Equipment Leasing and Finance Association - Equiping Business for Success
Equipment Leasing & Finance

Critical Operations

July/August/September 2019

Technology is terrific.

But without a vision and strategy for applying it effectively, you could do more harm than good.

We’ve all experienced it: “Shiny Object Syndrome,” that feeling of seeing or hearing about a new device or capability and wanting it—whether we need it or not. As the Digital Age continues its dash across the 21st century, leaving new products and possibilities in its wake, we’re likely to be infected with “S.O.S.” increasingly often. But Andrew Cotter offers a reminder that could serve as an antidote:

“Remember, the first step to acquiring technology is not about technology at all,” emphasizes Cotter, Executive Vice President of Somerset Capital Group, Ltd., and Chair of ELFA’s Operations and Technology Committee. “The first step is to identify the business problem you’re trying to solve. Once you know that, then you start investigating technologies to achieve it.”

Both Sides Now
Jennifer Martin, Vice President of Leasing and Vendor Program Support at Key Equipment Finance and a member of the Ops & Tech Committee, says Cotter’s point is well taken, since technology that’s not applied in the most efficient manner is wasted. “Equipment finance companies need to balance technology with the culture and skills required to implement it while still running their businesses,” says Martin. Because it can be tough to step back from day-to-day operations and examine a business problem instead of a current process, for example, “A cultural shift toward open-mindedness might be necessary for a company’s leaders as well as its employees,” she says. “Additional learning and skill sets might also be needed to thoroughly explore a technology and implement it effectively.” 


“Remember, the first step to acquiring technology is not about technology at all. The first step is to identify the business problem you’re trying to solve.”
— Andrew Cotter

To that end, ELFA’s 2019 Operations & Technology Conference will focus more sharply on operations. “The last couple of years, we’ve focused mainly on technology innovation—and rightly so, because there’s a lot of great innovation we wanted to show the industry and try to apply some of it to real-life scenarios,” says Martin. “But we try to strike a balance between operations and technology, and there are important ideas and trends on the Ops side this year that attendees will want to bring home to their companies.” 

To be held Sept. 16–18 in Chicago, the Conference will feature sessions on soft skills, such as change management, diversity and applying Agile methodology, not only to IT projects but across the organization. Technology topics to be covered include AI, RPA (robotic process automation), blockchain, security, fintech and the use of data analytics to support better decisions considering the Current Expected Credit Loss (CECL) standard requirements.

“We’ve dipped our toe into technologies, but we’re keeping the pure tech sessions to half an hour this year so attendees understand the technology but don’t focus on it specifically,” says Cotter. The goal is to take away solutions that can be applied to business issues and processes. “We’re not going to solve particular problems, but you’ll leave with new tools you can apply to your situations,” he says.

Managing the Big Picture
Lisa Nowak, Senior Product Manager at IDS and a session leader at the upcoming Conference, says operations management is “absolutely critical” to a company’s effective use of technology. “Operations helps us understand the broader ecosystem and its implications,” she says. “Before you apply technology, you need to consider its potential impact on customers, partners, security, data privacy and many other things. These impacts can be good or bad, and operational teams help companies understand all the implications so the technology can be applied in ways that are value-positive and not value-negative.”

Nowak says Operations also helps innovators understand potential use cases for experimentation. “You want to understand the problem you’re solving, prioritize what you’ll do and understand the impact you’re trying to have,” she explains. “Operations can help technology innovators assess what the use cases are. It can also help innovators know if they’ve achieved success taking the next step toward value that meets the use case.”

Nowak will lead a session on applying Agile companywide. “Agile is not just a process, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking and operating,” she says. “Being agile means using collaboration to solve problems. It means empowering people to work in accountable teams to think and talk through how to solve a problem using constant inspection and adaptive processes to deliver ongoing, prioritized value to the customer—whoever that may be.” 

Nowak says successful, broad adoption of Agile often requires coaching due to the major shifts in mind-set and process needed. “At all levels, things are going to feel different, whether you’re a team member, an executive or a manager in finance,” she says. “Before Agile, you may have had a pre-set plan that required you to work in a certain way. But technology and digital disruption are happening so fast, companies must adapt quickly. With Agile, you’re constantly inspecting, adapting and changing course to create better value. Coaching from people who’ve been through it helps you understand the transformation you’re making and keeps you from getting discouraged.” 

Cleaning Out Clutter
Cam Krueger, Managing Director, Specialty Finance Leader at Accenture, says he sees a number of equipment finance companies already using the Agile approach to become less encumbered. “For 20 years, companies in our industry engaged others to handle non-value-add but mission-critical components of their business,” says Krueger. “Now we’re seeing the deconstruction of that as companies think agile and nimble to focus on areas where they have competitive advantages.” Krueger says more firms are also identifying processes that have no sustainable advantage and dropping them. “Some are doing this while flying the airplane,” he says. “Others are putting up parallel organizations that look at the whole life cycle and build an ecosystem to support it.”

Translation: Companies running the same technology platform for 20 years are thoroughly encumbered and endangered. “Changing from one core platform to another is not a game-changer; it’s a move to maintain the status quo,” Krueger warns. “Equipment finance companies need to transform the experience for commercial customers the way the experience has been changed for retail customers—and those with legacy technology stacks may be incapable of using some of the more modern system components that their parent companies possess.”

Krueger also alludes to the same challenge Jennifer Martin mentions: the difficulty of thinking about the new when you’re mired in the old and have a portfolio to manage. “To do it, companies have to figure out what they want to look like in five to 10 years and draw a long-term strategy to evolve,” he says. He suggests driving technology by mapping the processes that can be made defensible from competition and will increase ROI. “Once you know those processes, then decide whether to build, buy or modify what you have to support them,” he counsels, adding, “It’s a multiyear roadmap, and there’s no silver bullet.”

Coping Constructively
What there is, is change—and lots of it. That’s why Tina Cartwright will lead a Conference session on change management. “When we look at how quickly our world is changing, we see that our industry is working to keep up,” says Cartwright, Senior Vice President, Information Technology and Operations at U.S. Bank Equipment Finance. Because companies are focused on creating environments that allow for quick adaption as technology is rolled out, she says they could benefit by also fostering environments that allow employees to engage and listen and have an impact on the changes being made.

“As humans, we often resist change, so rather than focus fully on technology, it’s helpful to also focus on the psychological aspects of change,” she says. “Leaders and employees can work together to create a safe environment in which people can navigate through change, have those feelings of resistance and evolve at their own pace.”


“The Operations & Technology Conference is the place to get to know who the players are, start conversations with them and begin to learn your options.”
— Jennifer Martin

Cartwright says a key to managing change successfully is awareness that there are various components of change and that people move through them at different paces. “We may not be able to change these components, but if we expect them, it allows for open dialogue and open navigation,” she says. Moreover, figuring out the roles that change-resistant people can play in the organization can generate significant progress. Says Cartwright, “Studies show that over time and with guidance, there is the capacity for those more hesitant individuals to navigate and even assist others with some of the change.” 

By now, Cartwright believes, industry leaders have shed any denial they might have had earlier about the need to track trends in customer behavior as well as in technology and implement new processes to deal with them. “Now we’re moving through the stages of managing change and making it more of a positive experience,” she says. “Decision-makers are evolving, having an impact on how we look at change and what we do to manage it productively.” 

Balancing Needs and Demands
Because customer expectations are part of change and continue to evolve as digital commerce becomes more prevalent, Steve Nelson will lead a session on authenticating customers remotely. “Customers expect to transact where they are, when they want and on various devices or channels,” says Nelson, SVP, Director of Operations at TD Equipment Finance. As a result, companies are finding it harder to know whom they are communicating and transacting with.


“Before you apply technology, you need to consider its potential impact on customers, partners, security, data privacy and many other things.”
— Lisa Nowak

“The challenge is to implement the technology customers demand while working within companies’ compliance and risk frameworks,” Nelson says. “To determine where to invest their dollars, companies have to look at the experience they’re trying to deliver to the customer and then make sure they have the expertise to do it.” 

Nelson will discuss different types of authentication methods, best practices and compliance and possibly some technologies being used. “Right now, the industry is going through a transition, as companies are beginning to offer the digital experiences that clients want,” he says. But the investment is costly because upgrades to other core service systems may be necessary to enable the authentication technology. “It’s about your whole ecosystem,” he summarizes. “Customer experience is an important differentiator in equipment finance, and companies wishing to upgrade their legacy systems to meet the authentication challenge will have to examine those systems and determine the right investment strategy to meet customer expectations.”

Nelson won’t say much more for fear of spoiling his session’s content. But he does mention behavioral authentication as “The Next Thing.” “This means putting AI and machine learning behind the authentication process,” he says. “Behavioral authentication doesn’t just compare the information entered; it examines how and from where the authentication data is entered,” he explains. “AI and machine learning enable the authentication process to evaluate the authentication data in conjunction with the customer’s normal activity patterns.”

Cotter and Martin think the emphasis on operations and ecosystems will make for more informed research when Conference participants talk with the many vendors who will exhibit. Says Cotter, “We’re bringing back our Exhibitor Lightning Rounds, which give the vendors a chance to speak briefly about who they are and what they have to offer.” 

And since the RFP process is the point at which companies decide whether to build or buy the technology they need, “Conference attendees will be able to do a lot of initial RFP research because we expect such a wide variety of vendors to be there,” says Martin. “The Conference is the place to get to know who the players are, start conversations with them and begin to learn your options.”

Armed with these opportunities, equipment finance professionals could find themselves inoculated against all but the most relevant cases of Shiny Object Syndrome. 

ELFA Operations & Technology Conference,
Sept. 16–18 in Chicago.
Don’t miss the session showcasing the
2019 Operations & Technology Excellence Award winners. See conference details at


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