The Consumerization of Fund IT: Enough Talk Already

Getting on with delivering software that delivers to users.

Whether you like the term ‘consumerization of IT’ or not, innovations in consumer technology have changed the way business users experience their workplace tools and processes. In turn, and perhaps more importantly, it’s changed the way (most of) the industry thinks about what constitutes successful B2B technology design and development.

But the consumerization of IT is not something a business does; it’s not about embracing devices or apps, it’s not a strategy, nor a set of technologies. It’s an impact.

And it’s about time we considered the impact a positive one.

The result is that enterprise IT leaders — and B2B technology vendors — are finally getting on with delivering software that delivers to users.

For financial services technology, one of the last bastions of complex, infrastructure-driven enterprise IT, this has been a long time coming.

Legacy Technology and The Good Old Ways

Ten years ago, hedge fund IT was pretty undemocratic. The CTO would impose a set of technologies, processes and systems upon employees, and there was little choice for them to do anything other than use them.

Today, desperate for the kind of effortless always-on, mobile app experiences they get every day with their personal technology and gadgets, employees demand more. And they will actively turn away from restrictive or clunky enterprise systems if enforced upon them by employers.

And yes, sometimes, they turn to to easy to use freemium software and consumer ‘hacks’ that let them get stuff done, fast (even if, more often that not, they fail to adhere to enterprise security and compliance processes).

They do this because they can, but also because there’s not really been much of an alternative.

In the decade where ‘consumer’ technology has become a pseudonym for fast, easy to use and well designed software, business technology has largely been left in the dust; evoking feelings of frustration and disappointment in its user base, at best.

The inability of enterprise IT – and certainly rigid, legacy financial services technology – to learn from the advances of other industries, or keep pace with modern development and user expectation, is as much to blame for the influx of consumer software into the enterprise, as the consumer innovations themselves. Even if a CTO recognized the need for a new approach, without the technology innovation coming from enterprise vendors, their hands were often tied.

Learning to Put Users First

Hedge fund technology has long been cumbersome and complex. Just five years ago, for example, Research Management Systems were hardware-centric, proprietary, single-purpose and expensive. And while, unfortunately, that’s sometimes still the case, it’s changing.

Over the last few years, new approaches to research management have emerged, ones that are user-driven, highly configurable, fully integrated and cost-effective. It’s one example of how enterprise IT is now taking advantage of modern technologies and models developed in the consumer sector.  One that should be considered a (positive) impact of consumer technology, and one that has begun to untie many a CTO’s hands.

At the same time, the role of the hedge fund CTO has evolved into a more strategic one. No longer solely focused on operations and keeping the lights on, the CTO is increasingly tasked with finding innovative ways to deliver services to its users in order to support business performance, and returns.

For hedge fund CTOs this translates into creating real value at the front-end for analyst productivity and demonstrating operational excellence at the back-end for the fund.

The CTOs that listen to their business consumers and deliver apps and services that meet their needs are the ones that have it figured out.

The good news is that there are now a growing number of software providers and innovative enterprise-grade products out there that can help them achieve it.

Perhaps consumerization, then, is neither the ‘curse of the enterprise CTO’ nor technology as the great ‘enabler’ as it is often heralded to be. Perhaps it all just took some common sense – give users the tools they need to get their jobs done effectively and efficiently, make it easy and make it secure. Perhaps then, we can all agree to wind down the hyperbole just a touch, and start to recognize the positive impact its had on the enterprise.