Finding the right balance between people and technology in times of change

Resetting the foundations for your company to acheive enduring success.

By Chris DunneDec 14th, 20208 min read

As a person responsible for leading business transformation for various asset managers, investment advisors and REITs around the globe, change is part of my DNA. I need to recognise and manage people that see it both as a great opportunity and those that feel threatened by it. With the pandemic front and centre, I have been wondering what its effect will be on the future of transformation in the alternative investment industry.

Bill Gates once said, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

I wonder whether 2020 is the year that Investors, Managers & Advisors have recognised the true power of technology as both a driver and an enabler?

I think 2020 has led to a recognition that different types of technology are needed. In the short term, we need technology to help us effectively manage teams while they are working remotely. But we also need technology to help drive business performance, growth, productivity and capital efficiency, now and in to the future.

Businesses would struggle to operate effectively and productively if the right technologies were not available – and that technology needs to work in a remote set up. Getting value from your people means recognising the skill sets and amplifying these with technology, not losing those skill sets because staff are weighed down with admin. The processes, business planning and reporting can all be and should be done by technology.

With the pandemic focusing minds on new ways of working, the awareness and understanding about getting this balance between technology and people right has become more evident. We all, as consumers, have had different experiences – both good and bad – while businesses have been on a steep learning curve.

Technology Integration – in to the heart of business operations

A key future change for many businesses will be integrating sophisticated financial modelling tools into their operations. This will offer a dynamic, collaborative and intelligent capability to help companies make quicker and more informed decisions across Portfolios, Funds, Assets, etc, driving faster, effective planning to accelerate business value.

How companies implement workflows will also be a key change. Companies who execute this effectively will leverage the capability to redistribute tasks so the person with the appropriate level of skills, knowledge and experience can complete them. This capability can also be used to train and onboard staff better, something that is even more important now for the distributed workforce that has become the norm as a result of the pandemic. If you were to join a company now, there would need to be a process in place to rapidly get you up to speed with the culture and the company ways of working, without the usual travel to HQ, end of week drinks with colleagues and the freedom of being able to throw ideas around while you are in the office kitchen making coffee.

As well as challenges, there are new opportunities. One of the key things that will benefit business will be the ability to attract talent and tap into skills pools which aren't in your local vicinity. For this to be successful, everyone, no matter where they are based, needs to feel part of a team. Using technology to allow people to engage, collaborate and build rapport effectively, will cement the team feeling, even if it is in a virtual sense, and will be hugely important to make operations run smoothly in the future.

Acceleration of Digital, Tech and Analytics

There is also going to be a requirement for a slicker way to distribute work, govern tasks and create audit trails. Having a scripted process in a tool that guides people to an end result, as opposed to allowing them to freestyle and interpret what they think they need to do, is a necessity. This is where emerging technology will really be able to help businesses drive agility, innovation and scalability. Automation for repeatable tasks, AI and robotics will all take a giant step forward as a result of what has happened since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

A cornerstone of any operation in the future will be the ability to use business intelligence (BI) to improve efficiency and create a competitive advantage for investors. There is a realisation that BI tools are not just a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity to manage every step of the investment journey. In essence “getting the right data to the right people at the right time”.

Even the most sophisticated and elegant Investors, Managers and Advisors will need more refined processes and patterns. There are very few organisations that know exactly the time it takes to complete a process, or the cost to serve that process. There will be a greater demand for this with businesses having a remote workforce, and the tech the staff are using, should also be able to measure these sorts of things better. Arming yourself with data and insights is going to be even more powerful than we previously envisaged. Will business intelligence be on every CEO’s roadmap for 2021? I think so - we always want what we don’t know.

We have been talking about the impact of emerging technology in business transformation for the past few years, but change takes time. Evolution is not as fast as people think. What has changed in 2020 is a global phenomenon. Past changes in our lifetime include the creation of the Internet, mass distribution of home computers and the invention of the smartphone.

With the pandemic, the demand for technology to assist in improving future business performance and operations has grown, not just the demand for software and hardware. This is the case for all businesses, even the more traditional ones. But even with a greater reliance on technology, we shouldn’t underestimate how long it takes to implement or to change people’s perceptions.

Enhancing great customer experience in real time

A key focus for the future is the ability to understand customer behaviour. What customers want and need may have changed, and adapting to this is a key challenge for business. With the pace of change currently happening, using insights from data in real time to solve problems and understand what drives customer value, develop new use cases and tailor future experiences to ensure businesses can reach the next level.

Technology will be paramount to enable the switch between centralised and decentralised operating models, along with delivering good customer outcomes and service. No matter where in the world your teams are, the customer experience needs to be seamless. Customers should not know if your team is working from home or at an office, nor where it is based - in the UK, the USA or India. The technology and processes that are in place should enable this smooth operation.

Are we moving on from face to face in business development?

The same goes for sales and business development. We are living in a world where the challenge of getting to know new people, reading subliminal human behaviour and building trust has been thrown up in the air as we forge these relationships online.

For most businesses in the industry, face to face relationships have traditionally been integral to drive sales and business performance. But if the move towards Zoom meetings instead of lengthy lunches in the city becomes the norm, will this change? This is where the strength of community comes in. For smaller transactions, we are getting used to using an online platform, but for larger deals, face to face interactions will still be key. No matter how good your technology is, business is done between people. Generating new customers comes from referrals, community and word of mouth – and these will now come both from face-to-face and online platforms. Regardless of your business model, companies need to be aware of what is being said online as this way of working becomes more prevalent.

Do you want tech or people to be at the heart of your business?

In a time of flux, as with any transformation, there will be winners and losers. How much work will you have done to ensure your team, operations and technology have coped with the change? Can you identify how you want technology and people to work harmoniously at the heart of your business?

Take the time to conduct a comprehensive business review now. Forensically analyse the opportunities and challenges. Reflect on what we have learned since Covid, so you can reset the foundations for your company for enduring success.

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