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The inside track on a client engagement…

The Insight Interview featured below was conducted by Peter Foster, a Director at SKT Consulting featuring Edward Bragg, an Associate Manager following a successful two-year project at a Tier 1 Investment Bank. 

Peter Foster (PF): Tell me a little about yourself?

Edward Bragg (EB): My name is Edward Bragg, I have been at SKT Consulting for just over two and a half years. I have been fortunate to work on a variety of interesting and challenging projects. My most recent project was a large-scale transformation programme, which provided me with an opportunity to step up and lead multiple workstreams.

PF: Tell me about this recent project?

EB: Stemming from a need to rationalise their software architecture which had grown significantly through acquisition over previous years, SKT Consulting’s main project focus was data improvement and had three main aims. The aims were: a strategic response to the wider challenges of digitalisation, to provide even higher quality services more directly to their clients, and to leverage data to make faster and more informed decisions. To achieve these aims, the project implemented a third party software solution, to standardise the global operational processes, and it replaced portfolio accounting and key operations platforms.

PF: What were the key benefits the client was seeking?

EB: The client benefitted from improved transparency and significantly enhanced processing and reporting capabilities, whilst reducing the application stack by 10s of old applications and providing overall cost reductions in operational support costs. The solution is highly customisable, enabling the production of powerful, concise and relevant reports and management information. It facilitated reporting at many levels, enabling front office staff to continue receiving their trading and exposure reports which are critical for day-to-day trading activities, as well as senior management receiving appropriately detailed insight as required. Furthermore, the new application improved the user experience; processes were now automated with fewer touch points/manual interventions, freeing up users to focus on value-add activities. With improved efficiency, the client has been able to reduce headcount, minimise operational costs and improve their customer experience.

PF: And specifically, how did you enable some of these benefits to be realised?

EB: The Data Sourcing and Distribution team was responsible for providing high-quality reference and accounts data. We sourced data from legacy systems and market sources, cleansed it, ensured data quality and integrity, and supplied it to the new solution. By ensuring data quality and integrity, we provided the foundations for much of the functionality and most of the reporting. Customer account data needed to be enhanced internally; namely, this meant more granularity to enable improvements in segmentation and reporting. Our team developed into a pivot point in which the rest of the project hung; a central point enabling migration waves and developed a reputation for timeliness, consistency and reliability.

PF: What did you find difficult on that project?

EB: It was difficult to balance the client’s need for ‘quick wins’ against their wish for a future-proof model. This was particularly relevant when looking at party data, which is a dataset of the third parties that the bank liaises with in its daily operation, such as counterparties, data providers and brokers. The client did not have a party master and there was a requirement for a rationalization of parties across the legacy systems and the new application for seemless interaction. As an example, one legacy system had a London broker setup with an ID of MSL whereas another had MSUK for the same entity.

A personal challenge was stepping up to managing multiple work-streams. Due to budgetary constraints, our Director rolled off, and as a consequence, I was given additional responsibilities over and above my sub-stream lead role I had already assumed. I saw this as a great opportunity for me to prove myself. I had earned the client’s trust, and as such they were comfortable with me taking on these additional responsibilities. These additional responsibilities came with increased pressure and influence at the wider programme level. This workstream functioned as the foundation for any migrations the programme was planning, which required us to manage the expectations appropriately and only agree to realistic timetables in order to achieve the expected results.

PF: What did you learn in the course of delivering the project?

EB: Whilst consultants have the benefit of insulation from an organisations office politics when engaged on such a large programme for 2 years, as I was, vested interests need to be managed and can be enormously influential to the project’s success. Obtaining wide-reaching senior management support facilitates more productive and constructive engagements.

In the first couple of months when we were under pressure to deliver data, I was keen to impress. Due to that keenness, our client leveraged my willingness to go above and beyond and piled on more work. This did not fall under our agreed scope and could have jeopardised our other deliverables. Fortunately, with the support of the team, we managed to deliver on all these ‘over-promises’. My takeaway was that demand can frequently increase and hence needs to be managed very carefully when agreeing to additional scope. This taught me the hard way to not let scope creep negatively impact my core deliverables. This did not happen again.

PF: If you could do the project over again, what would you do differently?

EB: Building on the point above about ‘over-promising’, I would not do that again. The client was losing focus by adding these additional items, which can add additional burden to the team; a team where attention to detail is paramount. This could have resulted in data issues, namely integrity and completeness. Further, my colleagues were not thankful for the increased work, much of which was less exciting! In retrospect, enthusiasm to help and a desire to impress the client needs to be tempered with the wider project, deadlines and priorities, not to mention resources. Having the confidence to keep the client focussed on the key objectives and not trying to fix the organisational universe is something I have developed during this project. Therefore, encountered with a similar situation again, I would feel equipped to ensure that the client has the priorities aligned with the wider objectives.

PF: What was the outcome of this project?

EB: When I rolled off, we had completed four sets of migrations. Each migration constituted a set of accounts that related to a set of clients. Across the four migrations we migrated nearly 2,000 of the client’s customers and successfully exited the parallel phase, meaning that these clients were live on the new application. With migrations set to continue for much of the rest of 2018, we left the client with a very solid and proven foundation to continue successful migrations. Having completed a full handover to permanent teams, I have full confidence that the remainder of the migrations will be successful.

 PF: How did this project differ from your previous projects?

EB: Many consulting engagements tend to be shorter engagements, specifically focused on resolving a particular issue or complying with a regulation. This programme was such a large transformation, and combining this with the integral nature of the stream we ran, meant that we were engaged for over two years. The client almost viewed us as their own resources, such was our knowledge of their operational landscape. The level of trust that accompanied our close relationship enabled us to have a large impact at the senior levels of project management and an influence on many of the major decisions facing the organisation.

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