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Technology Renovation: How Agile Development Helps LPL Financial Make Tangible Technology Improvements

By Chris Paul, SVP, Advisor Experience & Design, LPL Financial

Chris Paul, SVP, Advisor Experience & Design, LPL Financial

There is one universal truth about technology in the financial services industry: It is always changing. At LPL, we know that the way we approach handling these changes is critical for the success of the financial advisors and institutions we support. After all, they are operating businesses and serving clients around the clock.

“In thinking about ways that we can continue to serve our clients, while also revolutionizing our technology platforms, our guiding principle became agility”

By carefully examining our internal development and deployment processes, we learned that there was a way we could revamp our technology tools for advisors, while at the same time, still ensuring the continuity of service and technology they had come to rely on.

Agile Development, a First Step

In thinking about ways that we can continue to serve our clients, while also revolutionizing our technology platforms, our guiding principle became agility. Prior to 2013, the technology team primarily used the “waterfall” System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) methodology. In waterfall projects, work is performed sequentially in large phases (requirements definition, design, development, testing, and implementation). However, we realized that if we were going to move faster and offer innovative solutions, we needed a different system.

We started using SDLC in 2014 to allow our technology projects to move faster and remain in full compliance through our “Agile” SDLC methodology. The new process enabled us to be more responsive to our clients—making corrections and pivoting when needed—because each release delivers the features that are of highest value to end users.

Getting the Products into the Hands of the Client

Switching to Agile delivery enabled us to develop value-adding features more frequently. However, our production deployment process was still largely manual and inefficient, as it was designed for waterfall development. So while the development teams were able to deliver features more frequently, that same efficiency did not translate in the deployment process. Without significant change to our deployment process, new features were effectively packaged and ready for our customers, but they sat on the shelves waiting to be shipped.

The solution for our team was to spin up a DevOps cross-functional team across engineering, QA and release management to overhaul our manual deployment processes. In order for us to create a more efficient production deployment process, we had to do a deep dive into the development processes and environment.

Prior to the implementation of reengineering DevOps processes and tools, the testing and deployment cycle, which started after development was completed, was a 12-week process. QA testing was not performed in the development environment. With the implementation of our new processes and tools, software delivery teams are able to develop and deliver new features to our customers every three weeks. The efficiencies and better processes enabled through DevOps are a huge win for our technology organization, the firm, our advisors and our employees.

Next, Renovating One “Room” at a Time

Once we had a method for development and deployment, we had to figure out how we could use these methods to deliver solutions for our clients. To do this, we realized that we would need to renovate our solutions one “room” at a time.

Our technologists had to think outside of the box; how do they completely overhaul a system that has been in existence for decades while still keeping our advisors up and running? The answer was simple. It is just like remodeling a house, and our technologists decided to work on one room at a time. The team’s ultimate goal of the rebuild was to create a client platform that was simple and elegant in design, providing secure mobile access for client and account information, custom insights through client management functions, and intuitive workflows designed to get things right the first time.

The Results

To date, we have developed several new tools in our client platform, ClientWorks, and more are on the way, as we continue to renovate one room at time. As a result, we were able to deliver innovative solutions and also take real-time pilot user feedback and apply it during the next phase of renovations. Switching to Agile development and deployment has enabled us to renovate our house not only faster, but also with higher quality features than ever before.

This transformation was not easy, but today we are in a better position to incorporate pilot user feedback readily to ensure when we “go live” that we are delivering functionality that matters most to our advisors. Our investments to revolutionize our processes are paying dividends now and in the future for both our advisors and employees.

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