga recently partnered with a prominent financial services company looking to evolve their broker commissions operation.
Paying out over 1.5 billion a year in incentives to distribution channels, the existing commissions system architecture was particularly complex as it had evolved over 15 years and services the needs of 25 product providers.
With urgent decisions around the future of the commissions system needed before the next budgeting cycle, our Saratoga team had a short window in which to complete a thorough and detailed assessment.
Investigating beyond problem statements
So how do you know if your capability is operating efficiently? You need to unpack all its functional elements and present them in a way that can be viewed from several perspectives. To be in a position to advise a client on changes to their business processes or technology systems you need to have a clear and thorough understanding of the problems which need to be solved.
Initial feedback from the client ranged from ‘we need to move to cloud’, or ‘is our IT estate future-proofed’ to ‘is this costing too much’ and even included ‘do we actually have a problem with the system that needs to be solved?’
As the business analysis and advisory partner our team needed to find and define the real issues impacting the commissions system. Here is an overview of the process followed by our team:
- By investigating and unpacking the current system we could understand it and put it back together in a way which would best support the business in the future.
- Part of this assessment saw our team investigating two separate commissions capabilities which had emerged from two internal business units over time.
- To understand the current legacy system, techniques of systems archeology had to be employed to reverse engineer the current architecture and systems interaction patterns.
- With new technologies come new architecture patterns, so a new model architecture using best practice design had to be developed.
- Comparing this new architecture to the existing architecture of the commissions systems enabled our team to clearly highlight the system issues and provide an informed direction for the future of the system.
Assessing a business operation as an advisory team and achieving buy-in from the client requires a great deal of trust. “People need to know you are getting the facts right and that your team will represent an accurate picture to decision makers and stakeholders. Trust is much harder to build when working remotely – you simply don’t have the benefits of talking face-to-face. We therefore had to invest a significant amount of time in the first few sessions getting to know our client and positioning our advisory offering”, explains Conrad Owens from Saratoga, Lead Analyst on the project.
The people aspect of this project had to be delicately handled throughout the engagement. Generally, people don’t like change and assessing the efficiency of a business operation in the context of a tough economic shut down brought up the inevitable questions around downsizing. This meant we had to expand our scope of input to a wider group which included General Managers, Architects, Marketing Consultants and Solution Developers.
A clear path forward for the client
From our investigations and assessment one clear option was to scan the market for a replacement solution for the current systems. Using international research companies, reviews, vendor demos and extensive comparison criteria we were able to provide an informed overview of the best three available options for the client to consider as a replacement for the commissions systems.
But the right answers to the problem statements identified needed to go further than just replacing software. “There was a complex set of drivers to be considered including budgets, cloud architecture adoption, process design, people skills and business strategy. This meant building several future scenarios and helping our stakeholders understand them in terms of their benefits, challenges, impacts and costs”, added Owens.
Making these scenarios visible gave the business the confidence they needed to make the best decisions on moving the commissions system into the future.
Finally, a roadmap for each scenario was developed to guide them through a sequence of steps designed to minimise impact and optimise resource allocation, while achieving their goal of creating an efficient, cost-effective commissions capability that would support their distribution channels going forward.