By Julian Box, CEO at data optimization and data privacy specialist Calligo.
Any financial services business focused on growth will want to achieve the same thing; to expand and provide their product or service to an ever-larger client base. However, globalisation and technology have lowered the barriers to entry to such an extent that competition has never been fiercer.
To stay competitive, businesses must invest in digital innovation – digitising internal processes to help the business deliver faster and better services at lower costs. Taking accountancy firms as a prime example, this may mean putting cloud infrastructures in place to facilitate seamless remote working so advisors can be on client site, with no impact on their ability to access data or collaborate with colleagues.
There are two primary ways to invest in digital innovation. One option is to hire full-time IT professionals that can drive technological advancements from within; cloud engineers, developers and network administrators being just some examples.
However, hiring full-time employees for this process can be extremely costly and unfeasible for many businesses, particularly SMEs. As a company’s digital ambitions grow, the cost of hiring new specialists is simply too high.
The second option is to hire an IT Managed Services Provider (MSP). Outsourcing a company’s IT function is often the best way of accessing the necessary talent and skills that will ensure your business and data processes are optimized, without breaking the bank.
However, hiring an MSP – or indeed any outsourced service provider – is notoriously difficult. Many are only capable of tackling the basic maintenance issues. No matter how well these duties may be performed, there is a natural limit to the value this can offer.
The challenge is therefore to find an MSP that focuses both on routine maintenance and the strategy of long-term digital innovation. Here are three key considerations for any financial services business seeking a provider that will generate the most value from digital innovation.
- Ensure your MSP develops a bespoke strategy for your business
The first step to creating an IT strategy that is truly ‘strategic’ is ensuring that the MSP truly understands your business. If an outsourced IT provider does not align its approach with your individual goals, you risk a cookie-cutter contract that will never quite meet your needs. You may find that technology recommendations are not best suited to your ambitions, or may even hamper longer term goals. in the future. A more valuable managed IT services provider will take a business’ corporate strategy and accurately identify where and which technology can best help.
Taking an example from Calligo’s own experience, an accounting firm was looking to expand and introduce new services, many of which would require more time on clients’ sites. A typical MSP had simply recommended a cloud infrastructure that would make data available remotely and securely. On the face of it, an entirely logical solution. But because it was a generic solution, offered to all clients of the same size, it failed to consider the business’ own particular requirements.
We tailored the infrastructure offering to accommodate the new tools that the news services would require, and the industry-specific legislation that dictated how and where data could and could not held. If these nuances had been addressed only retrospectively, it would have cost the client far more to implement, and required them to have experienced problems with either their clients or their regulator before knowing they needed to make a change.
- Hire an MSP that understands and can improve the day-to-day performance of your business
Although a key quality in a strategic MSP is its ability to constantly innovate a client’s business through new technologies, it’s equally important that the team maintains your environment in a way that supports and improves your particular day-to-day activities.
How rigorous are the inspection routines? How automated are the patching processes? What benchmarks do they hold their support teams to? And how reliably will they solve your employees’ IT issues at the first time of asking?
In the finance and accounting industry, for example, it is quite common for businesses to have offices and clients across multiple time zones. It is therefore necessary that their MSP ensures continuous uptime and out of hours issue resolution.
But just as the strategy needs to be bespoke to your business, so does the support. Accountancy firms will experience predictable peaks of activity during the year, such as during tax seasons, when extended support hours can be critical, alongside preparations to ensure that the cloud infrastructure can handle the additional activity. A good MSP will be able to preempt and proactively accommodate these challenges and ensure that the service adapts with your working pattern.
- Choose an MSP that prioritises long-term growth
A good strategy in any field is to plan for the long-term. The same applies to IT and your choice of MSP. Many MSPs will recommend and successfully deploy new, sensible technologies into your business, yet undermine it all by not ensuring that the short-term actions also supported the long-term goals, and that the current innovation did not hinder any digital innovation or wider business activity in the future.
A classic example is where an MSP recommends new approaches without considering data privacy laws, and how they may change. Privacy regulations now impact every interaction with data, with some geographies and verticals particularly affected, but many more that are not yet affected but whose regulators and lawmakers are working on new requirements. These new laws could demand sweeping changes to a whole industry’s typical processes. And if they are not preempted, or if your IT advisors are not keeping themselves abreast of these possibilities before making recommendations, then you could be about to implement an unwise IT strategy that would be very expensive to reverse out of.
For example, the implementation of GDPR in 2018 meant that clients now had the right to make a data subject access request, or DSAR. Accountants suddenly had a new duty to be able to find and deliver requested data from within their systems, process it and relay it back to the data subject ‘without undue delay’. Any accountancy firms whose MSPs had failed to take this data management need into account risked not having the proper technology or processes in place to adhere with these new requests, and therefore had to expensively retrofit them to avoid having to process requests manually, laboriously and potentially incompletely.
Ensuring that an IT Managed Services plan is strategic rather than reactive is crucial for digital innovation, and ultimately for the business to meets its ambitions. Furthermore, standard IT services, such as support desks and network monitoring, should be delivered in the context of the industry you operate, and your operational needs, not just a generic “best practice”.
Finding and choosing a reliable and value-adding service provider to outsource to is one of the hardest undertakings for a business, especially those looking to grow quickly. Ultimately, it comes down to whether they can align to and support your strategy. If so, the result will be an immediate and continued acceleration. If not, it could mean irretrievable lost opportunity.