A major IT overhaul has helped global investment firm Schroders cope with the market volatility surrounding the credit crunch.
The company, which manages £114bn of client assets, faced severe pressure when the stock markets fluctuated wildly. But its introduction of a new IT system, just before the downturn, meant it could cope.
The company completed a two and a half year project to replace the 27-year-old legacy system at the heart of its IT infrastructure in September this year. The IMS Portfolio Accounting System (PAS) had been developed in-house to manage Schroder's clients' assets.
Matthew Oakeley, head of group IT at Schroders, says,"The PAS was supported in-house very successfully, but the hardware was going end-of-life and the system was really starting to show its age. With the announcement that support for the hardware would be withdrawn, we realised we needed to replace it,"
Schroders replaced the PAS system, which ran on Hewlett-Packard-3000 hardware, with packaged software called Dimension from supplier Simcorp. Dimension runs Oracle databases housed on clustered Unix boxes.Schroders uses clustered Wintel servers to run other components.
It was a massive undertaking to replace the PAS because the system linked to 950 others, says Oakeley. "Something that has been around for that long has interfaces and reports everywhere," he said.
The timing of the project could not have been better.
"The whole project, which was signed off in early 2006, was completed by September 2008 and the markets went haywire in October," says Oakeley.
The previous system would have struggled to report on the high volume of requests processed during the height of the market volatility of October.
He says the sheer volume of transactions put the system under enormous pressure. In a normal month the firm will produce reports on the performance of clients' investments three times a month, but because of the volatility this was done 16 times during October.
"The system took a real hammering because whenever the market is volatile we extract information. The reporting burden in October was much higher than usual because of the volatility and with the previous systems it would have been hard to cope."
Oakeley says if the company had not signed off its biggest ever project when the financial services was more bullish in early 2006 it may not have happened. "There is no way anyone would do a project like this during the current market conditions."
Schroders re-engineered business processes and made major changes to applications that linked to PAS. As a result Schroders was able to consolidate 4500 separate reports to 200. Many reports that Schroders sent out were no longer necessary.
The project was completed to time and to budget without the business noticing any change, according to Oakeley.
This he puts down to focussed project management and Shroder's testing strategy. "We focussed the project on what was needed to get us to where we wanted to be rather than have a wish list. We also drove a large part of the project from our testing strategy to ensure we knew what needed to be tested and when."
The Shroders' project, the Book of Record IT project, won the top prize at the Corporate IT Forum's Real IT Awards 2008. Though Shroders had not planned its project to meet the market turmoil of October, the unprecedented transaction volumes of this period certainly demonstrated the efficacy and necessity of the system.
Schroders migrated to the news system in 3 stages. Following two years of testing and planning, the first migration was done in February 2008, the second in May, with the final transfer completed at the end of August.
The project took the equivalent of 38,000 man days to complete. It used 200 staff at its peak, compared to the firm's normal IT project team of between four and eight people.
Schroders by numbers
Manages £114bn in assets
3000 staff (1500 in London)
250 IT staff (150 in London)