A volatile economic environment, increased investor scrutiny and changing regulations have put the spotlight on organizational transparency and operational risk at investment firms. These factors, combined with the rising overhead costs inherent in owning, managing and monitoring a technology infrastructure and related services, have caused technology to take on a greater importance in recent years. It’s become a competitive differentiator and – with the explosive growth of cloud computing –a game-changer for funds’ operational strategies.
One major change we’re seeing within the industry is a trend toward outsourcing. In the past, we’ve discussed a number of outsourcing options, such as cloud computing, colocation, FIX connectivity and staffing. Today, let’s take a deeper dive into one aspect of outsourced staffing: leveraging a third-party help desk for day-to-day technology questions, systems management and troubleshooting.
It’s no secret that investment management firms (including hedge funds and private equity firms) have historically been divided over the use of public and private clouds. We’ve discussed it in depth here on the Hedge IT Blog, explaining the differences between the two and why most funds are choosing to go with a private cloud solution.
A case can be made, however, that there’s a time and a place for each cloud platform and both offer their own advantages for financial services firms. We’ve taken a look at some of the key areas firms will consider when looking at public and private clouds and identified which we think comes out on top.
Service & Support
Investment firms demand uptime to ensure operational efficiency and profitability. Public cloud providers, however, do not offer investment-specific IT support and rather have limited customer service representatives troubleshooting the most basic of email and desktop support issues.
When evaluating technology providers, there are a number of factors to consider when determining which is the best fit for your firm. One important, and often overlooked, criterion is the quality of the Help Desk. Alternative investment firms rely heavily on technology, but no technology is completely infallible. In the event of an unexpected issue, having a knowledgeable, experienced Help Desk at your fingertips is essential.
So, what makes an exceptional Help Desk?
In this article, we will take a look at some critical considerations and provide guidelines for what to look for when selecting a Help Desk provider for your firm.
Spam is essentially a term used to describe emails that make their way into a recipient’s inbox without their consent. According tothe Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG), almost 90% of all email is considered spam. Due to this shocking number, spam filters are widely used to assist users in keeping tabs on emails that are actually relevant. How do these spam filters work? We don’t know a lot about the algorithms used to operate them, and that’s probably a good thing. With that type of information floating throughout the web, spammers would be able to easily beat these filters, and we’d see cluttered inboxes everywhere. But despite our lack of knowledge on the intricacies of spam filters, there are a few red flags to avoid and best practices to adopt to keep genuine emails from entering total oblivion.
How Spam Filters Work
As mentioned, no one can be 100% certain how a spam filter flags an email, as they use many different benchmarks to judge an incoming message. A few hallmarks include:
IP Address – If your IP address has been flagged for sending spam in the past, it will impact the deliverability of your mail. This extends to your ISP as well. Where some ISPs attempt to eliminate spam from their servers, some take a more relaxed approach to spam.
What The Email Looks Like – Filters will look at the subject line and body of an email. If the filter deems either of the two to resemble spam, then your email likely won’t make it into someone’s inbox. Words and phrases such as “free” & “buy now” are often cited as trigger words.
Code – An innocent mistake many users make is using text formatted from Microsoft Office applications. Unfortunately, this creates rather messy HTML code with unnecessary lines of coding.
People take vacations. Companies don’t.
Hedge funds, just like most financial firms, need staff to run their technology, handle special projects, build (and manage) complex applications and of course execute core business activities. But in many cases it is not realistic or cost-effective to keep everything in-house. Enter outsourced staffing.
Outsourced staffing options for hedge funds abound. So let’s take a look at five common outsourcing practices. If you want to learn about other areas to outsource your hedge fund's technology, read our Manager's Guide to Outsourcing here.
Winter Weather Preparedness: Considerations for Keeping Your Firm and Employees Operational This Winter
Anyone who lives in a region that regularly receives snow knows (and expects) that every winter brings the potential for experiencing disruption, delays, cancelations and closures to roads, buses, trains, boats and subways that transport people to and from work. (If you’re in the Boston area, you’re experiencing this today with the MBTA shutting down all rail service to clean up from more than 70 inches of snow in the last three weeks.) Snow storms don’t just affect transportation though; weather events can cause power outages, force evacuations, impact deliveries, and as we saw recently with Winter Storm Juno, can cause entire states to ban travel.
Impacts of heavy snow if traveling to work
Let’s consider some of the issues firms can face even if a travel ban isn’t in place and employees must attempt to make their way to the office.
Most people who commute to work know that adverse weather can have a major impact on their travel to and from the office. Regardless of the manner of transportation (car, rail, subway, boat, bus, etc.), all will most likely experience delays and present challenges for commuters during a snow storm. Delays, breakdowns, cancellations, and longer commuting times are very common throughout a storm and can still impact travel days after a storm concludes, leaving employees largely unable to work effectively if at all.
In any relationship, when things are good, they’re usually pretty good. And when things are bad, sometimes they are really bad. There may come a point when you need to evaluate whether you’re still a good fit together.
Just like with a romantic relationship, your firm’s connection to a service provider (especially an infrastructure/cloud provider you rely on daily) should be strong enough to withstand a few hiccups and healthy enough to warrant open communication at all times. In some cases, it might be clear that you’re in a good place and moving forward together, but sometimes there are sure signs it’s time to call it quits.
Here are a few of those signs:
1. Your provider’s service levels are not up to snuff.
Maybe you recently experienced a major service outage or find that you not-so-conveniently have to work around confusing and interrupting maintenance schedules during work hours. You’re constantly frustrated and don’t feel like you are receiving the level of support that was agreed to – both verbally and as part of your Service Level Agreement (SLA).
Your SLA should clearly indicate the uptime standard (e.g. 99.995% availability) as well as repercussions to any breaches in the contract (for example, service credits) and associated RPOs if disaster recovery is involved
Pzena Investment Management is a 16-year-old hedge fund with a solid return record and a reputation for business integrity, research excellence and devotion. With close to 70 employees between the New York headquarters and a representative office in Melbourne, Australia, the company relies upon its IT department and technology consultants to oversee its 80 computers and 30 virtualized servers. As a public company and reputable investment management firm, Pzena must be assured that its critical systems and applications, such as its portfolio accounting system, email service, Microsoft Office applications and Swift Connections, are operating properly on a 24x7x365 basis to ensure client needs are addressed promptly.
Seeking an IT Partner for the Future
In 2009, the firm decided the time had come to replace its existing technology consulting company. In its search for a new partner, Pzena reviewed the qualifications of several firms and gathered referrals from other companies in the investment management market. Based on this research and feedback, the firm chose Eze Castle Integration for its deep technology knowledge, worldwide support and the ability to leverage Eze Castle personnel as on-site system administrators.
Here we are again – at the end of another year and recapping some of the best and most popular posts from the Hedge IT Blog in 2012. This year, we spent a lot of time talking about cloud computing, security, and disaster recovery, among other topics.
As always, we welcome your feedback and would love to hear your suggestions for future articles on Hedge IT. In the meantime, we’ll continue to bring you new and interesting posts related to all of your favorite hedge fund technology topics.
At last, here is a recap of our most popular blog articles of 2012:
This year, we undertook a research study surveying 130 hedge funds and alternative investment firms in regards to their adoption of cloud technology. The results revealed that more than eight out of ten investment firms are either currently using or planning to use cloud computing services in the near future. This shift towards the cloud signifies a major trend in the financial services space as firms look to move away from costly on-premise technology infrastructures. You can download the complete survey report here.
As we mentioned in our Help Desk FAQs article a few weeks ago, we recently completed a comprehensive profile on our Help Desk team. This includes an in-depth look at all areas of the department, such as the various sub-groups housed within the Help Desk, the team’s client request escalation procedures, professional development and ongoing skills enhancement provided to all team members and more.
While completing this document, we also created a video depicting our Client Support Center and the team members in action. (You may also remember last year’s video, featuring our director of Help Desk services, Dan Kummer, and associate director, Andre Chinkan.) This year’s video introduces viewers to several members of the Eze Castle Help Desk staff, who take us through many of the team’s most important functions and services. Check it out!