Developing A Digital Platform Through The Eyes Of The Customer

by Victor Fetter, CIO and Managing Director, LPL Financial

The digital platform model has been the growth engine of the most successful businesses since the mid-1990s–parlaying profits and growth across multiple industry sectors. Today, that not only applies to the Amazons and Expedias of the world–it includes the professional services sector.

A 2016 Gartner CIO Agenda Report suggests that, “As digitalization moves from an innovative trend to a core competency, enterprises need to understand and exploit platform effects throughout all aspects of their businesses.”

In the next five years, the report continues, CIOs expect digital revenues to grow from 16 to 37 percent. That growth spike has the C-suite taking note. It means that CIOs must begin to rethink their own business approach to digital platforms–considering far more than just the technical underpinnings, but how the digital platform can deliver on their business objectives.

For a service organization like LPL Financial, the client experience is paramount. When a digital platform delivers the functionality within a superior client experience, it can have tangible business impact.

As an organization, LPL experienced a growth wave over the last few years that sparked fundamental transformation. With a centralized digital workstation that had been utilized for years, there was a need and an opportunity to build a platform that would provide a truly digital office. It would need to deliver beyond the fundamentals, including regulatory controls, big data and digital mobility, but also create the efficiency and effectiveness that would allow clients to reduce back office work, enhance their service experience and ultimately enable them to create scale in their businesses.

Given the complex business structure and the varying needs from users, LPL technologists deliberately chose to steer away from the method of creating a new platform that would be launched as a final product to all clients in a “big bang” singular rollout.

Instead, LPL’s technology team adopted a culture of user-driven design and agile development, one in which the customer was at the center of the approach. By harnessing the potential for the new platform through the eyes of the customer, a company can prioritize investment and design decisions, enabled by DevOps, to iteratively deliver the most impact and value to the clients and the work they do.

Taking that approach involves a continuous development process, one that is agile and iterative, driven by insights from a pilot group of users, and continues to evolve beyond just the addition of more functionality and enhancements.

We invested in user feedback before any code was underway. Interviews with individuals or small groups that represent the larger demographic can help to identify existing pain points so you know what improvements are needed or the opportunities that lie ahead. While you can assume you understand the user’s needs and preferences, assumptions are better put to the test through hands-on experiences in real-life, day-to-day scenarios. Throughout development, pilot groups of early adopters gauge the functionally and the user experience of the evolving platform. Pilot participants feel empowered to voice their insights and the product team is able to adjust in real time to create a better outcome.

By engaging the client base directly, technologists can ensure the platform is delivering on its goals, which at LPL are creating efficiency and providing the right level of client support. And as a staged rollout, because users are already engaged and feel a part of the process, it also streamlines the complexity of migrating all users to the platform.

It takes longer to remain committed to user input and to change course as needed. But when your clients are your compass through the creation process, from start to finish, the results have far more meaning and can better deliver on business needs.

To be innovative, it takes patience, commitment and a clear vision. Undertaking a collaborative development process—one in which user insights steer the process—can deliver a project beyond a perceived expectation to an end product that truly delivers on the real needs of the user. Understanding that, CIOs have an opportunity to create more value and drive greater results when we tap into the collective voice of the client.