If you have kept even half an eye on the multiple high-profile re-platforming exercises and migration projects carried out in recent years you will have spotted a prominent theme, writes Chris Fisher - it’s very hard to identify one that has gone smoothly. So is there a remedy for the headaches caused by these technology moves?
Some migrations may have been less bumpy than others, but the platform industry has developed an unfortunate habit of going over-budget and beyond deadline, leaving advisers having to deal with complaints, disruption, snags and temporary shutdowns. And when projects have finally been completed there has invariably been the additional and unwanted new challenge of having to rebuild reputations and regain the trust of advisers and clients.
So just what exactly is causing these recurring replatforming headaches and is there any way to avoid them?
Many common re-platforming symptoms can be traced back to the ‘one-size-fits-all' approach often taken by more traditional platform and technology providers, which inevitably expect advisers to accept their technology, their methodology and their processes.
Being bound by the limitations of a platform provider's proposition and technology unfortunately means that many advisers wait very patiently for a migration to complete, only to find that the end result has left them with many functions they simply don't need or want. Or, perhaps even worse still, that functions they previously loved using have been side-lined or omitted altogether.
This kind of shoehorning is out of sync with a wider business environment in which firms and clients increasingly value propositions and services tailored to their particular needs and which enable them to differentiate their own propositions.
It's worth remembering at this point that platforms are not single components, but systems comprised of multiple parts, the most obvious being core custody, plus the activities required including trading, investment administration, portfolio management, client reporting and so on.
And because each advice firm is inevitably different, there will always be certain functionality or platform services that are not relevant for its business or clients. This point about relevance is a key one against the current regulatory backdrop, where PROD has increased the spotlight on demonstrating how products and services meet the needs of different customer segments.
A lot of these issues come down to the sheer scale of some platform providers, which leaves them either unable and/or unwilling to properly get to know individual client firms and understand their needs.
This may seem like a simple point but it's an important one. In contrast, nimbler platform service providers with open architecture are able to take a more flexible, personal, approach with hands-on project teams and managers working directly and closely with individual advice firms, both before and during implementation.
This gives time to develop a thorough knowledge of how each individual replatforming project, informed by unique business requirements and desired customer outcomes, will vary from adviser proposition to adviser proposition. And, crucially, it allows the platform provider to build services around these requirements.
This open architecture approach also means that a platform service provider can access a range of functionalities, and best-in-class software through integrations, which will enable the advice firm to differentiate its proposition without having to compromise along the way.
Having a hands-on project team should lead to a much more controlled migration process, carried out on a manageable scale to realistic deadlines and more accurate cost estimates.
All of this creates space to ensure that processes are tested and retested rigorously before the migration takes place, something which unfortunately becomes a lower priority during other migrations when delays and costs are piling up.
Re-platforming does not have to be as difficult as many in the industry have made it. In fact, by listening to and understanding the needs of firms, and building propositions around those requirements, a platform provider can manage a smooth migration and client onboarding process that's a far cry from the recent experiences of many advisers, at a fraction of the hassle and expense.
Chris Fisher is chief executive of Multrees
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