Continued implementation of Dodd-Frank is just the beginning of the legislation changing the financial landscape. With no clear guidelines from regulators, firms are required to be as prepared and agile as possible.
There is a fundamental technology problem with a constantly changing environment and work loads; it is difficult for firms with older systems to react as quickly as legislation requires. Vendors have the responsibility of passing on software to clients so they are prepared, and to make the technology changes to ensure up to date functionality without asking firms to go through a painful update cycle. Who better to guide the sea of change than the end users?
"Testing can be expensive in large houses," explains Matt Gibbs, product manager at Linedata, a global solutions provider of investment management technology. "From a technology standpoint we've had to create a way in which they can upgrade their user interface, without updating core applications underneath it, to meet requirements and others we see coming in the future. It's a big change for us, and we've moved the technology base to prepare for that."
Clients will sometimes create their own front-end interfaces with their in-house tech teams to meet requirements in the short-term. A significant part of a vendor's responsibility is to incorporate those changes in new releases.
Vendor User Groups
Linedata has taken a unique approach to the liquid, ever-changing regulations and the necessary updates. They organize user groups, comprised of their clients' technology and operations leaders in EU and US, to discuss customizations and products themes.
This way Linedata can see where clients are moving in a particular area. "User groups help us focus on what's important and what's not pertinent. All these ideas were initially laid on road maps when regulations first started coming out," explains Gibbs, "but the user group forums have given us the ability to cherry pick what's important for them — areas where they believe they should be concentrating budgets, and what's most upsetting them. Some clients had misinterpretations of regulations and through those forums were able to identify key areas and functions."
[For more, Open Source Hardware Becoming A Reality, see Greg MacSweeney's related story on open source technology.]
Part of the event is a closed session with no Linedata staff in earshot. Individual companies discuss work they are putting in place and reasons they are doing so. They chat with the rest of the user group to determine fair prices and better options, at which point they bring in Linedata for an official response.
User groups also enhance vendor projects, says Gibbs. "I will have an idea of how I would like a product to move forward over X number of releases, then go to the user group and ask them to clarify if I am going in the right direction, and that there are no blatant admissions or areas that are absolutely wrong… I still think it's our responsibility at Linedata to drive that roadmap ourselves, and then put it across to clients to verify what's most important."
On average, Linedata holds user groups 3-to-4 times per year. For 3 years they were held in the UK, and recently adopted in the US. Although open source projects are becoming common in the industry, Gibbs believes Linedata may be the only vendor out there that facilitates this type of closed-door connection. "It's strange that a lot of competitors aren't doing the same thing... It makes our job easier. It identifies where we should be focusing and it makes them happy because they can see their ideas are going into product."
After the user groups have their sessions, the firm has spinoff sessions for more specific detail scoping. In these focus groups you tend to get more mid-high level specialists and actual end-users of the product. Those are also the people that tend to have mid-development demonstrations.
"There's nothing better than having that kind of audience for a software development," adds Gibbs.