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Integrated risk management (IRM) was a major theme at IBM’s recent Smarter Risk Management analyst summit in London. In the market context, IBM sees this topic as a means to differentiate its product and messaging from those of its competitors. IRM includes cloud-based offerings in operational risk analytics, IT risk analytics and financial crimes management designed for financial institutions and draws on component elements of software that IBM acquired over the past five years, notably from Algorithmics for risk-aware business decisions, Open Pages for compliance management, SPSS for sophisticated analytics, Cognos for reports, dashboards and scorecards, and Tivoli for managing all of this in a Web environment. Putting its software in the cloud enables IBM to streamline integration and maintenance, offer more flexible deployment and consumption options and potentially lower the total cost of ownership.

From a competitive standpoint, IRM is an attempt to change today’s highly fragmented financial services software market by emphasizing an integrated approach to managing risk and the often intertwined regulatory compliance. Although in concept this could apply to any risky, highly regulated business, the greatest payoff today is in financial services. IRM focuses the value proposition at a high level in the organization and shifts the objective from a narrow functional or business silo-based approach to a more strategic one. Beyond fully exploiting its applications portfolio, IBM is trying to capitalize on an important trend in global finance: the need to optimize the use of capital to achieve a higher risk-adjusted return on equity than one’s competitors. This has several implications:

  • Deploying bank capital in areas that offer the best risk/return characteristics in a way that matches the organization’s strategy. Since business and financial market conditions are in constant flux, optimization must be an ongoing process and the systems that support it must be fast and efficient.
  • Striving for fewer “unforced errors” in trading and lendingvr_grc_10_financial_services_companies_are_more_regulated and mitigating the impact when loss situations develop. According to IBM’s tracking of incidents, 45 percent of the biggest losses incurred by financial institutions in 2013 occurred at the boundary between credit and operational risks – an area that unintegrated risk management systems may not be able to track.
  • Integrating regulatory compliance into the risk management environment. Our research shows that financial services companies are far more regulated than other businesses. Nearly eight in 10 participants from this industry sector described themselves as heavily regulated compared to 58 percent of government, education and nonprofits, 40 percent of services companies and just 19 percent of those in manufacturing according to our benchmark research on governance, risk and compliance. Today, because the economics of managing financial services business are shaped by a micromanaged regulatory structure, it’s increasingly valuable to incorporate compliance into risk management systems.

More effective risk management will be among the three top strategic objectives of all financial institutions in open financial market systems for the next decade. The ability of these organizations to balance risk and return across their entire asset portfolio in a way that matches their institutional strengths, minimizes avoidable losses and responds quickly to changing market conditions will be a critical determinant for long-term success. The importance of optimizing trade-offs between risk and return in structuring financial institution assets – in daily trading-desk decisions as well as longer-term strategic portfolio ones – reflects a fundamental change in the financial services environment. For the three decades leading up the 2008 financial crisis, capital was relatively more abundant (in the sense that regulators permitted higher leverage), and in a relatively benign, liquidity-driven environment returns were high enough to compensate for mistakes. That has not been the case since the crisis.  Rather, returns on capital have been constrained by a systematic deleveraging of financial institutions, increasing regulation and constraints on how these companies operate, especially in deposit-taking institutions. Given the severity of the crisis and its aftermath, it’s unlikely that this stringency will lessen soon.

To be sure, other strategic elements – such as having sufficient critical mass in one or more segments of the capital markets or retail brand equity – will continue play roles in differentiating individual companies’ strategies. In many instances those may be more important than integrated risk management, but the latter will be a capability essential to ensuring the competitiveness of all banking, capital markets and insurance organizations for at least the next decade. As well, the full impact of this sea change has not yet taken effect. In the United States, for example, the fiendishly complex Dodd-Frank Act is still a work in progress. Some of the provisions of new regulations have altered the economics of business and rendered some seemingly plain-vanilla offerings unattractive or even unprofitable. New rules governing risk capital and liquidity (such as the Net Stable Funding Ratio) have yet to go into effect. It now appears that under the Volcker Rule bank executives may be responsible for attesting to their compliance environment. This means at the least that U.S.-regulated institutions must have sufficiently effective enterprise-wide compliance monitoring and reporting that goes a step beyond a plausible deniability standard. As well, over the past five years governments in many developed nations have been coddling the balance sheets of local financial institutions (directly or indirectly) to preserve and/or rebuild their balance sheets. This period is coming to an end, and the pressure on senior executives to eke out even basis-point measures of performance will intensify.

Today, most financial services organizations achieve a unified view of risk and make determinations of how to deploy bank capital by cobbling together information from multiple systems. The process consumes a great deal of employee time, is slow and uses data that is not always trustworthy. While the process integrates data and analyses, it is far from integrated. In today’s environment for financial services organizations, IBM’s challenge is to create a market for integrated risk management largely from scratch. It’s a concept likely to get enthusiastic endorsement at the executive level but then founder on the practical problems of rolling it out – especially in the sort of complex organizations that could utilize it best. Two sets of issues – one related to data and the other to people – are key obstacles.

For the former, IBM is advocating the adoption of an integrated risk platform (IRP) to better address risk management. The platform integrates three broad pieces: A data repository with data management capabilities, a unified risk modeling approach supported by risk information governance to ensure commonality in performing planning and analysis to be able to frame risk policy and highlight issues on an enterprise-wide basis. These must be supported by reporting and other communications capabilities.

Integrating risk data is a significant challenge for financial institutions. Historically, risk data has been collected and managed close to its source. Consequently, financial services firms have vr_infomgt_06_data_fragmentation_is_an_issuemultiple silos of risk processes, risk systems and risk data. Our research on information management shows that data fragmentation is a bigger issue for financial services than other businesses: On average, they source data from about twice as many systems as manufacturing and services companies (39% vs. 22% and 19%, respectively) according to our information management benchmark research. On top of that, each part of the business may use different terminology, apply its own rules for quantifying and qualifying risk and have different governance procedures. Those operating in multiple jurisdictions must conform local operations to local regulations but also at parent levels that may be in different regulatory regimes. Thus companies have multiple risk management systems and data stores, each structured for the specific needs of individual business silos. It’s therefore difficult for them to aggregate risk data into an enterprise view in a meaningful way and report on risk in a comprehensive and timely fashion. Similarly, like many businesses, few financial institutions have a unified view of their customer data. Parts of the organization may be dealing with different legal entities of the same organization, and this can have an impact on risk and compliance issues. From both risk management and compliance standpoints, it’s vital that the organization maintain accurate master client data that contains data hierarchies that reflect the structure of the clients’ business.

As for people issues, IBM insists on the need to have an integrated risk management platform and broad, cross-functional compliance management capabilities to support an effective chief risk officer (CRO). Our research finds that two in three (66%) financial services companies have a CRO. Yet this person often lacks a strategic mandate to manage and quantify the full spectrum of risk and returns from front-office risk intelligence, to operational governance processes and strategic capital planning. Instead, the CRO acts as a point person who has responsibility for overseeing a wide array of atomized, silo-based sets of risk management operations. It’s an aggregation of administrative responsibilities rather than a reimagined, integrated approach that transforms what today is a cost-minimization effort into something that promotes long-term competitiveness. To be truly strategic, a CRO must have an accurate, unified view of risk and compliance. It’s essential that financial services companies be able to automate the assembly of this information to facilitate rapid risk management cycles, enable full drill-down and drill-around analysis and increase the reliability the data and analyses while reducing the amount of staff time required to do all of this.

The data and people issues are mutually reinforcing. Support for IRM is essential to developing a truly strategic CRO position for financial services companies. Such a CRO will be able to drive improvements in managing risk and compliance in an integrated fashion that produces data and analyses that are reliable and timely. This approach is necessary to provide more trustworthy risk and compliance information to senior executives to enable them to confidently make consistently good decisions faster. Thus, establishing a more effective CRO role and the systems to support that function will be essential in the industry’s new environment. Having this connection recognized at the most senior levels of an organization is important because absent a top-level mandate for a CRO, the process of achieving a unified view of risk and compliance probably will be painfully slow. And unless they address their fragmented systems and data, financial services companies will find it increasingly difficult to manage risk and compliance well in the challenging business and regulatory climate.

Making major changes to enterprise data structures and making the role of a CRO more strategic are not going to happen overnight. IBM executives are well aware of that, describing the process of getting to integrated risk management as a journey. Fortunately, this is not the sort of initiative that requires a “big bang” to produce results. Data management and data integration efforts can produce measurable results if they are handled in a piecemeal yet steady fashion. Assembling a unified risk management platform can be performed on a step-by-step basis, allowing financial services companies to minimize deployment and disruption risk while developing skills for managing the implementation process. Risk and regulatory management are more important than ever to the success of financial services companies. They should being their journey to an integrated view of both as soon as possible.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research

At this year’s Inforum user group conference, Infor representatives showed the progress the organization has made since last year in transforming itself from a ragbag of mostly small, often obsolete software companies to a competitive vendor of a modern enterprise management software suite. Infor was created by private equity investors employing a “rollup” strategy, aimed at combining smaller companies within an industry to form a single larger company that could achieve economies of scale and greater market presence. Others have tried this in the software industry in the past and encountered difficulty in making it work for two primary reasons. One is the technical challenge of achieving economies of scale in enterprise applications by turning a set of similar but separately developed software pieces into a single offering. Computer Associates achieved economies of scale through acquisition in the 1990s in the IT infrastructure software segment. But it did this largely by forcing customers of the various acquired companies to migrate to its single offering in the specific category. This is not a practical approach for business and finance enterprise applications because customers are willing to go off maintenance and eventually look for another vendor. The second difficulty is that newer or larger competitors can focus on innovation and overtake the rollup company while its attention and resources are focused on stitching the pieces together.

Infor has addressed the economies-of-scale issue with its loosely coupled, XML-based ION middleware. Introduced in 2011, ION is an elegant method for integrating the data and process elements of the disparate pieces of Infor’s portfolio. (And of other software, too: Half of Infor’s customers use it to integrate with other vendors’ software.) ION has made it easier and less costly, for example, for Infor’s ERP customers to add its financial performance management software, according to our Value Index analysis. This cross-selling had been at the core of the company’s strategy from the start but needed a practical solution to make it work; ION supplied that.

Innovation is the other important issue that Infor needed to address. The numerous incremental technology advances that have taken place over the past decade, combined with the rise of the “millennials” and the retirement of the Baby Boomers in the workforce, are driving fundamental changes in how people expect to work with software. This shift is a key part of my research agenda for this year.

vr_bti_br_access_preferences_for_innovative_technologiesNothing says “modern” like the Cloud. Most observers now recognize that corporations will continue to pick and choose how they deploy software and data for quite some time. Our benchmark research into business technology innovation confirms that organizations have different preferences in how they deploy information technology, as the chart shows. In some cases, such as analytics, they prefer on-premises by a substantial margin, while the cloud rules for social media. Many companies that won’t dream of having their ERP and financial management systems in the cloud are long-time users of Salesforce.

Infor has made strides in addressing this situation. For example, Inforce is a native Force.com tool that connects Salesforce with Infor’s back-office applications. Inforce enables a company to automate management of, say, the full scope of a sales order process that begins as an opportunity in Salesforce and ends with posting all details of the completed transaction in the company’s ERP system. This structure eliminates the need to rekey data and enables controls such as credit limit approvals to be enforced. Similarly, Infor recently announced Sky Vault, an offering based on Amazon Web Services’ Redshift. Sky Vault is a cloud-based variation of Infor’s Business Vault, a dedicated repository for data generated by any transaction system (not just Infor’s). Business Vault offers users a way to immediately access a full range of company data for analysis and reporting. When it is formally launched in the second half of this year Sky Vault will provide a cloud-based repository that includes prebuilt,vr_bigdata_benefits_of_big_data_technologies industry- and function-specific business analytics, reports and dashboards. Its purpose is to give users low-cost big data capabilities. Our research shows that corporations are increasingly looking at big data technologies to retain and analyze more corporate data, increase the speed of analysis of that data and make it more accurate.

Simply having a cloud-based offering or an approach to big data is less important than what you do with it. To that end Infor has focused on improving the efficiency with which people use its software (one metric being the number of clicks required to perform a process) as well as making “beautiful apps,” in what it is calling “the SoHo Experience” created by its internal creative design organization. The dull, cluttered and difficult-to-navigate interfaces of the past were the result of inexperience in design and constrained computing resources. Today, it’s important to apply basic concepts of industrial design and ergonomics to creating user interfaces. This goes beyond making old code bases pretty. Largely because of tablets and mobile computing platforms, people now work with multiple types of interfaces and use a wider range of methods and gestures to interact with their devices. Today’s software design must reflect these changes. Having a modern user experience also makes it easier for Infor to attract customers and deflect claims that it is selling warmed-over applications that it acquired, which would have been a competitive vulnerability had it taken a more conventional approach.

Enhanced business collaboration for every part of the organization increasingly is a key requirement for software, and Infor is at work here also. Its Ming.le social collaboration software provides the means to connect groups of people within a workforce to achieve faster communication and more effective interaction in the context of specific issues or processes supported by computing systems. Instant messaging evolved from teenagers passing electronic notes to their friends into an easier way for business people to connect faster than through phones and email. Similarly, social collaboration is now more than a Facebook metaphor and addresses a key drawback to instant messaging systems. Individuals have multiple roles and multiple networks of people with whom they interact. Some relationships are tight, but others are transient. Some may be focused on a general topic such as marketing and therefore include a large and possibly diffuse group, while others such as performing reconciliations in the financial close process have a defined and controlled set of members. Well-designed social collaboration software can manage all of these types of interactions and enable people to resolve issues faster and with less effort than other means of communication.

As well, Infor has been building out mobility applications for extending functionality to people and functions that aren’t confined to a desk, such as a shop-floor tablet application, proof of delivery, requisitions and field service, to name a few. Mobility is rapidly becoming a table-stakes capability expected by software customers.

Integration and innovation support Infor’s core strength, which has been – and will continue to be – a customer base that values Infor’s highly specialized offerings. Infor’s “micro-vertical” strategy suits midsize companies (and midsize divisions of larger corporations) that have limited IT budgets yet want their specialized requirements addressed without having to pay a premium for customization and configuration. Many types of business adapt well to standard software, and all major ERP software companies have built industry-specific variations of their software offering over the past two decades. But milk and beer, for instance, remain two very different types of beverages with distinct requirements. Likewise steel service is a distinct form of distribution, and different types of industrial equipment dealers have specific requirements. Even Lawson’s S3 customers are focused in businesses such as government and healthcare that are people-intensive and therefore must manage the complexities associated with rapidly evolving workforce relationships.

Addressing micro-vertical specific requirements in business analytics, planning and control software will enable Infor to continue vr_fcc_financial_close_and_automationincreasing its penetration of these products into its installed base. For example,  by deploying Infor’s financial management software, one longstanding ERP customer I spoke with was able to shave half a day from its accounting close in part because it was able to automate more and eliminate 300 spreadsheets that were used in the process. Rather than have three people spend a half day each creating spreadsheet reports that were distributed to individuals by email, reports are generated automatically and individuals can retrieve them from a central repository. In addition, the company controller is now able to complete the management accounting narratives half a day earlier, making critical information available sooner than before. All of this is consistent with our research that demonstrates the value of automation in accelerating the financial close process, as shown in the chart. Across its range of micro-verticals Infor offers off-the-rack basic dashboards and reports tailored to the businesses requirements of its customers. Another example of cross-sell potential is its Approva continuous monitoring software, which can be especially useful for government, education and nonprofits. Unlike most businesses that pay expenses from a common pot, almost all of these entities must use funds-based accounting, so it’s necessary to keep tabs on these individual funds’ balances for specific programs, departments and so on to avoid overspending.

None of what Infor has added over the past two years is groundbreaking technology or a revolutionary approach to enterprise computing compared to what’s available in the broader marketplace. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be. The changes it has made offer existing customers substantial advantages for sustaining and even expanding Infor’s footprint in their organization. From the perspective of private equity investors and bondholders, this has been and continues to be the most critical aspect of the company’s business strategy. Without it, their investment in Infor would be doomed. And in this respect current leadership has succeeded where the previous management group did not. All of the steps in modernizing and upgrading the products have been achieved at a critical time. The prices paid for software companies in the consolidation of the past decade were based on the assumption of a long stream of annual maintenance payments. However, new technology and a new generation of buyers with more demanding requirements put those dependable maintenance streams in peril. Vendors can no longer assume that they will sustain their current share of wallet without adding functionality and capabilities as well as eliminating ancillary ownership costs (for example, by reducing customization and implementation costs).

The company’s senior executives appeared much more at ease this year than in the past, which might be an indicator that business is improving. But it’s hard to know for certain because Infor is a closely held corporation and is not required to routinely disclose its financial statements. Presenters declined to answer specific questions about the financial performance this year. However, Infor filed its fiscal 2012 financials with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a result of an exchange offer for its debt last year. The company data relates to its fiscal 2012, which ended that May 31, so the information is now almost a year old. The S-4 filing shows the company had revenues of $2.5 billion, a 35% increase over the prior year. This reflected increased demand for software generally but also renewed confidence in the company’s future as well as the Lawson Software acquisition, without which the top line would have been up 24%. Infor’s income statement had been holding its own under the weight of heavy interest expense related to debt taken on to fund acquisitions and a substantial investment in R&D. In fiscal 2012 it lost money on a reported basis but was slightly above break-even when noncash and nonrecurring items are excluded, as well as solidly profitable before interest expense. The numbers also illustrate the substantial investment Infor has made in R&D, which rose by $115 million to $322 million, representing 13% of revenues, up from 11% in the previous two years. For Infor to go public, the company would have to demonstrate ongoing organic revenue growth and prospects for more in the future. One reason for going public would be to retire the company’s high-cost debt, which would allow more spending on sales and marketing focused on gaining new customers.

Infor appears to have come a long way toward achieving the objective of making a very challenging enterprise software rollup work. The first, relatively easy step was buying a set of unsustainably small software companies at reasonable prices. The more recent, much more difficult step has been to make the technology and product design investments needed to transform solid but stodgy intellectual property into a modern software suite. I’ve been describing Infor as “the largest software company you never heard of,” but I expect that won’t be true much longer.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research

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