FinancialLine teaser

Peter Sarai knew that he would have to use the latest technology platform to build a customer relationship management (CRM) system that would embody industry-leading practices and support the scalable expansion of FinancialLine, the financial planning group of which he is managing director.

Microsoft's .NET represented the latest technology but few IT developers in Australia were skilled in its use. The alternative was to commission development using open source software, which was not seen as offering the benefits of .NET but for which there was ample expertise.

"So, we decided to use the .NET platform and to contract development of the system to Mitrais," Mr Sarai said.

Five years on the CRM system has been further enhanced to meet the needs of a very information-savvy and mature client base, as well as the firm's advisory staff.

Called Evolution, it operates on a 24x7 basis and allows clients and advisors to access portfolios and to manage investment strategies. It is also the foundation for good management of the practice and for the legislative compliance now demanded in the Australian financial services sector.

In 2002, based on a successful business formula which had been developed at its headquarters in suburban Brisbane, company management decided it was time to take the 20 year old company into a new growth phase.

To support this expansion, Peter Sarai said "we needed a system which would enable complete control of our practice, clients and staff, including compliance and marketing. We wanted to be able to use the system anywhere there was an internet connection.

"Our research indicated that other parties could not change or upgrade software as quickly as we required, to provide the level of service we believe is necessary to services our clients.

"We envisaged a new system which, in order to be enterprise-wide and be scalable to any number of offices, would have to be faster, offer new levels of security and be modular in design. As such, it would embody our own intellectual property.

It was clear the system would have to use the latest technology," Mr Sarai said.

While information technology is pivotal to FinancialLine's ongoing success and growth, like many companies of similar size, its strategy is to contract  major systems development initiatives under the auspices of a project manager who is part of a small internal team responsible for IT.

As the first step towards the development of Evolution, FinancialLine commissioned an audit of the functionality of its existing system and the development of specifications for its replacement. The technology came down to a choice between open source software and Microsoft's .NET platform.

The recommendation for .NET required the company to look beyond Australia for the .NET skills which were in short supply because of the newness of the platform.

The company's manager in charge of the Evolution project was well acquainted with Mitrais as a result of development that it had undertaken for the major enterprise resource planning (ERP) software company, Brisbane-headquartered Mincom.

Commissioned on a fixed time/cost basis, the project began with six months planning and preparation followed by an eight month development cycle.

Mr Sarai says the project was a success both operationally and financially. The close geographic proximity of Bali made Mitrais a more attractive proposition for an Australian company than development in India.

"It would have cost some 30 percent more to have undertaken the same project in Australia, assuming that sufficient .NET developers were available.

"On the other hand, had open source software been an acceptable platform we could have undertaken development in Australia. However the price would have been the same as it ultimately cost to have Mitrais to develop Evolution on a .NET platform," Mr Sarai said.

At an operational level, he says that having an in-house project manager was a reassurance that a fixed price project would work. Daily, online reporting underpinned this confidence as the project proceeded. Software modules were downloaded from Bali to a development server in Brisbane and tested module by module.