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Tried, Tested and Taught Solution

In an effort to solve the problem, AMP took a detailed look at what it was offering, with the aim of re-engineering virtually everything. Diamond joined in 2001 as part of this refocus. His background includes 11 years with IBM in systems engineering and its US laboratories, and more recently 10 years with ANZ Bank, with relevant experience in the funds management industry.

After a few months, Diamond brought in Miller, who has a somewhat less typical CV. He had trained as a geo-statistician in South African deep field gold mining. He and a team had come up with findings on how to predict where to find gold. "But no one wanted to program it," he says, "so I put up my hand." That's how some people get into IT. You could say he is still digging for gold, only this time it is for customer satisfaction.

The transition, which AMP titled "Evolution", was to take place over three years beginning with the technology and then re-engineering the support. Evolution was project managed by Sharmini Sivathas.

The changes to technology included an emphasis on Web-based systems (Diamond admits AMP had been slow to take this up) as well as what he describes as "sharp-end financial planning-type solutions". Between 60 and 70 percent of the Web-based systems were internally developed. Desktop applications were in the main purchased, with maybe some level of modification in financial planning, client contact, general ledger and so on. AMP now offers a choice of applications, including support for Moneywise Technology, as well as VisiPlan - in total, more than 30 different technologies, systems and applications, compared with the less than 10 they offered only a few years before.

Over a one-and-a-half year program, running from mid 2001 to the end of 2002, the company set about implementing a new standard technology environment. Since then, there have been further iterations of Evolution, all implementing the same initial plan. However, that standard technology environment remains a problem. Because of the diversity of the planner base, configuration management is difficult to manage.

"We do not mandate the PCs our planners buy; we mandate the minimum capacity," Diamond says. "We have a program where they can source [their needs] through us, but if they have a relationship with a local PC store they can buy what they want. We mandate a particular configuration and design applications to run on that environment and we support those applications. But the planners may have other applications that are not fully supported by us.

"So our level of configuration knowledge will never be that of an internal IT shop. There is some encouraging work that Steve's team has done to get a better feel of the heterogeneous environment that we have out there, but it will never be a lock-step control or locked down standard operating environment."

Because they are dealing with independent operators, they are loath to cut someone off - "That's not a terminology we would use," Diamond says - if they do not comply. "We can advise and tell them that for those applications we support, we now support them at a certain level. Our levers are more what level of support we can give to a particular operating environment," he says.

Certainly they try to influence planners, and the signs throughout the AdTech office saying "Win XP, Lose 98" are an indication of the lessons they are trying to teach. Virus management, security and firewall issues are, however, one area where they are a lot more robust. "We mandate and control that centrally. There we don't go in softly-softly; it's a very firm policy we manage," Diamond says.

The 18-month changeover entailed replacing the previous technology, which was no longer supported, migrating data from the old to the new, plus detailed education on the new components. "Especially those components that were really different in a business sense, like far more robust financial planning software, which meant a lot of education at the business level on how one utilizes this software," says Diamond. "We put a lot of effort in the implementation and education. This is not an environment where you throw out an application to a group of 1000 users."

Mike Williams, co-owner and co-director of Perth-based Excel Financial Group and president of the AMP Financial Planners Association, agrees that technical support, and training in particular, has radically improved. From a time when training in the applications on offer was in his words "limited", Williams now extols AdTech's extended support to one-on-one training, virtual classrooms, telephone and online resources. He cites as examples, the benefits of technicians in Sydney able to remotely enter the planner's computer to investigate and resolve common occurring problems as well as assisting with training.

Diamond feared that Web-based coaching would be a much harder proposition to get across the line than it turned out to be. In fact, planners have taken to it readily. Two-hour sessions are conducted with coaches online, which at the very least saves planners unnecessary travel to a central training location. Technology consulting also takes place via a group of field technicians, who now not only rectify existing issues but also proactively consult with planners on ways they can use the technology to improve their businesses.

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