Pulling a Rabbit Out of the Hat

We had no idea what to do.

We left our planning meeting with the new client and drove back to our offices in near silence.

Normally we leave these meetings with a plan – or at least an idea – in mind.

But this one had us stumped.

The client’s business was providing back office systems and support for independent financial advisors. They made the stock trades happen and provided tools and reports that tracked client portfolio performance, commissions, etc.

The founder and CEO, Robert, had started the firm over 20 years ago. At the time, he was an independent financial advisor himself, and had become frustrated with the robotic nature of typical back office services. Simply executing trade orders and reporting monthly balances was just not enough.

He wanted tools and resources that also would help him build better relationships with his clients.

So he launched his own company to provide relationship-building and mentoring resources for its member partners (independent financial advisors), as well as transaction and reporting services.

20 years later, Robert was realizing his vision. Every month his firm provided a personalized scorecard to over 90 member partners. The reports crunched performance numbers, calculated fees, broke down commissions, and detailed transaction histories.

And herein was Robert’s big problem: the monthly scorecards were prepared by hand by one person, Sheryl.

It was time to automate the report building process for multiple, obvious reasons: efficiency, scalability, reliability, client satisfaction, etc. Or Robert could hire another Sheryl.

When the case was presented to us, we immediately thought, “of course we can help you.” We could easily create an application that would meet his needs. So we asked about his current office technology.

And we were stunned at his response.

Robert’s firm – serving 90 member partners representing thousands of financial advisory clients – had no corporate information systems. None.

His firm didn’t own a server or even a database.

They had no infrastructure other than a few isolated PCs. The only calculations of any kind were being done by complicated, hand-built macros inside an Excel spreadsheet.

Once we recovered from our shock, the challenge was on.

Right away we eliminated custom development as an option. Without any infrastructure to build on, we’d have Robert into six figures really quickly. And any in-office computer system we specified would require maintenance and upgrades. Robert could hire another Sheryl for far less.

We then went down the tools path, searching for a less expensive, pre-packaged solution that we could customize to suit Robert’s needs. But we couldn’t find a suite of tools that would do every trick.

Robert needed a database, automated calculations, and an interface that would reproduce – exactly – the reports his member partners counted on every month. The reports didn’t need to be changed, they just needed to be automated.

And we needed to build a solution for less than the cost of another Sheryl.

The team mulled it around and around, and then the light bulbs lit up on all fronts.

  1. Microsoft Office 365 would provide access to a hosting environment in the cloud so we’d have a place to build.
  2. SharePoint would give us a place to store all of the information.
  3. MapForce, a data mapping tool, would convert and combine the disparate data structures into a format exactly matching Sheryl’s reports.
  4. A custom-built, behind-the-scenes processing and calculating engine would tie everything together and produce the monthly reports.

Now, Sheryl simply ensures that everything is uploaded into SharePoint, and the system automatically creates the monthly reports, exactly to Robert’s standards. And in the unlikely scenario that the application somehow crashes, a second program watching over everything automatically restarts it.

What used to take three weeks every month now takes minutes. For less than one year’s salary, Robert has a state-of-the-art information system in the cloud – 100% accurate, fully scalable, nearly maintenance-free – that will drive his business for years to come.

Free from the mundane chores of data processing, the firm focuses much more of its energy now on meaningful customer experiences, helping clients achieve their own success.

Which was Robert’s vision from the very beginning. Pretty good trick!

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