By Nick Mancini, Chief Technology Officer
You’ve decided to start a new firm. Good. One decision made.
Or maybe you’ve been at it for a while and your IT program is a trainwreck.
Or maybe you made a New Year’s Resolution to build a strong IT strategy and then jumped off the deck like Superman.
Regardless of your motive, you’re here and looking for answers from an expert. And an expert you found. I’ve been leading Agio’s IT service offerings since 2014, with nearly 15 years before that in the financial services industry, so I know exactly what you’re looking for. Below are my top 10 tips for crafting a winning IT plan.
Your job is to pay close attention to what drives alpha and the things that matter most to your firm. Don’t distract yourself with the “digital plumbing” — that’s why you hire a managed IT provider. Leave email, file servers, mobile devices, phones, and network connectivity to those who do it best; they shouldn’t demand your time unless your strategy exploits them (e.g., HVDMA, Quant, etc.). Treat your IT infrastructure — the public cloud, for example — like a utility and let someone else handle it.
Your initial IT plan doesn’t need to be the end-all-be-all, but it does need to consider years 1 – 3, scalability, and security. Determining your risk profile is an excellent place to start because security needs to be your top priority when planning; establishing an IT plan means more than setting up the network and Internet connection. Your IT provider should help you write security policies and consider the unknowns.
Scalability is also key because your needs will likely change over the first three years. You don’t want to be stuck going through this whole process again when you realize your network and servers can’t handle the firm’s growth.
Your people are your most valuable assets. Are there ways you can take menial tasks — like reconciliation, internal compliance, and data aggregation and reporting — off their plates so they can get back to driving revenue? There’s probably an app for that, but be sure it has an ROI before you invest.
Sinking too much capital into custom-built private infrastructures is a classic mistake new firms make. Use shared tools like the public cloud to maximize service while minimizing spend.
Don’t Cut Corners
Under the pressure of starting a new firm, you may be tempted to DIY your tech to cut costs. Don’t fall for it. What might save you $5,000 now could cost you twice that much later in lost time and fees to hire a consultant to fix what you messed up. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing policy, establishing cybersecurity measures, or building infrastructure – hire a professional.
Ask The Experts
You spent a lot of time selecting your business partners — prime brokers, business consulting teams, and IT service firms — so make sure you use them to your advantage. Ask them questions, learn from your peers’ mistakes and take advantage of your prime broker’s informational sessions. This will help you stay prepared for regulatory changes and other technology trends.
Buy Don’t Build
Over the past few years, there has been an explosion in new systems that can deliver the functionality most alternative investment firms need. Application as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and even Office 365 have such sophisticated offerings there’s no need to build these in-house. Consider buying and negotiating any additional development you may need in the contract with the vendor to avoid taking on the ongoing cost of building custom technology.
Get Comfortable With the Cloud
It’s time to jump on the public cloud bandwagon. Keep your local hardware and infrastructure to a minimum and use the public cloud to stay nimble. Because the cloud is remotely accessible and infinitely scalable, your firm can easily grow, change or add locations and contracts. Best of all, the public cloud is incredibly affordable thanks to economies of scale and pay-as-you-go pricing.
Make sure you hire the right person for the job. Anyone with an Internet connection and a credit card can create a public cloud infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean you should run your business on it.
Everyone on your team, from developers to desktop techs, should be extensively trained in what they’re doing, or they shouldn’t be doing it. If you promote from within, make sure your employees receive adequate professional development.
Set It But Don’t Forget It
Outsourcing isn’t a silver bullet for managed IT. You need to be engaged with your vendors to ensure the relationship is beneficial. Yes, outsourcing should mean less work for your internal team, but vendors still need to be managed. Set up regular meetings with them and make sure you understand their processes, including when an issue should be escalated to you.
Know Your Investors
Like it or not, your investors have opinions and requirements. Keep this in mind when evaluating vendors/systems and have your responses to their due diligence questions ready. Smart investors will want to ensure access to your custom programs or code is controlled, your data is protected and theft prevention is in place.