How fund operators can build security and cultural change with data

Emma Cullen, Chief Operating Officer of Fiera Real Estate, explains how new technology and processes requires strong communication for effective implementation.

Fund Operator Editor POSTED ON 3/22/2022 4:45:16 PM

The disparate uses of data means that finding good strategies around usage, storage, and security, in an organisation can prove challenging, says Emma Cullen from Fiera Real Estate.

Data is key to everything that we do and needs to sit at the heart of our investment strategy

In Clear Path Analysis’s recently released Fund Technology, Data & Operations, Europe 2022 report, industry leaders from companies including Nikko Asset Management and Storebrand Asset Management looked at what companies need to keep in mind when trying to innovate and extrapolate information from their data.

“Data is key to everything that we do and needs to sit at the heart of our investment strategy, but everything is driven by the needs of the business,” says Cullen, who has been Fiera’s Chief Operating Officer since 2016. “It is very important that you understand what your business wants and what you can embed within your business because everyone will tell you that digital transformation is very challenging,” she adds.

In 2020, a survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services found that 83% of companies said the importance of turning data into actionable insight was paramount, but only 22% feel their company was actually successful at doing this.

Cullen says that from a data management perspective, she feels that in the cloud-based environment there is a better understanding of the risks with data management. “If we look at the old-style world of on-premise, or local machines, many of us didn’t know when we had risks or threats,” she says. “Even though the unseen or unknown may have felt safer. I don’t think it was because it was possible for people to hold key data in Excel, they would share it modify it, and we now have much better monitoring processes to see the risks and threats.”

“[The cloud] is an enabler but what is important is that you understand what your data governance and data lineage is

She adds that data security in a cloud-based world may mean that there is more to steal – but that business is also in a much better position to thwart the attack.

One key aspect that Cullen says businesses should be aware of is around data provenance and the regulatory and governance issues this may bring up, as this is often overlooked. Especially with issues such as the cloud, and other sharing platforms. “[The cloud] is an enabler but what is important is that you understand what your data governance and data lineage is,” she says. “You want to know where your data comes from, who inputs into it, and how does it change as it moves across your platform or from one application to the next.”

A key concern around data is outsourcing, something that Cullen’s organisation does not partake in, partly due to safety concerns, and something she recommends others to investigate as well before making decisions. “We haven’t outsourced our data and have actually built our own digital platform,” she says. “If you are looking to work with a third party, then you need to work with someone that you trust. You need to be working with tools that you understand in your business, and it is highly important to have data formats that you can integrate with your own proprietary staff because you need to monitor the way that data moves through the system.” She adds that above all it is “very important to have access to that underlying data.”

Design is so much more important than the technology, and that ease of use is key

On top of security and proper regulatory handling, managing data successfully means good operational protocols and those can often be complicated. According to a Finbourne Technology study, over half (56%) of the asset management firms cited in it said that the joining of disparate data sets was their biggest data challenge. “One of the things we learnt very early on is that the design is so much more important than the technology, and that ease of use is key,” says Cullen. “If you are trying to embed this within your business, people will put up resistance so if it is not easy, they won’t use it.”

“What we found is that we didn’t have the necessary skillset in-house. Companies need a technical skillset, and very strong project management and processing improvement skills because, ultimately, you are lumping your processes together and need people who can adapt,” she adds.

You also need a strong vision as adoption of new technology and any new process requires strong communication and at times an iron will

This is often felt industry-wide - according to an Accenture report, 42% of operations executives surveyed believe their operations and technology are not configured to adequately execute the firm’s overall strategy.

Cullen explains further that, as a company, you also need a strong vision as adoption of new technology and any new process requires strong communication and at times an iron will. “Because you are affecting cultural change within your business. This type of transformation doesn’t develop from the ground up,” she says.

To learn more about this issue and others facing fund operators, read our report Fund Technology, Data & Operations, Europe 2022 here.

Emma Cullen is speaking at the Private Markets Investor Europe conference on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. She will be partaking in a moderated panel discussing whether Excel is obsolete, and what the critical stages to systematising and streamlining workflows are. You can see the agenda and book your place to attend the conference here.

 

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