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Strategic integration: making technology work for an organisation


24th March 2021

Last week, we were joined (virtually) by a group of ten founders and CEOs from across the UK software services industry for the latest volume of our Unlocking Growth event series.

The attendees included Ian Humphries, Co-founder of The Nav People (‘TNP’), and Jim Bucknell, Co-founder of Codestone, from FPE’s portfolio.

The discussion topic was “strategic integration”, an admittedly woolly term that tries to capture a holistic approach to technology, which has been adopted by CIOs who see technology as a means to optimising the way in which people and processes work together within organisations, and increasingly across industries.

The aim of the session was for everyone around the table to build a better understanding of the challenges CIOs face when pursuing strategic integration, and leave feeling better equipped to have impactful conversations on the topic with their customers.

Integration across organisations

Over the course of the discussion, we were interested to learn how forward-thinking CIOs and their technology partners are re-envisioning the way in which teams across organisations interact with people, applications and infrastructure that used to sit within the traditional “IT” function.

We were joined by Mark Foulsham, who is currently COO at Private Equity-backed alternative mortgages provider Kensington. Mark is a career technologist, who previously spent twelve years as CIO at esure, and he provided insight into how Kensington’s has approached strategic integration.

For example, Mark made the decision to split his IT function into three teams:

  1. Digital: a team focused on customers and improving their experience, working closely with the commercial and underwriting teams. It operates by digesting high volumes of feedback, analysing suggestions and forming a roadmap, and making changes on a high frequency, agile basis. They are highly responsive to customer needs.
  2. Data: a team focused on improving the quality of decision making across the organisation. It works with leaders in every part of the business to ensure that data and analytical capability is easy to access at the point of use.
  3. Technology: a team focused on infrastructure and support, ensuring that the business runs smoothly day to day.

Mark’s organisational re-design has been enabled by a rigorous approach to enterprise architecture. By building a clear understanding of where capability, IP and technical debt sat within in the business, he was able to prioritise value-add technology related activities where Kensington can differentiate itself from competitors.

Integration across industries

The strategic integration approach is also being applied by technology leaders across industries. As cloud computing, APIs and microservices continue to become commonplace, businesses are finding opportunities to improve the way in which they collaborate and share data with their partners, suppliers and customers.

As a result, customer journeys and supply chains are no longer as hierarchical as they previously were and increasingly decisions need to be made with respect to ecosystems.

For example, Kensington recently migrated to a new, cloud-based mortgage broker platform, which has enabled them to significantly reduce the turnaround time to produce accurate quotes and complete transactions.

However, in order for the platform to function, Mark, his team, and their technology partners had to make sure that standardised APIs were put in place for the hundreds of brokers that Kensington works with before data could be shared in real-time. This was a two-year project, but the new platform is a source of competitive advantage for Kensington.

Takeaways for technology services providers

Organisations like Kensington heavily rely on technology service providers to advise them on best practice and deliver their technology roadmap. From the discussion, it was clear that the most valuable technology partners help their customers to achieve strategic integration both internally and externally, and as a result provide a source of competitive advantage.

We landed on the following conclusions for service providers to take away and test with their customers:

  • Help customers understand their ecosystems and the opportunities to integrate.

Deep integration with partners, vendors, and customers from a technology standpoint is still a relatively new concept in many industries. Even in industries further along the adoption curve (e.g., financial services) the opportunity for companies to improve customer experience through strategic integration remains vast. Technology partners, often the source of best practice, are uniquely placed to help their customers explore the opportunities to unlock value within their ecosystem,

  • Find ways to navigate technology vendors and keep projects running on time.

One of the most difficult challenges when rolling out large scale projects alongside partners and customers is dealing with third party software vendors (e.g., vendors to customers) that require integration. They often lack the impetus to move at the required speed and can become a significant source of delay. By understanding how to navigate various software vendors effectively, technology service providers can add value to projects by helping customers avoid delays in the first place and resolving arising issues quickly.

  • Make sure that you have C-level buy-in, and that you understand your key advocates.

As obvious as it sounds, strategic integration is a strategic matter. Although longer term the organisation will reap the benefits of integrated systems and processes, getting to that point in the first place requires buy-in and that starts from the top. So before embarking on a project technology partners must ensure that key executives (e.g., CEO, CFO) are on board. Also, make sure you have identified your key senior advocates in other areas of the business, as they will play a part in achieving early victories that help projects build momentum.

  • Acknowledge the role that you play and demand the bigger picture.

Often some of the most material roles in delivering a complex roadmap are held by smaller technology partners with specific know how and capability. However, smaller partners can be overlooked by customers in the throng of large projects, forcing them to carry out their work blind to the broader objectives for the business. Therefore, it is the service providers’ responsibility to make sure that their customer has shared not just their strategy for the project, but their overall growth plans for the business.

FPE would like to thank everyone who joined and participated in the session, in particular Mark Foulsham who led a fascinating discussion.

If you are leading an IT consultancy or managed service provider and you would like to join us for the next instalment of the Unlocking Growth series focused on the technology services industry, then please reach out to Ben Cole (ben.cole@fpecapital.com)