Disruptive – an overused and abused term or one that we should use more?

Posted on : 30-11-2012 | By : richard.gale | In : Innovation

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Disrupting an existing process, organisation or idea is always an exciting concept – often used by consultants or analysts to sell into clients their new ideas. As an overarching viewpoint it is great as it forces people to think outside their normal world on how something could be executed differently. We all have been guilty of focussing on the detail of what we are trying to do and not taking a step back to review and think about the ‘bigger picture’.

We have been working with a number of clients recently in regard to improving their process efficiency and reducing waste and manual processes. This is all really good and sometimes that is what is needed to turn a cost into a profit or allow growth without incurring additional costs or risks. Sometimes however a radical re-think of a process is needed and that’s where thinking in an alternative way may help.

So how can this be achieved?

1. Challenge everything

This could be a nightmare and be disruptive without any constructive elements – but asking ‘Why?’ has been a favoured question of a consultant (and child…) but it does force a more rigorous analysis of the subject. This can yield real value and new ideas just by asking why something occurs rather than just what occurs.

2. Document everything

We document everything we do including informal, white boarding and workshop sessions. It is hard work but reviewing what has been said, consolidating and classifying really helps move the analysis forward. Most clients have many ‘day’ jobs and someone needs to help them with this valuable documentation functions otherwise it can be lost and the cost of repeating is high.

3. Re-analyse the data

Once the thoughts and data have been analysed then a re-evaluation of the situation needs to take place. What are the options and what are the risks & benefits. How do they sit with the department, how does this lie with with organisation and it’s principles and goals.

4. Act and make decisions 

The term ‘analysis paralysis’ has been coined to describe the circular discussions that teams can fall into when tackling a difficult problem. There might not be a solution to the issue or more likely there may be many solutions of similar merit or cost.

Create some rules around these more difficult discussions, if they are peripheral ignore them (and a solution will probably emerge), if it is critical then force a decision (either by hierarchy or consensus depending on the organisation). In the majority of cases making a decision is more important than making the absolute right decision. There is usually more than one solution to a problem and not making a decision saps time, cost, energy and morale.

5. Commit to the decisions

Following through on the decisions and ensuring they are executed to completion is one of the most important areas for success. If a proposal is more radical or disruptive than the norm for an organisation then resistance to it is likely to be high. Ensuring the decision is implemented will be challenging but the alternative is to dilute the solution which is more likely to fail or provide much reduced business benefits

6. Be realistic

Organisations are different and have varying risk/innovation appetites in different areas and these change with time and circumstances. Understanding the culture and situation of a company is essential to guiding how disruptive and much the status quo of an organisation can be challenged.

So – part of our role as consultants is to challenge and disrupt to help our clients improve their organisations. As always understanding the client, their culture, their goals and their organisation is critical to help us help them.

 

 

Too big to fail…or too big to succeed?

Posted on : 30-11-2012 | By : jo.rose | In : Finance

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In a recent blog we touched on what the future might hold for retail banking and some of the challenges facing them that have been played out in the open around brand and reputation, plus how potential new entrants could disrupt their traditional business model.

This month we thought we’d explore a little more the “legacy” that is inherent within the larger financial services organisations, specifically from the angle of the infrastructure cost burden that banks carry with them.

Most firms realised a while ago that their ratio of back-office to front-office expenses had become imbalanced or needed to be addressed. Years of growth, increases in business applications, product complexity and acquisition have added layers of cost elements. Of course, application and infrastructure consolidation is mooted along the way, but is often not executed.

Consequently, cost savings initiatives and operational efficiency have been part of the objectives of technology departments for many years (10 plus for some). Operating models have been modified, organisations have been de-layered, contracts consolidated, software and hardware standardised, development work best-shored, operations departments moved to Eastern Europe, infrastructure outsourced, contingent workforce rates reduced etc…

This is all good stuff, but one question remains (particularly if you’ve been a front office, revenue generating, observer during this period)…Are we going to run out of time?

It’s a serious question and one which we think is valid to ask against the new technology landscape. Let’s explore a few (maybe uncomfortable) points.

  • Could (or should) more have been done at a faster pace over the years? Financial services technology departments have always been a cost centre/enabler and therefore demonstrating tangible benefits through driving operating efficiencies has been a good way (sometimes the only way) to demonstrate value. So with technology leaders building careers around this, it’s good to “hold some cards in the hand” for next years’ bonus, right?
  • A second point is around the size and scale of the infrastructures within the big banks. With this complexity building up over many years is it just too big to fix or make competitive? Technology leaders will measure against their peers in terms of delivery and efficiency, but is that actually the problem? The oil tanker analogy is often used and yes, there’s a lot of hull to turn, but should we not be issuing the abandon ship order in favour of a more nimble vessel?
  • Lastly, what about the operational resourcing. Whilst sourcing models have changed and target ratios of perm to contract tinkered with, how often is the question of really matching demand to supply looked into? Or measure productivity and shift unused resource capacity based on peaks in demand? It’s not easy, but perhaps more could be done. Indeed, whilst pointing to reductions in workforce in a measure of driving down costs it often detracts from the still substantial size of the remaining organisation.

Again, it’s a difficult problem solve but the risk is that there is a positive answer to the question of running out of time. Are we simply been delaying the inevitable…a death by a thousand cuts?

Part of the problem is that for a large percentage of retail customers what they need now in terms of banking has changed significantly. We know that online/digital is where most customers want to transact and the more complex branch based services and advice is declining.

Some banks are adjusting their services portfolios to address this, such as Swedbank who recently announced completely hiving off its digital banking operations into a separate business entity. A recent Telegraph article also talked about the importance of improving online services in order to retain customers, with a third citing frustration with the current offerings. And then there’s the new generation who most likely will have a completely fresh set of banking needs.

So there’s a lot that needs to be done in order to retain customers, stay competitive and at the same time tackle the legacy and at the same time keep an eye out for new entrants, with more lean online services and no “baggage”.

But its not all doom and gloom. Ironically, it could be that the ability to absorb the infrastructure requirements of increased banking regulation might actually deter competition…

Broadgate Consultants partners with the technology start-up community

Posted on : 28-11-2012 | By : john.vincent | In : Innovation

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As part of our continuing commitment to technology innovation we are pleased to announce our exclusive partnership with TechMeetups.com to help London Silicon Roundabout companies in their business development, including a sounding board to help shape products around client needs.

Over the past six months we have spent an increasing amount of time with new technology companies and watching the industry evolve here in the UK. For those of us that have spent over two decades in delivering solutions it has been refreshing to see the level of energy and innovation in this community, particularly against a backdrop of austerity.

Broadly, our objectives are;

  • To increase access to new technology companies to help solve our client business problems
  • Provide a forum for generating innovative solutions and creativity
  • Improve the ability to navigate the tech start-up market in terms of early stage companies offering great potential
  • Introduce and stimulate early stage investment opportunities within the Broadgate community
  • Offer a sounding board for start-ups to help shape their products and services towards client business problems, product viability, marketing, cross-selling into new markets etc…
  • Advice, help and an objective honest view to start-ups from the Broadgate leadership experience
  • Product showcasing – provide an opportunity to pitch new products through our innovation and networking forum
  • Explore the opportunity for joint business ventures

So along these lines…a few weeks ago we attended the Angelhack hackathon held in conjunction with Bloomberg Ventures. For the uninitiated, a hackathon is an event, typically lasting a day or so, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative programming.

This was the first London event and was well attended with around 250 people (at the same time there was another one underway in Tel Aviv).  The rules were that basically anything goes in terms of coding as long as it is “from scratch” with the winners getting significant prizes and the opportunity to go to the finals in Silicon Valley where key technology CEO’s and VC’s would judge against other entrants and potentially provide funding.

After sponsor presentations, including Microsoft, Pearson, Couchbase and Palantire a queue formed where individuals could “pitch” their ideas. There was some really great ideas…some just simply that, a concept in that required developers, designers or business knowledge to progress, and others which actually already had a prototype but needed to “nudge” over the line into a viable product.

Following the pitches the presenters sought to build the best team through persuading  (or coercing) those with the required skills to join together. Then it was all systems go for 24 hours, with judging taking place on the Sunday at which point 55 prototypes were produced! The winners were;

  • Testlio: A community for test engineers. Companies will be able to utilise the website to find resources to test out their applications. Instead having to go through the pains of recruiting, companies can simply employ the services of test engineers for a limited period of time through Testlio.
  • Penny: An app that notifies users when products they are watching are discounted. Whenever users come across a product they can’t afford, they can watch the item through Penny using a Google extension. The application keeps an eye on the item and notifies the user through email once the price of the product drops.
  • BnkPositive: An app that teaches children how to manage their money. There are dual log-ins for parents and children. Parents can manage and control what happens with their children’s accounts, while children can monitor their spending. The app also encourages children to save by asking how much of their pocket money they wish to allocate to personal spending and how much to their savings account.

As relatively “old hat” technologists, we are excited about the opportunity to become more involved in this vibrant community and are looking forward to a successful 2013.

Note: if you would like to find out more about getting involved with our innovation programme, please contact jo.rose@broadgateconsultants.com.