These days, digital transformation is on the agenda for many companies, and nonprofits are no exception. The CFA Institute, the world's leading professional organization for individuals in investment management, is in the midst of a three-year plan to build a cloud platform that serves its central organization and standardizes technology across its network of local chapters. InformationWeek spoke with Managing Director and CIO Elaine Cheng about some of the challenges and how her team's human-centered approach has turned what can be a daunting process into an energizing project.
CFA is best known for the Chartered Financial Analyst exam and credentials it offers as a way to build trust in the investment management profession and underscore the importance of doing the right thing for investors, said Cheng. In addition to the exams, the organization offers conferences, seminars, webcasts, and publications to its 140,000 members and 147 local chapters, or societies.
In order to better support that, and to provide more tools that help the community interact with each other, CFA is ripping out its old infrastructure and CRM and exporting everything over to a cloud environment based on Salesforce and Microsoft Azure, said Cheng. "By the end of next year, we expect to be 85 or 90 percent cloud. Most of the capabilities we'll have from a technology perspective will be microservices apps being driven by APIs that talk to each other and to our partners and societies. So we're transforming how we operate internally and then how we offer that technology out as well."
It's a big change, Cheng acknowledged, but one her team has managed successfully. She offered some strategies that have helped them to manage the inevitable stumbling blocks.
Emphasize the big picture
"Transformation is not about technology," Cheng stated, although technology is a piece of it. She ensured that everyone understood the overall vision and its intended outcome, and encouraged her team to focus on customer experience.
"We started off examining the challenges we had in delivering our services to our members and used this project to solve those business problems," she said. They also focused on how to improve their own processes along the way, examining every process the technology group was supporting and weeding out waste or things that were not contributing value.
Cheng said the vast majority of her team was excited about the transformation and "getting their hands on new technology." But in some cases, particularly in CFA's operations teams, responsibilities were shifting as the company moved from its own data center to the cloud.
"Our approach was to be very transparent and human about the whole thing," she said. "We acknowledged the change and didn't try to shy away from it. We stressed that there would be new opportunities and projects coming up and that anyone willing to stay through the transition would be retrained." The few folks who were not interested in adapting their skills were able to find other jobs and parted amicably, Cheng noted, because the organization was up-front about how employees would realistically be affected.
Bring in help
Creating a whole new microservices architecture requires up-to-the-minute technical knowledge. Realizing it could use an infusion of expertise, CFA partnered with service provider Cognizant. "We have a blended team with members from the service provider and our internal folks working together building microservices and APIs so that our team can get up to speed on the new technology," explained Cheng. "The hope is that by the time we get near the end of the project, our people will have successfully knowledge transferred and own the skills they need to maintain and support the platform."
Change direction when needed
Part of Cheng's role includes leading CFA's global strategic design team, which focuses on design thinking and business process management. Employing design thinking strategies early on helped the technology group to frame the problem, understand the customer needs and the customer opportunity, and focus on the customer journey.
Cheng related an example in which her team did design work on the best way to deliver member content like thought leadership and market evaluations. "We anticipated we would get some new suggestions for content formats or topics," she said, "but what members really wanted was more insight into what their peers were doing and to be able to see what others were reading and sharing and interact with that." The team changed course and was able to include developing a native app that combines community and content for members as part of its transformation.
Build in some fun
The thread that resonates throughout CFA's experience is its attention to the human side of technology and the workplace, and integrating ways for both customers and employees to connect with the organization's mission, whether that means building market presence or engineering an IT platform. Cheng explained that because their transformation was a three-year project, the organization decided to use the story of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to mirror their journey.
The team has had fun making literary references and hosting LOTR parties, said Cheng. The theme of fellowship was also a good fit to represent their project. "We really wanted to emphasize that we were all in this together. Even if we weren't physically together – like the hobbits who had to go off on their own – we were all working toward the same goal."