Towards the end of 2015, The Business Performance Innovation Network (BPI) conducted a survey of 250 executives. The survey found that while 70 per cent of business leaders realised that new technology has become more important to their success, 52 per cent thought that their IT departments were poor or only “just making progress”. However, Leek United Building Society’s IT team has remained ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new technology, which is why the organisation made the decision to integrate analytics software from Connexica into its system. Not only does this software allow the building society to streamline and reduce operational costs, it means that the rest of the business — outside of the IT team — can truly benefit from technology developments too.
Banks and building societies are subject to an array of stringent regulations to protect both consumers and the economy and the associated requirements for compliance are constantly changing. Quite often these are small changes, such as an adaption in the way certain legal documents have to be phrased. However, there can be amendments that are of a more serious nature.
In 2013, for example, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) was replaced by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) as a result of the Financial Services Act 2012. The move, which also saw The Bank of England take responsibility for financial stability, implemented significant changes to the UK financial regulation framework by amending relevant provisions in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA).
Under the new act, laws relating to manipulation and misleading statements and impressions were restructured and broadened and a new category was created for the regulation of activity in relation to benchmarks and credit ratings.
This means that banks and building societies are now subject to prudential and conduct regulation from the PRA and FCA. However, from the point of view of businesses operating in the financial sector, what this really means from a day-to-day perspective is continuous information gathering and ongoing reporting.
Reporting for duty
Leek United Building Society was established in 1863, which means the business has weathered all manner of regulatory and economic change. Today, the mutual organisation has twelve busy branches across Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Shropshire, offering a range of mortgages, savings and insurance products.
Each of these branches, as well as the central marketing, sales and risk departments, have to generate a wealth of business and regulatory reports on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. Anyone who has ever put together any kind of report has an appreciation for how laborious the process can be. When there are such stringent requirements to be met, fact checking and cross referencing can be a particularly large headache.
“In 2015 alone our IT department produced over 700 reports,” said Stephen Boulton, Head of IT and Admin Services at the building society. “Historically, it made sense for reports to be handled centrally, as this reduced the chances of interdepartmental discrepancies between reports, something that can result in fines and damage our brand reputation. However, the ideal scenario is one where each department can take full ownership of its reporting in the knowledge that the data is accurate and the report is straightforward to produce. This is why we were looking for an alternative that would enable each department of the business, whether sales, marketing, mortgages or savings, to take control of their own reports.”
With this goal in mind, Leek United Building Society found Connexica’s business analytics software, CXAIR, through work with a mutual partner.
Big data, big results
Using search technology, CXAIR takes raw data from any number of sources and converts it into visually appealing and easy to understand reports that offer actionable insight.
A mutual partner of both businesses originally introduced the building society to CXAIR with the intention of using the tool for reporting on things related to online transactions with customers. After further review, Boulton realised that CXAIR was what he had been looking for to help the company’s reporting process.
“Being able to integrate an analytics tool that can draw on various data sources and automatically produce reports in minutes is exactly what we needed,” said Boulton. “Rather than someone spending hours searching through spread sheets and databases and then compiling a report, we now have a solution that completely negates this laborious process. It also means that we know every department is drawing from the same central resource, so there can be no discrepancies in figures or results.”
Establishing CXAIR as part of the building society’s system was a straightforward process. This was due, in part, to Connexica’s in-depth understanding of nominal ledger systems, such as Sage. However, the main reason CXAIR is easy to integrate into any system is a result of its open architecture design, meaning it can work with any existing software.
Where the real work comes in is defining the sources of data needed to generate each report.
“We work with all of our clients to help them understand where the data they need resides and what the format is, or needs to be,” said Greg Richards, Sales and Marketing Director at Connexica. “This is really important, particularly as all organisations are reliant on timely accurate information to make key decisions. If the data you are basing these decisions on is of poor quality, inaccurate or is simply not relevant, then the quality and efficacy of any generated report and decisions made is going to be equally poor. Our CXAIR software is easy to use and very quick, but it’s only going to help if companies put effort into inputting and accessing the right data in the first instance. This is why we spent time with Leek United Building Society defining its data strategy to help them do just this.”
This has helped the building society not only achieve its goal of enabling non-IT professionals to generate reports and access key information, but it will also reduce any potential for fines for errors in consistency. For example, if there was a discrepancy in a figure between two different reports that would raise questions from regulatory bodies about clarity, ethics and accuracy and could incur hefty fines.
The democratisation of business intelligence
When you talk to non-IT professionals about big data and analytics, there is often a look of panic or confusion on their face. It seems like a complex thing to comprehend, even if the software is actually very straightforward to use. This needs to be overcome with training and familiarisation.
“Our approach to analytics is all about the democratisation of business intelligence,” said Connexica’s Richards. “This means that anyone can look at data and make informed, strategic decisions without being dependant on the IT department. That’s why all data CXAIR presents through reports is visual and easy to understand. However, for people to really get the most from it there has to be a process of knowledge transfer in the shape of both formal training and hands-on migration of skill sets.”
This training process, delivered by Connexica’s team of experts, has meant that Leek United Building Society has achieved its goal and enabled individual teams to be confident in creating all required business and regulatory reports.
“Thanks to both the ease of use CXAIR affords and the comprehensive training from Connexica, we’re now in a position to achieve our objective,” said Boulton. “In addition, the reports generated by CXAIR are both more accurate, as a result of the improved data dictionary and are more visually appealing. This means we’ll be able to get much more out of them, using them to support more strategic business decisions and enabling us to keep up with the competitive financial marketplace.”
Technology and the way businesses use it is changing at a rapid pace. With key trends like security, business automation, productivity improvements and operational resilience gathering pace, a company’s IT department needs to be free to investigate these advancements and upgrade in a strategic manner. If IT professionals are continually relied on for tasks that could easily be completed by other areas of the business, such as reports, then they are not going to be able to achieve this.
If business leaders, like those surveyed by BPI, want their IT departments to advance beyond “just making progress”, they need to take a leaf out of Leek United Building Society’s book and see how a company like Connexica can alleviate the pressure.