Raising the Stakes: Technology Must-Haves for Equipment Finance’s New Future
by Monitor Staff Vol. 48 No. 6 2021
Mike Applegate of TimeValue Software, Jay Mehra of Odessa and Ryan Pereira of TAO Solutions joined Monitor for a roundtable discussion about remote/hybrid working conditions, cyber security and what innovations the near-future may hold.
Mike Applegate, President, TimeValue Software
As the delta variant threatens to upend many back-to-the-office plans, we face ongoing remote and hybrid working conditions. What types of issues can arise when teams are working in a hybrid manner and how can we use technology to solve those issues?
Mike Applegate: Companies that weren’t structured to handle a hybrid work environment were forced into it to survive, and those that try to “do it on the cheap” will likely suffer undesired consequences. Companies who have navigated their way successfully to date through the pandemic crucible have focused on certain key fundamentals that have enabled their successful efforts:
A solid technology infrastructure spanning both core systems and home set-ups
Well-functioning internal operating systems that are cloud-ready and highly resilient (including cyber defense controls)
A strong communications dynamic that includes both leadership messaging and fostering of intra-staff communications (Slack or equivalents)
A demonstrated ability to continue a sustained training and staff development model (including compensation and benefits) that is recognized by employees as genuine and empathetic and, thus, strongly embraced
Jay Mehra: For all of the potential benefits of hybrid and remote working, there are also certainly challenges to overcome. Hybrid workforces are great at shining a light on process inefficiencies, whether that is overly manual or repetitive tasks, challenges in cross-team communication or just maintaining a sense of collective direction.
It is vital that we leverage technology to bridge these divides and optimize how business is done, and this helps new and existing employees to be effective and productive as work is conducted across the gaps.
In addition to satisfaction with the obvious remote work darlings — Zoom or Teams, even DocuSign — asset finance companies need to ask the question: Can my choice of asset finance platform have a significant impact on customer satisfaction? What about employee job satisfaction and, therefore, productivity? With systems that replace much of the previously in-person and more manual interactions, the asset finance technologies
implemented should be viewed as a critical asset and differentiator for all of your stakeholders.
Ryan Pereira: Ultimately, this comes down to the overall vision and weighting of company culture and identity. Though hybrid working conditions are inevitable, it’s also inevitable that the company culture and structure in an organization is challenged simultaneously. It’s hard to put a price or value on the organic camaraderie and autonomy that is strengthened when working together in-person. Operational challenges will inevitably creep in and are often in the spotlight when a company is forced to work as effectively as possible remotely.
Technology won’t replace the in-person collaborative model, but it will strengthen how to tackle communication and process barriers. Software is absolutely required to help severely mitigate risk related to greater operational burden due to remote work. It isn’t enough to effectively use screen sharing and relationship management tools. The right infrastructure that promotes how best to use these tools to simplify internal process workflows, which in turn promote greater efficiency in a collaborative team environment, are even more vital.
Cyber-attacks have been on the rise lately. How can a company ensure that its technology stack is protected from these attacks?
Applegate: The span and scope of best practice approaches to guard against cyber-attacks are well publicized and unimpeachable, but no set of defenses is perfect, and smart organizations need to have a continuous assessment and improvement process that is well established. Some examples of broad directives used to combat cybercrime or ransomware attacks include the Principle of Least Privilege, managing cloud-based system logins by IP address, an organization-wide password protection system, implementing forced logouts at specified hours and use of sophisticated monitoring and threat assessment systems. Employee level contributions may include multi-factor authentication (MFA), unique logins, robust passwords, patch management on core infrastructure systems and individual machines and an advanced and regular company-wide training and testing program.
Mehra: The key for individual business readiness and defense is to assess business risk and develop a cybersecurity risk management framework that best suits your profile (including an understanding of how much you want to directly manage). Security should be viewed as an integrated set of services. The primary way to approach it is sometimes referred to as a defense in-depth, designed to defend systems against attacks using several different methods. Not only should you train and ready your workforce on things like email phishing, but you should also implement integrated layers of security throughout your tech stack and systems.
For critical business systems, the risk of cybersecurity can also prove to be a catalyst to make the switch to cloud solutions. As part of regular vendor maintenance and due diligence during system selection, ensure systems partners meet necessary certifications like ISO and that they have multi-layered security programs — often in combination with Microsoft Azure or AWS — with dedicated services and SLAs.
Pereira: Every entity, regardless of their primary business function, needs to consider cyber-attacks and ensure an executive investment is made accordingly along with the right governance for proactive review and expansion measures as necessary. This starts with any applicable internal software, regardless of ownership, proprietorship or management of that software. If software and/or networks are exposed, which in the majority of cases they are, then proactive cybersecurity is a necessity. This starts with reviewing the exposure and weaknesses that exist and accordingly procuring the right penetration testing and dynamic code analysis for internal and externally used systems. In theory and in practice, any vulnerability against a live application housed on any server, or in the cloud through a third-party, will be tested with these tools and services. Furthermore, for internally managed servers, hardening policies are a must for security measures.
Many equipment finance companies accelerated their technology adoption over the last 18 months. What technology will be table stakes to remain competitive this time next year?
Applegate: Given the events of the past couple of years and continuing for the foreseeable future, few would argue the table stakes bar has been raised even higher — the “nice to haves” have become “must haves.” Having the right technologies in place for your business that support an operating philosophy and culture of continuous improvement, best-in-class customer sales and support and operational efficiencies at the highest level will be table stakes to remain competitive.
Mehra: Cloud. Perhaps the pandemic is what was required to make this shift, but we are now absolutely in a “work-from-anywhere” world that necessitates a cloud-first approach. Teams need a level of flexibility in how and where they work, and that requires always-on environments that can dynamically scale and adapt to business needs with minimal local intervention.
Pereira: More than ever, there will be a greater need for equipment finance companies to focus on competitive software programs that help strengthen and streamline operational activities throughout the entire deal management lifecycle. The largest contributors reside in three core areas: workflow automation, greater access to data and flexibility.
What are the most innovative companies in equipment finance doing today that will inevitably become the norm within the industry sooner than many realize?
Applegate: The most innovative companies in equipment finance are looking at every single aspect of their operating model, from front to back, and critically assessing ways to drive increased customer sales, continuously raise customer satisfaction, achieve business/operating efficiencies to the highest possible level and further advance their own employee experience dynamics such that the best people can be recruited, retained and rewarded for sustained above standard performance.
Mehra: It can be argued that the successful identification, implementation and continuous loop refinement of tailored artificial intelligence capabilities throughout a company’s entire business operations will be that distinctive and differentiating characteristic for the most successful equipment finance market players. Reflecting back on the table stakes environment that has become the “new normal,” including advanced systems for sales enablement, business management/ERP, differentiated product design and robust infrastructure, the most innovative companies will figure out how AI tools will be able to be integrated into each one of those areas to achieve performance levels not thought to be obtainable in the “old normal.”
Pereira: Outside of the obvious necessities applicable in today’s climate due to remote and hybrid working models, there is a stronger partnership sense in the industry, highlighted over the past two years. This resides in more innovative funding strategies, administration assistance and new systems integration. Building and strengthening the right relationships within the industry is even more relevant than ever. This is also vital for small to medium lessors/lessees, who require rapid adoption of new systems and technology and can leverage consultants and partner models to effectively manage how to grow in an evolving asset finance space.
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