Tag Archive: Boston


In my role over the years as a designer and developer of client reporting packages for dozens of investment advisors, I typically work with decision-makers to facilitate the creation of new client presentations. Many of my clients already know what they want and just need help making it happen.

Though I have an excellent understanding of what is important to most investors and their clients, my opinion is seldom solicited. I speak up when an issue demands it, but most of the time I defer to advisors, listen, and do my best to create what my clients (investment managers) want. In many cases, the bulk of the project is spent on individual report exhibits with little emphasis on the way reports are organized and presented to clients.

I have worked with firms who have wanted to do the bare minimum for their clients (appraisal, and invoice) as well as clients that go above and beyond their duty to report. However, even those with the best reporting intentions can err by including a level of complexity and detail that will not benefit their clients.

On occasion, I am lucky enough to work with investment professionals who are modern thinkers and savvy marketers. The combination of these important characteristics leads to engaging projects and sophisticated report packages. These advisors apparently understand what their clients want to see, and are determined to make the desired reports a reality.

Instead of reporting only what is required, these advisors are trying to exceed the reporting expectations of their clients, and in doing so they engender trust. Their reports are comprehensive and transparent. As such, they have the possibility of highlighting poor performance, but that is a risk that needs to be taken by most advisors. The significance of disclosing this level of information is recognized by investors’ clients and should improve client communications.

In terms of presentation, reports should be bound, with a cover and/or table of contents and well-organized. When a client opens the report up, the most important things are first, and less important details follow. For example, there is a hierarchy to the way the reports are organized in the package such that the relationship is reported first and individual account reports later.  You can view a full report sample illustrating this approach here. In this specific example, the physical report package opens to display pages two and three of the PDF document, which are a relationship summary. The pages that follow provide account-level information.

Reports are typically bound electronically (i.e. PDFs) for those who deliver reports through portals or encrypted email, but firms send most their reports out on paper due to low adoption rates. Paper copies should look professional, and there are cost-efficient options to make this possible whether it is done through printing report packages on 11×17 stock with a saddle stitch or via manual binding of reports after they have been printed. Some of the manual binding options are fairly quick, but shops with hundreds or thousands of reports should not bind reports manually.

Another key to producing impressive report packages is the one-page summary, which allows a client to look at a single page if that is all they want to see. Usually, it is an exhibit that shows them where their investments are, how much they are worth, how they have grown, and how they have performed over various time periods. One-page summaries are also produced to provide information about specific asset types and performance. The idea is to create an executive summary. Clients really want a concise overview of their investments, and rarely look at all the other details that get sent to them on a quarterly basis.

How will you know if your reports have made an impression?

You will hear it from your clients. Even hard-to-please clients should appreciate these types of report improvements. So get to work now, and your new report packages could be ready for next quarter.

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.

As a provider of technology solutions for financial services firms small and large nationwide, I frequently come in contact with investment firms of diverse dynamics and decision-making processes.  I am, of course, familiar with the process and discipline of getting

three separate quotes for goods and services, but even after decades of bidding on projects, it is still unclear to me what investment firms actually do with this information.

In some cases, it seems like the decision has already been made and prospects are just going through the motions to fulfill the expectation to follow a procedure and process established by their firm.  Gut decisions sometimes overrule common sense.

One of my clients actually adheres to this discipline for everything and, if the rumors are true, even gets three prices for paper clips.  In my own experience with them, they did, in fact, get three quotes for a single piece of computer equipment that cost about $75.  Considering current wage and consulting rates this arguably may not be a good use of time or money.  Perhaps it’s a more altruistic goal of keeping our economy competitive that drives their policy.

 

Opportunity                          

Recently, I was contacted by a firm looking for assistance with some Axys report modifications.  One of our competitors provided them with a quote for the work they needed.  The prospect felt that the price was too high and they solicited my opinion.  I never saw the quote from my competitor, but heard from the prospect that they wanted 3-4k up front and expected it would cost 7-8k.  In another conversation, I was told that there was also a local company bidding on the work.  That made sense to me – three bids.

I was provided with a detailed specification of what needed to be done and asked to provide them with a quote.  The firm was looking to make some modifications to the Axys report that generates Advent’s performance history data and stores it as Net of Fees (PRF) and Gross of Fees (PBF) data.  Though the requirements seemed complicated initially, it eventually became clear to me that the job simply required filtering of a couple REPLANG routines, and some minor additions.

I shared my impression with the prospect and ball-parked our bid at 3k (a 12 hour block of time) less than half of our known competitor’s bid.   I explained that the actual work was likely to take three to four hours, and rest of the time would be spent on testing, support and maintenance.  My expectation was that we would get the work done in a half day to a day at most and the remainder of our time could be used for any required maintenance or modification later in the year.

 

Follow-Up

After about a week, I called to follow up and found out that the firm was strongly considering having the work done by their local vendor, who told them it could be done for seven to ten days.  “Excuse me,” I said.  “Don’t you mean seven to ten hours?”

“No,” he replied.  He further explained that they really like using the local vendor and would probably use them for the job, which I fully understand.  I have, no doubt, benefited from this sentiment in Boston for years.  At that point in the call, I was thinking that it was more like seven to ten lines of code, but thankfully I didn’t start laughing.  I waited until the call ended.

 

No Risk, No Reward

In the end, your firm’s decision to select one bid over another is a personal one, similar in some respects to the one that dictates an investment adviser’s success attracting new clients and retaining them.  It’s about trust, performance, and the ability to continually communicate that you are worthy of one and capable of the other.  To succeed long-term in the financial services business, you need both.  Through good performance, we gain a measure of trust.  However, without a measure of initial trust or risk, there is no opportunity to perform.

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.

I just received an ad for “500 Things Every IT Manager Needs to Know:  Volume 1.”  I am sure there are 500 things, but none of the IT managers I know have the time to read about all of them.  Maybe that’s a good resource for somebody who has never been an IT manager.  I don’t even want to crack open the document for fear that I’ll spend valuable time reading about the 500 things, but thinking about it for a bit made me come up with my own abbreviated list.

In order of priority:

1.  Backup.  Backup.  Backup.  If you don’t know what I mean, read my blogs “Five Rules to Stake Your Plan On” and “Is Your Most Valuable Data Safe in the Cloud?

2.  Communication is key.   Setting expectations and meeting or exceeding those expectations is instrumental to keeping your co-workers satisfied with the quality of your work.  Failure to communicate sends a message clearer than words.  In contrast, good communication establishes a rapport that makes your work easier.

3.  Document your systems and your work.  If you keep things organized, required information is readily available when you or others need it.  I keep a running log that details almost every important thing I do.  If I need to refer to work I did last Friday, last month or last year, chances are I can find it in my log.

4.  Learn what is good enough for your firm.  Very few people that want systems to be perfect actually want to pay for perfect.  Many SMBs operate with a mandate of what is good enough for today and the near future.  IT managers at SMBs need to be adept at juggling priorities moment to moment.  In priority, your firm should want things to work securely, reliably, efficiently and as fast as possible.  Knowing what type of investment your firm is willing to make in each of these areas will help you understand what is good enough, and facilitate your ability to manage the IT objectives of your firm effectively.

5.  It always takes longer than it should, and usually doesn’t work quite the way it is supposed to.  That’s why you have a job.  If you are an IT manager, you fix IT.  Over the years I have learned to multiply my time estimates by two to offset my optimism.  Figure out what your multiplier is.

6.  Newer is cooler, but typically more time-consuming and consequently more expensive in terms of implementation and maintenance.  I like cool new stuff too, but losing a day of productivity to have the latest iPhone OS may not be worth it.  Staying mainstream is ideal and most efficient from a labor perspective, while being on the leading edge or lagging behind technologically carries a labor premium.

7.  Proactive is better than reactive.  Proactive IT management is the Holy Grail of IT.  It appeals to IT managers because we would rather take preventative measures than deal with the carnage of system failures.  It is attractive to the financial decision-makers in management because less downtime means more productivity.

8.  Decide whether you want to wear a lab coat or a tie.  It’s hard to do both, but if you must, tread carefully.  Otherwise, troubleshooting system issues can consume a large part of your day.  We all want to know why, but sometimes finding out why can be counter productive.  From a business perspective, a one-time glitch that you’ll never see again doesn’t merit a half a day of your time.   You probably have other more important things to do.  When you do attack a pesky bug or system issue, understand your options and budget your time accordingly.  Know when you have had your lab coat on too long, and make sure you can find the tie again.

9.  Centralized and standardized systems are almost always preferred.  Occasionally, there are users that need to be set free of the limits placed on the rest of the herd.  These power users may be set apart by their need more rights, faster systems or flexibility, and it’s typically in your best interest to give them what they need so you can limit the time you spend catering to or denying their demands.  Conversely, you may also run into some technologically challenged individuals that need their rights further limited to prevent them from hurting themselves or driving you crazy.

10.  You are only as good as what you have done or are responsible for today.  A lot can happen in 24 hours.   IT is a high-profile area where bad performance is readily apparent and rarely tolerated for long.

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.

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.

Yesterday, I fielded a call from one of our clients that generates reports for several thousand accounts using our reporting engine.  As part of their reporting process, they extract data from Axys and import it into a database that facilitates data quality reviews and enhanced PDF reporting via Crystal Reports.

My primary contact at the site phoned me to let me know that part of our process, which took 20 minutes last quarter, was still running after two hours.  We immediately established a remote session to review the issue.   In the past, we have experienced some issues with individual PCs processing at slower speeds due to poor network infrastructure, but more recently this firm invested in better network hardware to support their rapidly growing business.

We play a limited role for this client and focus on their quarterly reporting and billing systems.  Though we are IT experts, it is not our responsibility to oversee and manage their IT infrastructure; however, at quarter end, a processing issue where systems are operating at a fraction of their normal speed rapidly becomes our problem.

I am very familiar with the bottlenecks that can slow Axys performance.   The most critical of these is network speed.  100MB Ethernet (full-duplex) is an older standard, and we still find it in limited use at many offices.  Gigabit Ethernet (full-duplex) is the current standard that should be in use by nearly all investment firms.  Theoretically, gigabit is ten times faster, but you won’t see that in practice.  You actually get six to seven times the performance of 100MB Ethernet with gigabit Ethernet over decent cabling.

Our system is normally connected to the file server that hosts Axys via gigabit network connections.  A quick check of the system revealed that it was connected to a gigabit switch.  We reviewed a few other things to make sure that there wasn’t a performance issue specific to our system.  Everything we looked at pointed to a problem with their environment.  I was fairly certain that, somewhere between our system and the file server hosting Axys, we were not connected at gigabit speed.  We still needed to identify where the breakdown was occurring.

My technical contact at the firm first assured me that all of the systems were connected to gigabit switches, and nothing had changed since last quarter.  We discussed the wiring of the network in detail and I was eventually able to find out that they had added a new Dell switch in the server room, but assured again that it was a gigabit switch.  I asked them to double-check the switch and let me know the model.

Though most of our own experiences purchasing equipment from Dell are good, Dell isn’t perfect.  Perhaps the Dell sales rep didn’t know one gigabit switch from another.  Our client thought they had purchased a managed gigabit switch where all ports were gigabit.  They had, in fact, bought and installed a 100MB managed switch with two gigabit uplink ports.   Further discussion revealed that the gigabit uplink ports were not being used either.

For those not familiar with network nomenclature, the primary switch to which all of your other switches, routers and servers are connected is considered your network backbone.  It is a best practice to implement a backbone that has throughput greater than or equal to that of the devices connected to it. 

When two network devices auto-negotiate to communicate with each other the maximum speed is usually the highest speed commonly supported by both devices.  Other environment specific issues, such as the quality of cabling between two devices, can further degrade the speed at which two network devices communicate.

In this particular case, our client had unknowingly installed a switch that was forcing all of their servers with gigabit Ethernet to communicate with the rest of the network using 100MB Ethernet instead of gigabit.  Users that were not connected directly to the backbone had a gigabit connection though another switch, and assumed that everything was fine.

The short-term fix for this client was to connect their file server hosting Axys to one gigabit uplink switch and use the other uplink to connect to their larger gigabit switches.  They also called Dell and had them send the right switch overnight, which they installed today.

Having an up-to-date network diagram is a best practice.  If you don’t have one, have your technical staff or IT provider create and maintain a network diagram documenting your systems, so you can proactively manage problems with network performance and reliability.

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.