Category: SSRS


Bull_20140121-winter-SamiraBouaou-2329-676x450A relatively predictable bull market doesn’t pose significant challenges to investment managers short of making the best possible investments.  Assuming one has embraced a decent platform and mission-critical systems are in order, investment managers don’t need to think too hard about reporting or much else during a boom.  Investment management firms are money-making machines, and in a bull market, most tend to do that well.

When markets and returns are kind, client reporting doesn’t get much scrutiny.  This is a point exemplified by the fact that during these times some clients don’t even bother to open up their statements.  In more challenging times, client reporting gets a level of attention that has the potential to be bad for business.  And yes, I know – even during those times – there are still clients that don’t look at their statements.

Over the years, report designers like myself have created a number of dazzling client reports that can look … well … not so dazzling when returns approach zero, or worse, become negative.  In the design process, most of the time is spent looking at accounts that paint a pretty picture.  Those are the accounts that get used in sample reports, so it shouldn’t be surprising when investment managers see how ugly an account with poor performance can appear.

A survivor bias naturally minimizes any attention these accounts might receive, but in the meantime, those reporting on accounts with sub-zero performance need to make decisions like “Should we show the floor of the graph when the account is negative?” and other presentation details that most investors would rather not contemplate.

No one I have worked with says, “We want our bad performance to look good.”  They just don’t want it to look any worse than it actually is.  Though some of the changes we make to reports are purely cosmetic, most of the report enhancements we implement are designed with one thing in mind: presenting performance fairly.

Some specific examples of modifications we have made include:

  1. creating a truly representative custom index for each account
  2. producing comparative index returns and risk
  3. isolating managed asset class and sector returns to produce select time period performance
  4. providing comprehensive performance summary reports that help the clients of investment firms put occasional anomalies in perspective

 

Flashback to Q1 2016 

Coming off a relatively flat 2015, traditional investors were likely dismayed to see double-digit negative returns just two weeks into 2016.  Since many of these same investors were drafting their investment commentaries explaining the past quarter, calendar year 2015, and the outlook for 2016 (ahem), these market conditions likely spurred some very focused thought about existing client reports and how they might look next quarter based on January’s performance to date.

2016-Q1

As a result of this come-to-Jesus moment, my phone was ringing more than usual.  In January of 2016, I fielded a number of calls from firms in a few different countries and across the US.  In almost every case, decision-makers were ready to pull the trigger.  They wanted new reports and they wanted them done quickly.

Investors planning on replacing their platform with a higher-cost alternative that ultimately might address the shortcomings of existing client reports may have reconsidered those decisions for the immediate future due to concerns over time to implement, predictability and increased costs.  I have made the point in the past and I’ll make it again here: it is typically much easier to replace your reports than your portfolio accounting system.

In simple terms, it generally takes hours, days or weeks to create new reports for Axys and APX users regardless of the content.  In contrast, the time required to change your portfolio accounting system in order to leverage pre-existing reports or make new reports on a different platform is more likely three to six months.  In some cases, investors that switch to another portfolio accounting system with new reports in mind find that they still don’t have those reports a year later.

These fundamental truths along with market conditions no doubt led investors that use Advent Software products to seek out and retain the expertise of replang and SSRS report designers like me to create and implement a variety of new performance reports designed to address concerns about their existing performance reports.

In my own experience, one prospect provided me with the specifications for their new performance summary report and requested that the report be done in a week.  In another instance, I was tasked with facilitating a reclassification of securities, regeneration of performance history, and creation of a new performance report based on the reclassification before the end of January.  In each of these engagements, working as a team with responsive and motivated clients, we were able to start and complete large-scale, high-impact projects in an accelerated time frame.

As a seasoned professional services consultant, I do my best to address the needs of my retainer clients – that keep me in business – first and any new prospects second, so these non-retainer clients were fortunate that I was able and willing to commit to projects that required fast tracking on short notice.  Though I regularly take on new projects, the most interesting thing about that quarter’s new business was the timeline imposed.

There was definitely a sense of urgency associated with these reporting projects that usually isn’t there, and though consultants like me appreciate new business opportunities, investment managers cannot usually expect those results if they haven’t forged a relationship with a consultant ahead of time.

With an established, highly-motivated expert on retainer, you can call that person on impulse, have a high-level conversation in minutes with someone that is familiar with your systems, get a responsive quote for additional work if necessary, and potentially have a new report or automation created before you might be able to effectively start a dialog or get an adequate response from an alternative source.

When the financial markets take a turn for the worse, one might assume that folks like myself who make a living off of providing software products, custom reporting solutions and consulting services aimed at automating and integrating investment management systems would suffer a downturn in business.

While that is ultimately true, should the market ever become so difficult that my customers become distressed or go out of business, it is not true of “corrections” that occur in the market.  These events force the hand of investors – making them scramble to take stock of reporting, trading and any other systems that their businesses rely on with an aim to enhance, automate and improve.

The best run investment firms are constantly striving to improve their mission-critical systems and willing to retain the talent that empowers them to make changes to those systems whenever it becomes necessary or advantageous.

Investors dodged a bullet in Q1 of 2016, but doing so in the future may require changes to your client reports. I am hopeful that 2019 will be another banner year for investors, but sooner or later something is bound to change.


About the Author: Kevin Shea is the Founder and Principal Kevin Shea Impact 2010Consultant of Quartare; Quartare provides a wide variety of technology solutions to investment advisors nationwide. For details, please visit Quartare.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@quartare.com.

iStock_000007871357XSmallYour firm has just completed its implementation of APX. All systems are go including a small collection of SSRS reports, which meet some but probably not all of your firm’s requirements. You have new reporting capabilities, and now the question is “will your firm ever use these new features?” SSRS is also known as Microsoft Reporting Services, which sounds a little less complicated. No matter what the name is, SSRS is a beast – the following issues will challenge your firm’s ability to embrace and leverage SSRS technology for the foreseeable future.

1. TOOL INSTALLATION – SSRS tools like Report Builder and Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) will not be installed on most of your PCs. They are kept at an arms-length from most users, and rightfully so. Though SQL Server Manager and SSRS reporting tools can be accessed on the database server, it currently isn’t Advent Software’s policy to install the applications that give users access to these tools on all users’ PCs. Assuming you have someone at your office with relevant report-writing experience, getting their system configured to make SSRS reports and/or modifications is special request. I have worked with many APX users. By default, most of them do not have access to the tools, so they could not use them or even see them. Some firms using APX 3.x do not even have access to SSRS reports because they have not been installed.

2. ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLEXITY – Once the tools have been installed, the collection of SSRS reports is open to users’ review and modification, but the infrastructure and understanding it requires is cumbersome. Most APX users do not have the skills necessary to create SSRS reports, and very few of those who do are interested in doing it. For those unfamiliar with SSRS and other similar report-writing tools, seemingly simple reporting modifications can be a pain if datasets aren’t designed with your specific reporting needs in mind. Those writing reports need to make frequent backups. Occasionally, reports can become corrupted and cause their writers to lose hours of work.

3. TIME – Compared to creating compound reports and building reports using Advent Report Writer Pro, developing reports using SSRS and other similar report writers like Crystal takes much more time. This is the norm, but not the rule. There are specific report-writing tasks that SSRS is more efficient at performing, but overall report-writing with SSRS is exponentially more complex than using Advent’s standard report-writing tools. This is due to the fact that SSRS development and modifications are the domain of Business Intelligence (BI) professionals and other system integrators who do it for a living. Report Writer Pro and compound reporting were developed by Advent to be used by investment operations end-users with limited technical know-how. SSRS was created by Microsoft, and is not designed with these same users in mind. Some simple SSRS reports take minutes to create, but it is much more likely for users to spend hours, weeks or even months working on reports.

4. COST – Since your firm is unlikely to have BI report developer resources internally, you will need to hire outside resources to develop your reports. That sounds familiar, right? Assuming that you, like many Advent APX clients, spend somewhere around 100k to 200k annually on APX, you can expect to pay at least another 15k to 30k annually to get the reports you want and keep them maintained by qualified third-party resources. You may be able to get the work done cheaper, but anyone delivering reporting services on a platform this complex at a significantly lower price will not be in business for long.

5. AVAILABILITY OF QUALIFIED RESOURCES – Since SSRS is still relatively new to Advent users, there are very few BI resources available with specific experience working for APX users. The learning curve is steep. Significant integration and reporting work needs to be done for individual firms to fully embrace SSRS as their reporting platform, and short-term that leads to a smaller pool of available resources to do the work.

RUNNING WITH SSRS
Due to the complexity inherent in combining various data elements via SSRS and workflow automation, some APX users may still be better off using the REPLANG and compound report functionality first introduced in Axys. Standardizing your firm’s reports using SSRS on Advent’s APX platform could be tough. For many users, standardizing will mean trying to make standard (REPLANG) reports look like they were created in SSRS, or worse, completely reengineering those reports in SSRS.

Advent deserves credit for implementing SSRS. It is a progressive move aimed at satisfying the enterprise users for which APX was designed, but some firms using APX should ask themselves whether they truly are an “enterprise” before they start implementing tools designed for enterprises. (In the near future, I will be blogging on the issue of firm identity and the role it plays in the success or failure of technology implementations.)

Long-term, there is good news for many APX users. Though creating reports can be very complex, the format of SSRS reports is extremely portable, which should eventually lead to more report sharing among APX users. Unfortunately, while this may be good news for APX users, BI developers and integrators like ISITC have to be more concerned with the portability of their end product.

One could literally spend hundreds of hours developing a report and have someone walk away with it. In other stickier environments, reports might be developed at a discount, but an integrator’s sunk costs could easily be recouped through a nearly guaranteed long-term maintenance agreement. Given concerns regarding portability, you should expect to pay a premium to have SSRS reports developed for your firm.

Firms making a significant investment to develop distinctive reports in APX now should be equally concerned with maintaining those reports in the future. Advent and third parties that create reporting solutions regularly make updates to address bugs and/or add functionality to reports. Though APX users may not realize it, this environment is still fairly sticky. Those unfamiliar with specific reports can easily perform the simplest modifications, but firms will do well to retain those that write their SSRS reports to address more complex modifications in the future.

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide. For details, please visit isitc.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.

For me, scheduling a lab of my choice at an Advent Conference has been an elusive goal.  I have gone to a number of Advent conferences since 1993, five years after I started using Advent products.  Though I have been interested in attending one, I had never managed to go to a lab at an Advent conference.

I signed up for the conference the week before, and immediately started reviewing the sessions and labs I might attend. There were a wide variety of general sessions that I was interested in, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed – or surprised – to see that the labs I wanted to go to were full.

Determined that I would finally attend a lab – any lab – this year, I settled on one that I didn’t exactly have high hopes for.  The name sounded dull.  Other labs went by the name of “Taking Command of Axys/APX Macros” or “Building Custom SSRS Reports”, and my lab was “Pathways to Proficiency: Security-Level Performance in APX.”  The lab was hosted by Advent’s Trent Berry, whose enduring eloquence could no doubt make a blow-by-blow description of paint drying interesting. 

With twenty plus years of experience using, implementing, integrating, enhancing, and consulting on Advent products, I was probably not a typical lab attendee, but I was determined to learn what there is to learn in a lab session. 

I was impressed by Advent’s level of preparation, which included four classrooms with 48 PCs each and two more classrooms with 24 PCs each.  Every one of the systems was running Windows Server 2008 Standard and VMWare with 8GB RAM to host an insulated, fully functional copy of Advent’s primary applications.  Advent provided booklets for all of the labs that detailed the lessons, and appeared to have at least three Advent employees in attendance at each lab: one to speak, one to navigate the primary lab PC, and another to assist those in the lab with any individual issues they ran into.

You never know until you try. 

I also learned that attending a lab really isn’t that difficult after all. Though the hallways near thelab rooms were packed on Monday and Tuesday, it was very quiet when I headed for my 7:45am lab Wednesday.  Because of this, that morning I could go to any lab I wanted to.  Many extra PCs were available in each of the labs I attended.  In addition, there were a couple rows of chairs in the back where you could sit and watch without following the exercises on the PCs provided.  With that encouraging experience, I hopped into “Report Writer Pro in Axys and APX II: Building Upon a Foundation”, “Taking Command of Axys/APX Macros”, and “Building Custom SSRS Reports”, but what I really wanted to learn was what can they possibly teach users in an hour?

What can you learn in an hour?

The labs are so short that substantial learning is severely limited.  They are focused on empowering users by acquainting them with conceptual building blocks, but users will likely need to take the next steps on their own.  In my opinion, any attendant who applies him – or herself during the lab should gain a surface understanding of the fundamentals involved.

This type of basic training is a necessary starting point for many novice users, but intermediate and advanced users can see greater benefits from attending interactive sessions with panelists that share specific detailed experiences.  After sitting in on a few labs, I wished the names of the labs had been preceded by the phrase “Intro to.”

I saw more value in the “Building Custom SSRS Reports” lab, because using Visual Studio to build custom SSRS reports for APX is a non-intuitive process for most.  The labs on automation via macros/scripts and use of Report Writer Pro seemed less useful, because these are relatively intuitive processes that also happen to have sufficient documentation from Advent detailing how they work.

In the end, I walked away with a better understanding of Advent’s labs – they simply and effectively introduce concepts to users as they apply them firsthand.  Those interested in attending these labs should register for the conference as early as possible and show up even if the lab appears to be full.

About the Author:
Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide. For details, please visit isitc.com or contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.