Selecting the right data management platform

By Michael McCaw | 11 December 2018

As more market participants realize how essential strong data governance is over the past few years, the market for enterprise data management (EDM) solutions has grown exponentially. While there are many vendors out there, choosing the right one can be crucial for the firm’s long-term success. Bobsguide spoke with Maurice Heffernan, Chief Information Officer, Conning, the global investment management firm, and AIM Software’s Gayatri Raman, Chief Executive Officer, on how to make the right EDM choices, plan for implementation challenges, and the fruitful relationship that the firms’ partnership has produced.

When going to market with your EDM offering, what are the key points you make to market participants?

Gayatri Raman: AIM Software’s GAIN Data Management platform is unique because it offers fully productized business applications for the buy-side, ie asset management, asset servicing and wealth management. These business applications, which are available on premise or as a hosted solution, combine extensive out-of-the-box functionality with the flexibility for customers to easily adapt the system to meet their bespoke requirements. We offer the ideal blend of pre-packaged best practices and end-user configurability.

Secondly, we are fully focused on data management – so all our engineering efforts and R&D spend are on continuously improving our platform and on innovation. This translates into new technologies and new products that can help solve our clients’ evolving data needs. For example, we are incorporating machine learning to optimize the golden copy creation process.

Thirdly, we have a very active user community who helps drive our product roadmap. We actively engage with our clients through release webinars, focus group sessions and our annual user conference. This continuous engagement ensures that we understand and can address the evolving needs of our customers. Clients really value this communication, collaboration and transparency that we bring to the table. 

What criteria were you looking for when selecting your EDM system?

Maurice Heffernan: We are a complex global buy-side organization and our needs are fairly broad and diverse. I started from the point of view of asking myself the “build versus buy” question. When I think about data, I can certainly think of ways to differentiate. But when I think about enterprise data management, I think of it as something that should be standardized. There has been a lot of learning across the industry over a long period of time, and I think the problem space is shared by most buy-side organizations. With that being the case, we didn’t think that building a solution would be economical or differentiating in any way. Therefore, we decided to buy or lease a solution.

From the outset, we were leaning more towards a turnkey product as opposed to a framework. In Information Technology, many people will sell you a framework on the merits of maximum flexibility. However, that flexibility can come at a cost where you don’t get the packaged learning of an entire community. In addition, you incur a higher cost to install and maintain the application –especially given the strong trend toward more frequent upgrade cycles to keep pace with a rapidly changing business environment. As a result, we were certainly biased toward something that was more productized.

We also have some areas where we are particularly deep, so we wanted a partner that would work well in that area of investment management – particularly ‘institutional investing’ and ‘fixed income’.

And has the system you chose met the requirements?

Maurice Heffernan: It has. We are still in the throes of implementation, but so far so good. The system has met my expectations and, with a complex project like this, you certainly learn a few things along the way. We’re partnering with AIM Software on expanding an existing interface for one of our data partners with which we have a much deeper and heavier use than their current client base. That has been a good partnership.

Has the implementation gone as expected? If there were any hurdles - traditionally associated with changing/upgrading systems - how did you, with AIM Software's help, if relevant, overcome them?

Maurice Heffernan: Right from the outset, we were aligned with AIM Software from a project management perspective in that we both advocated an agile approach with a very close partnership between the teams. We didn’t want AIM to do all the work, thus making knowledge transfer difficult. Nor did we want to pick up the manual and do it all ourselves. We struck the right balance with a tightly integrated cross-functional team.

We are taking an iterative approach to the different elements of the project to surface issues early and to ensure that we have time to pivot and adapt to them. One of the challenges was the need to expand one of the interfaces. I think both parties did a great job of uncovering the issues early in the process, which meant that we had sufficient time to react. AIM has been a great partner in marshalling additional subject matter experts to help us work through the expansion of that interface.

How do you make implementation as smooth as possible for your clients?

Gayatri Raman:  AIM has a proven implementation methodology that starts with a robust requirements phase. Because our product is so mature, we can take our clients’ data and essentially run it through the system to identify any gaps. Our implementation experts are deployed on site and work in close collaboration with our clients’ teams. This close collaboration applies to every step of the project path, from the initial assessment and discovery phases, to implementation, configuration and testing.

Our product experts are also closely involved, especially during the vital initial phases. Their role is to provide the right product guidance, but also to help identify and plan for any necessary product extensions, and to then incorporate these extensions into upcoming product releases. 

This partner approach also ensures a smooth implementation and knowledge transfer process. We make sure that clients understand what we are doing and why we are doing it, so that they are not dependent on us once they go into production. Of course, we are always there to support our clients when they need us, but we believe in our clients being able to run the system independently.  

What internal requirements meant that this was the right system for you?

Maurice Heffernan: This is a well-productized and standardized platform, which was very appealing. Furthermore, AIM is deeply knowledgeable of buy-side firm requirements. Also appealing is their roadmap in terms of product development. Their product suite comprises several business applications, which are functional modules that sit on top of the GAIN platform. Some of these modules are particularly innovative. I also liked the firm’s forward-looking approach to topics including Artificial Intelligence and Big Data. On all fronts, they were pretty impressive.

How have markets changed over the past few years that led to the development of this particular model?

Gayatri Raman: The buy-side landscape is facing massive change. While asset managers are starting to see sustained periods of growth, there continues to be huge pressure on margins and fees. Changing customer preferences and new digital channels are resulting in an increasingly competitive environment. We’re also seeing high levels of M&A activity as firms seek growth by entering new markets.

Against this backdrop, firms are focusing on cost optimization, operational efficiency, and on being sufficiently agile to anticipate and react to change. Essential to achieving these goals is a solid and scalable data management platform that can manage and cleanse the growing volumes of market and reference data required by the industry.

Our business applications are designed to enable our clients’ key business drivers: efficiency, agility, cost reduction, and compliance. We understand the continuously changing needs of the buy-side market and we ensure that our product suite caters to those requirements. For example, we’re incorporating predictive analytics and machine learning to increase automation levels even further.

Our product (over project) approach ensures continuous improvement and new functionality. We productize new requirements into our software releases for the collective benefit of all customers.

What are your expectations around the long-term benefits of using this platform?

Maurice Heffernan: It is multi-dimensional, in my mind. We are moving away from a custom build, and I expect efficiency gains and functionality gains because we’re sharing the knowledge of a larger community.

More fundamental to that, perhaps, is that data is becoming increasingly essential to IT. This is a trend that has been evolving over time, especially when you think about topics such as artificial intelligence. On this platform, and others for that matter, getting your “data house” in order is becoming increasingly important. Clean, accurate, timely, and efficient data is the lifeblood of an investment management firm.

I also expect that making sure that the data engine is how it needs to be will help me to future-proof the organization for how AI ultimately evolves. AI is changing and moving so quickly; it is difficult to predict what the various use cases in this industry will be, even within the next couple of years. That said, we can be fairly confident that almost all of those AI use cases will be highly dependent on high quality data. In other words, if your data house is in order, you should be well positioned to pivot into AI functionality as it surfaces.

And how do you see emerging technologies – such as AI and machine learning - impacting the data management landscape?

Gayatri Raman: We strongly believe that AI and machine learning will revolutionize the data management world. We have seen how machine learning can automate the golden copy creation process, and how task resolution can be automated with predictive analytics. We are already working on incorporating these technologies into our platform to further drive efficiency and improve time to market.

We’re also seeing increasing enthusiasm for cloud-based solutions, with ever more clients signing up to our “GAIN in the Cloud” model. We’re particularly excited about Elastic cloud storage, which allows our customers to easily scale up or down according to their business needs and to benefit from significant infrastructure savings.

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