How the pandemic disruption accelerated agile business solutions in equipment finance

It’s commonly expected and accepted that innovation rises from messy origins caused by disruption. And the global Covid-19 pandemic was one messy disruption experienced around the world on so many levels. This disruption forced businesses to quickly adapt and augment agility methodology, new business models, and innovative go-to-market strategies.

In partnership with Monitor Daily, a leading source of equipment finance news and resources, Solifi (formerly IDS) sponsored, moderated, and participated in a special two-part equipment finance Monitor Daily Live+ event. This regular series provides educational and learning opportunities for equipment and leasing industry professionals.

Ray Wizbowski, chief marketing officer at Solifi, moderated the first expert panel discussion to learn how the pandemic impacted agility in the equipment finance industry. Panelists included:

  • Nick Small, Cisco Capital
  • Kirk Phillips, Wintrust Commercial Finance
  • Katie Emmel, Solifi

They discussed the challenges of adopting an agile business model, the best ways to implement changes with their remote teams, and the key benefits of agility.

How the pandemic disrupted the go-to-market strategy in the Equipment Finance industry

Prior to the pandemic, the equipment finance industry was already starting to embrace new technologies such as moving to the cloud and software-as-a-solution (SaaS), implementing digital transformation, and adopting agile principles. The onset of the pandemic forced companies to accept and embrace these new business models even faster.

“The equipment finance industry and Wintrust Financial were both moving toward more digitalization,” Kirk Phillips, president and CEO of Wintrust Financial and one of the panelists said. “The pandemic truly accelerated that initiative to warp speed.”

Like many companies, Wintrust relied on meeting face-to-face with customers onsite to understand their needs better. Of course, with social distancing, the traditional ways of doing business didn’t work during the pandemic. They then switched their marketing efforts to collaboration software like Zoom.

One of the other panelists, Nick Small, vice president of global operations and asset management for Cisco Capital, credited several key elements to a successful global new go-to-market strategy during the pandemic.

  • Relied more heavily on collaboration web and video conferencing software (Cisco Webex)
    • Internal and external coordination between teams, customers, and business partners.
  • Accelerated digitalization agility
    • When the pandemic hit, electronic documents and electronic signature capabilities did not exist with their Europe and Asia Pacific regions specifically. Even with challenging regulatory requirements, Cisco implemented that change within 30 days of the pandemic.
  • Put people first with resource agility
    • With the pandemic hitting different countries and regions in waves, Cisco found that resource agility was crucial to ensure continued business operations. They implemented processes to move work to other team members so those impacted by Covid-19 personally could focus on their families and their health.

Leading teams during this process of change – staying connected and advancing the business without risking employee burnout

Equipment finance companies found new technology solutions to stay connected with employees, customers, and business partners. And with that solution came other challenges.

“We really focused on the use of collaboration software, a video switch-on company to meet with people face-to-face as much as possible – initially biweekly, and now we’re monthly,” Small said. He added that it was necessary to maintain frequent communication, especially in the early days of the pandemic, so that they could keep a finger on the pulse of how people were doing. It was essential to advance the business yet balance that to ensure it wasn’t causing stress or burnout with employees.

Phillips echoed that Wintrust held frequent check-in meetings to stay connected. They also recognized that finding that balance early on with people working from home was crucial. “Employees were not moving from an office environment,” he said. “They didn’t have the drive-time to shut things down so they could focus on family.” Connected 24/7 at home, the company made sure employees dialed it back to avoid that burnout.

Solifi proves nimble is no longer a start-up mentality

Nimble – the ability to adapt quickly to changes or business disruption – is something that start-ups excel in traditionally. Their smaller organizational structure and business processes make it easier to change directions than larger, more traditional companies.

No more. The pandemic forced most companies to become more nimble – they really had no choice. And the cloud is credited for some of that success.

“Solifi is a technology provider,” Katie Emmel, a chief operating officer with Solifi, said. “One of the early things during the business disruption was thinking about how we bring solutions to our customer to realize quick time-to-value.”

Historically, IT project onboardings and implementations could take a year and sometimes several years. And go-lives with new software or a new release were always done in-person onsite. The pandemic, however, changed not only how Solifi projects were delivered and solutions were adopted but also how a new (and faster) way of doing things was possible.

The cloud enables companies to become more nimble, adjust priorities, respond to changes, and deliver solutions more quickly. Solifi, for example, has seen a significant increase where projects are only taking months and sometimes only weeks versus multi-years.

“Last year, we completed more than 20 go-lives across our customer base, and I was so impressed with our team and our customers to commit to do that offsite,” Emmel said. “With this business disruption, we were able to prove that we could deliver solutions remotely.”

Cisco Capital is one of the biggest brands in the marketplace. How did Cisco apply being nimble to the global organization?

With business in more than 90 countries, nimble may not have seemed attainable with a company the size of Cisco Capital. But it could be and was attainable—small credits three reasons on their company’s nimbleness in the age of business disruption.

  1. Placed the foundation for agility on a global cloud-based application (e.g., IDScloud).
  2. Implemented digitalization transformation across the entire organization as well as the parent company (removed manual tasks, redundancies, and potential places for errors).
  3. Introduced thousands of robotic process automations (bots) to do simple jobs.

Small said this may sound minor, but en masse, these changes during the pandemic made a significant impact on Cisco’s ability to meet the market needs during the period of business disruption. “We eliminated a lot of the redundant steps employees had to do,” he said. “And I think these changes improved their work-life balance because they could stay focused on the core elements of their jobs.”

He added that shifting rote tasks to something you can automate, so people contribute more to the business value empowers employees.

New agile business solutions and Equipment Finance customer expectations

Panelists all agreed that equipment finance customers lean more toward consumption-based products rather than ownership – payment solutions versus asset financing. “We’ve seen an acceleration of our own company moving to subscription-based revenues,” Small said. “It makes a tremendous amount of sense for our end-user customers.

Consumption-based (or subscription-based) services or products means that customers only pay for what they use. Instead of outright buying, they subscribe to the service.

Future agility is on the minds of equipment finance industry professionals. That’s because products were historically brought to market with the expectation they would be on the market for a long time. Today, it’s expected that products will not stay the same year to year. “We need to ensure our technology is flexible to adjust to customer sentiment,” Small said. “That’s very easy to say, but it’s a complex deliverable.”

Dispersed remote environment requires new requirements from technology vendors

Many companies shifted to a 100% remote workforce during the pandemic where employees haven’t been in the office for more than a year. What do equipment finance organizations need from their technology vendors in this dispersed remote environment?

Here’s what the equipment finance panelists believed to be key to future success when working remotely with technology vendors.

  • A fully integrated team that’s involved with planning through execution.
  • More precise prioritization.
  • Be very specific on what needs to be accomplished and when.
  • Close collaboration and communication with technology vendors.
  • Ask lots of questions.
  • Be good listeners.

Benefits of agility methodology: Moving from Waterfall to Sprints during the pandemic

When the pandemic disrupted businesses worldwide, many companies took a crash course in agility (an agile project is broken down in sprints – short periods to complete a specific requirement). The more traditional sequential waterfall project management approach was too slow to respond to the fluid pandemic situation. The agile approach allowed teams to respond and adapt to constant changes and new information more quickly.

Solifi switched from a waterfall implementation to sprints and agile principles, and it’s gaining customer acceptance. For example, they were moving a customer from another system and had planned three sprints to get them up and running. After the second sprint, the customer asked, “We can bill and collect, so do we really need to wait for the next sprint to go live?”

They didn’t need to wait, so the project went live without needing the third sprint. Agility is a new way of thinking and accelerating the time to value.

Agility in action during the pandemic

The agile capabilities of SaaS allowed Solifi to develop the IDScloud Portfolio Risk Visualizer (a Covid-19 risk-management tool) in less than 30 days. This free tool provided equipment finance companies in the U.S. to see portfolio risk correlated with Covid-19 infection rates and the location of financed assets. The visualization map provided a current view of hot spots allowing equipment finance companies to assess portfolio risk in near real-time, anticipate potential impacts and optimize customer outreach.

This resulted in equipment financing firms having visibility to where the virus could impact their customers’ ability to make payments. Solifi customers were able to proactively communicate with their customers to provide flexible restructuring options where needed.

Equipment Finance experts recommend how to best navigate the current market conditions and grow your business

The equipment finance professionals on the panel shared the following recommendations to grow your business in the current market conditions.

  • Self-awareness: Know your strengths, your gaps and be alert on ways to backfill and strengthen those gaps (e.g., acquisitions, consolidations).
  • Decide where you need to build, buy, or partner to deliver a seamless equipment finance solution to your customers.
  • Create a three- and five-year vision on technology strategy and roadmap. The market will continue to shift, so ensure you’re prepared to manage through it.
  • Listen to your customers.
  • Empower your teams to innovate and be nimble.
  • Lean on your technology vendor like Solifi to identify opportunities and grow where it makes sense for your business.

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