Are you a broker who cringes at the thought of picking up the phone (or, more likely your Skype chat window) to reach out to your technology vendor? In the fast paced eTrading technology environment, the interpersonal connections between a tech vendor (be it internal IT or an external software shop) and broker clients are often overlooked. Like oil and vinegar, the relationship between “techies” and “suits” (I’ll include brokers, sales, marketing, etc. in one general bucket here) is stereotypically strained, and this often manifests itself in the poor quality of collaboration (be it on new projects or supporting existing products) between tech providers and their customers.
In my time in the retail FX space I’ve learned a lot about managing the relationship between the broker and the technology provider, perhaps more than I have about technology itself. There are rigid expectations that exist, clear areas where technology can provide additional flexibility and a fairly straightforward path via which we can achieve our goals. Why a project, partnership or even sales call can miss the mark generally falls under miscommunication, misunderstanding of expectations, or a poor evaluation of the capabilities of a tech vendor / broker.
Here are a few simple steps I suggest every broker take to improve their technology partner relationships:
(1) Remember, there is a human on either side of the Skype chat window!
Often times the 24/5 aspect of the Forex market can get the best of you. If you haven’t met your technology provider in person, it’s time to do so. Face-to-face interactions, even if they are few and far between, are essential in maintaining any relationship. Just because the technology that runs your brokerage sits behind the scenes, doesn’t mean the relationship between you and your technology partner should also. You can learn a lot from an on-site visit to your tech vendor (sometimes good / sometimes bad). The first step to improving or making a change in your relationship is understand the foundation from which you are working from. Walk over to the IT desk, flick on “video” mode in Skype, or arrange an in person visit whenever possible.
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(2) Use “The Triangle” method for managing project expectations.
There is a well-documented (though surprisingly not well known) technique for managing expectations for projects that has worked very well in helping ease the strain with customers when determining the features, cost and scheduling of a deployment. Step 1: Imagine a triangle where each point represents one of the three: COST, FEATURES, TIMEFRAME. Step 2: Determine which 2 of these is most important to you, as the customer. Step 3: Work with your technology provider to determine the 3rd.
What does this mean in plain speak? You can only control 2 corners of the triangle at once without dooming a project to failure. It is fair for you, the paying customer, to dictate the COST and FEATURES you need to achieve a project, if your tech provider can tell you how long they will take to do what you ask, at this cost. You can determine the TIMEFRAME and FEATURES of a project, if your technology provider has the ability to control the resources needed to accomplish that project. This fairly academic process helps open a conversation about the challenges each of you face as you approach a project in a way that generally leads to a better understanding of how to achieve your mutual goals.
(3) Know when and where to contact your tech provider and when to use tools at your disposal.
Technology providers deal with many different sized firms, from Tier 1 brokers with thousands of employees to “one man shows”. When engaging a technology firm, and maintaining an ongoing relationship, make sure there is a strong understanding of where the line of support starts and ends. It can be straining on a relationship when a tech provider spends time developing GUIs, tools, and hands-on utilities for managing a system, and the broker expects them to do all the management. From a broker’s perspective, it can also be very frustrating to try and understand where they have control, and where the provider must step in to assist.
When engaging a firm on a tech issue, it’s much better to write an email like “Provider XYZ. We have taken the following steps to try to solve this ourselves. Please advise on a response and let us know what steps could be taken in further issues to troubleshoot this ourselves.” Sending the message to a tech provider that you do not see them as merely an outsourced IT firm, but a solutions provider and enabler to your brokerage, will go a long way in not only protecting your brokerage by making you more independent but also protecting your relationship with your tech firms, as you demonstrate that you value their time.