Case Study: Phoenix Equity Partners Uses Altvia to Optimize Operational Efficiency

About Phoenix Equity Partners

Phoenix Equity Partners is a London-­based, leading Private Equity investment management firm focused on mid-­market UK companies across a range of sectors. Since 2001, the firm has been successfully evolving. And with this growth, the need to optimize its operational efficiency for CRM, reporting, and mobility gave way to a new, cloud-­based platform.

The Challenge

To appreciate the dynamics involved with this transformation, it’s important to understand the foundation upon which Phoenix Equity Partners’ CRM was based. Initially, the firm used a legacy enterprise, on-premise CRM system to house its institutional knowledge. While the system worked well for this primary purpose, the firm discovered that the system had some shortcomings that, over time, became challenges for IT and for the business. The system wasn’t geared towards the firm’s entrepreneurial style or daily operations – rather, it was designed for large investment banks and law firms. To work with this design, the firm adjusted the system to its needs with frequent and resource-intensive builds, especially when the CRM underwent system updates. Due to this growing level of complexity and modifications, documentation to support the system became difficult and resulted in just a couple of people with the technical knowledge to work the system.

Then, over the last three years, Phoenix Equity Partners became increasingly interested in the cloud as a means to increase operational efficiency. There was already a cloud movement by larger enterprises to achieve a lighter IT footprint, and while Phoenix Equity Partners was initially skeptical about the reliability of the cloud, it decided to make the change and evaluate a new CRM system. As part of this forward-looking strategy, the firm carefully considered cloud-based platforms, which lead it to the Salesforce platform. Phoenix Equity Partners realized the importance of using an industry-standard CRM platform (versus a proprietary CRM platform) to alleviate any doubts, as well as the need for a CRM that was designed specifically for Private Equity. The firm selected AIM, which solved these requirements and provided a simpler solution toward its operational efficiency, as well as for institutionalizing its processes and knowledge. “The benefits clearly outweighed any doubt – a Private Equity CRM solution built on one of the world’s largest cloud platforms along with ubiquitous access 24x7x365 via any Internet-connected device. We made the change and never looked back,” shares Steve Darrington, Partner and CFO, of Phoenix Equity Partners.

The Solution

With their AIM solution, Phoenix Equity Partners was able to easily replicate their business process in a more simplified workflow. This stemmed from Altvia’s deep understanding of Private Equity, and its business and IT expertise to align the solution to the firm’s 20 years of Private Equity experience and knowledge, which had been housed in its legacy system. To expand AIM’s capabilities, Phoenix Equity Partners added Conga for additional reporting requirements and RIVA for email integration to make the solution even more effective.

Another important component of the solution is mobility. Phoenix Equity Partners has now transitioned to a paperless workplace thanks in part to AIM, and the ability for its investment managers and partners to find the same CRM-related information, whether via a PC or a mobile device. They can capture interactions directly within AIM via their mobile devices, thereby making the investment managers more efficient and connected.

The onboarding experience involved the migration of data that had been compiled over a decade and as such, was large and complex in scope. “I was exceptionally impressed with the implementation process. The Altvia team was incredibly patient and methodical – took it step by step. They built a very good and high-quality data set on a remote basis and were able to put in hard yards prior to even being on-site, which demonstrated solid technical and business understanding, and provided a major jump start. Then, when on-site, we could quickly move. In fact, they were able to make real-time edits to calibrate the solution to our people and processes,” comments Darrington. “I knew the nature of this complex transition, as it was not a straightforward migration. I’ve done a number of these over the years and must say this was easily the smoothest – and on schedule.”

The benefits from Phoenix Equity Partners’ integrated AIM solution are three-fold.

First, using a reliable and efficient cloud-based CRM system for Private Equity has removed any prior skepticism about the cloud and has instead laid the foundation to move the rest of its infrastructure into the cloud. “That was my number one objective in relation to IT, and it was a rather large hurdle. With the robust technology solution that AIM offers, there’s no fear. This was an incredibly important business benefit for us because it has moved us along a major step and into a more efficient business model,” shares Darrington.

Second, Phoenix Equity Partners now gets significantly less service traffic as the result of people quickly adopting AIM and its highly intuitive interface, ease of use, and reliability. This is especially evident in relation to using AIM on mobile devices. “In fact, a number of the challenges from a user management perspective have gone away because we’re able to give them the information they need right into their hands and in a format that was designed for mobile – versus something that’s redesigned to cope with mobile technology,” comments Darrington.

And third, Phoenix Equity Partners now has more robust reporting capabilities, which saves significant time. Users can run interactions reports every Friday with just the click of a button, and quickly get the reporting in the ideal format versus querying several people to compile the same data – more control, less time. This also supports the need to ensure transparency among the firm’s highly cross-functional team by providing timely data about the latest interactions as well as the right data to analyze and research potential deals.

From leveraging the cloud for greater operational efficiency to going paperless with the support of mobile and more empowering reporting, AIM is proving its value and enabling better decisions. And Phoenix Equity Partners plans to expand its AIM capabilities with additional modules and use cases. Darrington shares that “the product is good. Its DNA

is in Private Equity, which is why it works for us. And 80% of the success is due to the implementation. Also, we’re not stuck with a product we cannot modify. It can evolve as we grow and expand as new needs arise.”

A traditional crm was built for general ‘customer’ scenarios

Software platforms have made the world a better place by making work a better place. Indeed the world is better off when people enjoy their jobs even marginally more, and workplace applications on big CRM platforms like Salesforce.com have done that and much more.

But the potential that platforms like these offer presents diminishing returns: once the platform provider has engineered too many industry specific components into its platform, its usefulness for other industries begins to be threatened, and with that so do the usefulness of the component tools built into the platform.

So it is with the CRM category that Salesforce.com has defined: it is generic enough to work for many industries, and yet still offers the potential for others to round off the edges and nail more vertically-oriented and extremely tailored software solutions.

Private capital markets are actually a great demonstration of this dynamic. Where generic CRM platforms simplify — appropriately so — to assume there’s a business, a customer, a sale, and service of that customer, there are a few industry-specific pieces that are missing.

Take for example, that investors become customers by investing through legal entities the GP raises. It’s a subtle but important nuance that just doesn’t make sense at a platform-as-a-service level (because it’s overly complicated for a simple one-time sale that many industries require), but which can easily be added without 10 years or software engineering. Once provided, the rest of the platform’s components become tremendously powerful again and you’re set to take over the world.

As a traditional CRM in our pillars methodology, these nuances must be present to properly account for investors in these legal entities, potential target companies and which are owned by these entities, the context of all interactions with these parties (as well as the appropriate overlap, ie co-investments), and how you’re arriving at finding these opportunities on both sides of the equation, such that you’re able to piece together what’s effective and what’s not. Not just because we say so, but because these are the very relationships and data that are key to the motivation behind a CRM in any industry.

It’s critical, too, that the valuable publicly-available information that helps to enrich CRM systems and save users painful steps of entering it themselves is fully-integrated at the platform level.

Again, look no further than the 3,000+ pre-built integrations that Salesforce.com — the creator of the CRM platform concept — has at a platform level to do so, and which only exists by way of holding just short of overly-specifying certain industry workflows that would present challenges to properly integrate.

Stakeholder reporting and communication (investor relations) draws on a range of datasets

The traditional “customer service” model of CRM systems once again makes overly-simplified assumptions about the customer relationship when applied to private capital markets.

In fifteen years I personally have yet to hear the terms “warranty” or “service call” in this market because it’s just not the same. But make no mistake, as uncomfortable as it may be to say aloud, customer service is more important now than ever and it’s constantly happening; the industry is, after all, considered to be a financial “service”.

As it turns out, that service is primarily information-based — it’s driven by data and takes the form of reports and analysis that drive decisions, and then end up again in investor-facing reports and analysis.

The foundational elements of a private capital markets CRM must be built such that they accommodate this data (like we discussed above), but so too that it can accommodate additional supporting data that investors (customers!) need in the context of service.

Oftentimes this supporting data — financial metrics and time-based values, for example — is believed not to meet the traditional definition of CRM and the natural thought is “well, better do this in Excel!”.

While I happen to believe Excel is still the greatest software application ever built, its introduction to this value chain we’ve discussed herein actually creates the problem many firms suffer from: key data needed to provide customer service (again: effectively the entirety of a firm’s reports and analysis) is now in disparate systems and detached.

Both of those dynamics are important and distinct: not only is this supplemental data disparate, but when brought together there is no logical association that can be made between the two data sets.

Allow me, then, to make the point very simply: not only can this financial and time-based value data (you may be thinking about is as “portfolio monitoring” or “accounting”) be a part of a CRM, it is arguably the most important part of a CRM because it’s at the core of what providing service to the customer entails — information that comes out of data!

Firms need a digital method to engage stakeholders (ie investor portals)

Investor portals are not new; in fact, for many of us — including myself — they conjure up horrifying nightmares in which we’re aimlessly guessing at folders to find the newest document we need.

So in lies the opportunity: not only have the portals we’ve come to hate not simplified the process of acquiring information, they’ve failed to create an entirely new experience that is “customer service” driven.

To be fair, this is not a B2C market where you’d be long out of business for not having focused on customer service and thus the customer’s technology-driven experience. But don’t expect to be around too much longer if you aren’t thinking about this shift.

Today’s institutional investors increasingly expect this same consumer-like experience, and a massive opportunity is being missed by not providing it. It’s not about providing them the experience they desire; it’s more about the ability to measure engagement that is had in return.

Put simply: what’s keeping the market from providing this experience is the availability of the information that’s required to create the service that provides the experience.

If you’ve hung in this long, you know that by focusing on your CRM, you have the data that’s required to manage the customer relationship and the technology-driven experience through which that information is shared to create a differentiated and opportunistic customer experience.

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