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11 August 2021

Fintech Software Consulting: Crossing Oceans or Scaling Mountains

In my role within the SS&C Advent Professional Services team, I spend a lot of time working directly with clients to build proposals meant to achieve very specific business outcomes. I’ve noticed many clients don’t always have a specific desired outcome in mind (If you haven’t already, check out my three part series on innovation in the back office). It takes time, and steady collaboration to define what the business wants to achieve. Often the requests are tactical in nature without consideration for the larger context on how a tactical request fits into their business plans.

Another observation is clients often do not have the knowledge or experience needed to effectively work with an outside consultant (e.g., what resources they may need or what type of project their business objective requires. With my experience, I find there are two main types of projects an organization can undertake, and each of them needs a very distinct skillset to make them successful.

Crossing the Ocean
Crossing an ocean is a perilous journey. There are storms that can swamp your ship or blow you off course, but you can usually see far ahead and adjust course to meet the challenges as they appear. You have a compass, or the stars to guide you, and you can use the agility of the ship to navigate around obstacles in order to reach your destination. The destination might not be an exact point on the map; you know the general area of where you want to land but you might end up in a slightly different place than you intended, yet still be successful in your crossing. There is a lot of work to be done in an ocean crossing, either skillfully manning the sails, or rowing. While an ocean voyage is hard and perilous, there is a finite set of things that can go wrong, and generally, as long as your ship is sound, they are recoverable.

Imagine a Viking long ship; lines of people at benches, all pulling on oars, and hopefully all pulling in the same direction. No individual at the oars is deciding where the ship goes. They are putting in effort, they contribute to the movement of the ship, but they are in the belly of the ship and cannot see where it’s going. Hopefully there is someone in the stern of the ship, leaning on the rudder, deciding how the ship navigates the waters, and maybe another person at the prow gazing eagle eyed into the distance looking for rocks, shallows, shoals, or storms. The crew of the ship has a pretty good idea of where they want to go, but they probably haven’t been there before, and certainly haven’t made the trip together.

I view implementations as an example of an ocean voyage. The goal of the implementation is to land in a better place than you were in prior to the investment in new technology, sometimes this destination is pretty well defined but it is often not. The management team defines the destination, the sales guys build the ship, and it’s manned by a mixture of the client’s team and the consulting team. The crew has individual contributors (rowers), project leaders / experts (helmsman), and project managers (lookout). Making everyone work together can be difficult, but incredibly necessary. Clients have different cultures and personalities and you need a consulting team capable of adapting to client needs. If you get off course, it can severely impact your success-you can sink, end up in the wrong place, or go in circles. Most consulting organizations offer experts that can drop into any one of these positions. You can get technical consultants that can jump in and do work, you can get project management to keep you on course, and you can get gray-haired consultants to point you in the right direction, but this still requires a large project team to bring all the skillsets together to contribute to success. If you have the resources, and your consulting team has the people and expertise, organizations can be very successful with implementations.

However, what happens when the path is not as clear, or you have a much more rigid definition of success for the project?

Scaling a Mountain
Other journeys an organization might undertake are more like scaling a mountain. You have a well-defined and visible goal, but not a clear view of your path or how to get there. There are rock falls, avalanches, and chasms that appear and disappear, even known and well-tread paths change and shift. Here, even skilled guides need to be agile. Most importantly, the expedition cannot see very far ahead of them, which makes it hard to adjust course or plan for risks. Wrong moves can cause severe injuries to individuals, or take out the entire expedition. Risks are high. If you don’t reach the summit, your goals haven’t been met and the expedition is a failure; there is only one outcome that defines success for these expeditions.

Imagine an expedition to the peak of Mt. Everest. The team making the climb knows their destination. They are laser focused on what the desired outcome of their journey is, but they’ve never done this before, and as we know, it is a dangerous journey. Expeditions to Mt. Everest hire Sherpas to guide their journey, for safety, for ease, and to ensure success of the trip. A Sherpa is a different kind of contributor. Because the path is unstable and ever-changing, even though they have been to the peak many times, even Sherpas do not know what challenges may confront the expedition. Their experience and training gives them the ability to identify problems and overcome them as they appear.

A Sherpa has a few parallel responsibilities:

  • Provide leadership to the team
  • Guide the expedition based on experience
  • Spot pits and chasms and guide around them, or build solutions to cross the gaps
  • Carry some of the weight the party members may not be able to manage

Every member of the expedition must make the journey and overcome challenges together. Challenges often cannot be avoided, and creativity and ingenuity must be employed to overcome them. An experienced Sherpa can provide agility to the expedition and help make otherwise impassible gaps passable. Knowing what works and what doesn’t, knowing the process for breaking down and solving problems, and an intimate knowledge of the tools at their disposal are all assets the Sherpa brings to an expedition. When trying to meet a well-defined and rigid goal, the flexibility to change your path to avoid pitfalls, and where that’s not possible having the resources to build solutions to large problems, is of utmost importance.

The most important take away from all this is the importance to identify and know what kind of journey your organization is embarking on and consider the appropriate service providers to get you there. Advent Professional Service’s bench of seasoned resources can serve any role your project may require, and we’ll help you accomplish your goals, whether you’re crossing an ocean or climbing a mountain. We have decades of experience blazing trails and bringing ships home safely at the end of implementations, and we’ve seen just about every wave or rock-fall that may beset your journey.

Talk to an Expert
We have the experienced resources you need to help you tackle large and complex business problems. SS&C Advent’s Professional Services team will help you gather, distill, and execute on the information available to your team to identify your business outcomes, and define the path to get you there. Whether your firm is at a crossroads of managing back office efficiencies, or getting a better grasp on your technology’s overall value, we can help. We will partner with your team to help you define and evaluate your current tech investment planning strategy, build metrics to measure your firm’s success, and help plot a new course that better matches your firm’s overall goals.

Talk to an expert on our team to help drive positive change and improvement in your firm.