22 October 2019

Just-in-time technology: The client's critical role in software development

By David Blair

There are perceptions that large tech firms can function as factories, cranking out products on a slow-moving assembly line and pushing them out into the market. Factories have changed; the highly-functional firms have adopted just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. At a high level, JIT refers to efforts to align feature flows with customer demand to speed time-to-value and minimize delays. It can be more simply stated as, “don’t build something until you have a buyer.”

Frank Robinson, CEO of the software development consulting firm SyncDev, was an early advocate of a similar philosophy for tech companies, flipping the traditional “design-build-sell” process into “test sell-design-build.” Frank is also credited with pioneering the concept of getting the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) into the hands of users as quickly as possible to start generating feedback for improvement and refinement. 

At SS&C Advent, we implemented an agile development approach several years ago that is very much informed by these ideas. What differentiates our approach is we know clients are critical to our success and have direct influence on product direction and positioning for our software solutions.

Our development teams are well-versed in the investment management industry, but we do not live in our clients’ world daily. As such, we must rely on client feedback; for them to tell us what will make their lives easier, what will make a workflow more efficient, saving time and adding value. Client input motivates inspiration and ideas trigger the process of turning a defined need into a product feature. When that process starts, we rely on clients to help us stay on track.

When we are presented with a requirement, we start gathering facts quickly. The process is diagnostic. Are other clients experiencing a similar need? Does this client need some custom configuration, or is this a feature we can scale across the entire client base? We validate the idea with several clients. When we see that it warrants pursuing, we’ll kick off a development cycle using scrum framework to get the MVP into clients’ hands quickly and get their honest feedback.

As Dr. Jeff Sutherland, one of the fathers of the scrum or agile process, described it, “Whenever you start a project, why not regularly check in, see if what you’re doing is heading in the right direction, and if it’s actually what people want?” That’s exactly what we do. We uncover and address issues and tradeoffs early in the process. We stay focused and avoid straying from the client’s desired outcome.

Our 2017 launch of Advent Genesis, our cloud-based portfolio construction and rebalancing solution, is a classic example of our agile process in action. Before launching into general availability, we beta-tested early iterations of Genesis with eight client firms, collecting their feedback and translating it into the features and functionality they considered important. Even after the launch, we continue to refine the solution constantly incorporating client feedback into the roadmap. As a model of how to bring a new product to market, the Genesis developers won the 2018 American Financial Technology award for “Best Vendor IT Team.”

Of course, being fast and agile does not mean cutting corners. We don’t build one-offs. . We’re accountable to hundreds of clients and must pay attention to security and quality assurance. We have a rigorous process that produces robust, reliable, scalable solutions for the long term, products that our clients don’t need to worry about maintaining, updating or fixing if they break.

Our process actually speeds time-to-value by resolving issues and improving performance through constant iteration. It works because we engage clients early and often, and it results in solutions that meet genuine needs. This level of engagement is key to our growth strategy. With continued investment in technology, product development, and talent management, it’s an exciting time for our business. We are seeing growth and expansion in our offerings – across our platforms and across the globe. To learn about our APX Suite or Geneva Platform and how these solutions solve the business needs of asset, wealth and alternatives managers, please listen to our clients and contact us.