Technology and Operations: Remaining Relevant through Resiliency
By Jackie Paplaczyk
In 2015, Jason Rideout, Summus Group’s Director of Technology and Operations, joined the firm as one of its first full-time consultants. With him, he brought extensive experience in financial services and execution management, along with strong leadership skills and pragmatic thinking, all of which have translated into numerous invaluable contributions to Summus Group.
Today, Jason supports one of Summus Group’s largest client accounts as a fully billable consultant in addition to taking on the responsibility of overseeing the technology and operations function of the firm. As the firm’s Director of Technology and Operations, Jason spearheads the firm’s IT readiness and business continuity strategy and efforts. With the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jason’s experience and leadership have shown the indispensable asset he is to the firm.
Over the past few weeks, it has become evident that Summus Group has been both strategically and operationally built for success. Related to the COVID-19 crisis, the biggest challenges the firm has faced thus far are those of its clients. In addition to partnering with its existing clients to help navigate these uncertain times, Summus Group has begun to explore out-of-the-box ideas focused around keeping its people employed and engaged while building trust and confidence in the community.
This month we sit down with Jason Rideout to learn more about the behind the scenes work of Summus Group which has proven the company’s ability to operate in all conditions, including those associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to your role as a consultant, what are your responsibilities as Summus Group’s leader over Technology and Operations?
From a technology standpoint, I am responsible for creating and driving out the firm’s technology roadmap. It is my job to make sure we are continuing to evolve in our technology as we grow as a company. The ongoing question is what else should we be doing as a firm? This includes what technologies our people want that we do not currently have or what technological capabilities we have today that we are not taking advantage of.
When it comes to technology, I recognize there are a lot of younger and smarter people in our company, so I am always open to suggestions. As an example, a general consensus I have heard loud and clear is to find an alternative solution to our existing time and expense system. After extensive research and shopping around, I am happy to share we will be transitioning to a new tool this year.
From the operations side, I am responsible for the firm’s business continuity plan (BCP) which includes making sure it is up-to-date and expanded upon as needed. It covers concepts and answers questions such as what happens if servers go down, what is saved locally on machines versus what lives and needs to live on a shared drive, and what happens if a primary and secondary physical location goes down. Additionally, it includes who all our key contacts are from our third-party vendors, such as our internet provider and cleaning services, to each of our clients.
What do you enjoy most about the operations side of the business?
My father is a corporate controller for a law firm, so I have grown up around operations and have a draw to the questions a company needs to solve for in this area. How do we continue to mature? What levers do we pull? Where does it make sense to hire? When does it make sense to carry a bench of associates?
There are many aspects of the company’s operations I have not had the opportunity to fulfill just yet, such as the expansion piece of the company – this one fascinates me. We are growing and as a result, quickly outgrowing our existing office space. We own our current space along with the neighboring suite for this very reason. Expanding into this additional space will require thinking through and building out a supporting project plan detailing the logistics, such as knocking down the wall in between these two suites, to ensure it does not impact our associates and the overall business.
In general, there is a lot of number crunching, data analysis, charting and hypotheticals. I work a lot with the CFO and Accounting team, and we are currently focused on getting to the bare bones and basics on our revenue streams. As of now, we do not have quality data to answer all our questions, so we are working towards deep-thought business intelligence metrics to enable us to pull different levers.
The other piece of operations is the day-to-day items most people take for granted or don’t think about. For example, renewing our licenses to do work in every state we cross borders into. We need to know when they are due, along with any laws and taxes specific to working in those states. Operations entails a lot of behind the scenes work that may seem like fluff, but it is critical to running a business and adds up to be a full-time role.
Why is it important to have a business continuity plan?
As a consulting firm, it is important to have a business continuity plan to ensure we have the ability to stay relevant and have very little interruptions in our day-to-day activities. From a firm perspective, our business continuity plan was up-to-date. We’ve had one for several years which we review and update at the beginning of each year. Continuity plans for events like a natural disaster were already included in our BCP, but a pandemic like COVID-19 was a new wrinkle and has been my predominant focus with the unprecedented and dynamic situation we are all navigating.
We did learn, however, that a business continuity plan for our account teams was either outdated or virtually non-existent. For example, if a team member were to get sick, do we have a plan to be able to backfill the individual such as knowledge transfer and cross-training amongst the team? Much of this was not documented. It now is, but as a firm, we recognize it is equally as important to make sure this information does not get stale.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Summus Group has stood up a dedicated task force to help guide the company through the pandemic. What does this task force look like and how did you go about quickly mobilizing this group?
Leadership was tracking the virus and after seeing it move from China to Europe with strong indication it was going to hit the United States next, I was asked to form a task force. In addition to myself, two other consultants, Brett Brenkus and Mike D’Ettore, make up the task force, both of whom have military experience. Mike has been serving as the task force’s main point-of-contact as he has experience with creating contingency plans as part of his marine training.
We came together quickly to evaluate closing the office and we meet daily to talk about anything that has changed, including looking at CDC guidelines and the county and state orders. During this time, we have very thoughtful conversations to make sure we are prepared to do right by our associates and “make them whole”, such as discussing what we will do if one of our employees or a direct family member falls ill to COVID-19. We will continue to re-evaluate the situation to determine when we will re-open the office and we will continue to meet as a task force until that time comes.
What has Summus Group learned from the unprecedented challenges it and other businesses are now facing and how does it plan to overcome these obstacles?
Above all, it has shown me the resiliency of the company, which is one of our core values. The way the business has matured and is set up today provides everybody the ability to do what they need to do from home from both a technology and client perspective. We have learned that we are set up for success without having to be in a single space. Having access to all the necessary tools has provided our associates the ability to operate any normal routine in a way that has been fairly seamless.
Forward looking, we are first having all of our account leads look at the 30-, 60- and 90-day views of their accounts to make sure we are positioned to take care of our own people before we bring on additional resources. For most of our accounts, we have found we are fortunately in a good spot.
For new opportunities, we are looking to take a different approach. For example, instead of executing revenue optimization work for our client using the standard time and materials arrangement as originally planned, we offered to instead be compensated by the output of our team’s results where we would get a portion of the revenue we find from our work. We have never done this before, but this allows the opportunity to keep our associates engaged and utilized, protecting those people who come to the bench, as well as provide the opportunity for more on-the-job training. It’s also a win for our client as there is no out-of-pocket expense and if we find anything, it is ultimately a saving for them.
Another idea we are exploring is pro bono opportunities within Mecklenburg county. We predominantly provide our services in the financial services and fintech industries, but we recognize the local government does not have enough resources to do everything they need to be doing right now. We believe our core competencies of project management and delivery and execution work can easily be translated and applied to this environment.
We have also reached out to a few philanthropic organizations to see what we can do to help our community. In this case, we are looking to help regardless of profit because we believe it is the right thing to do. The hope is we can help each other and will both be around to partner together in the future. I believe the flexibility of the firm’s workforce and forethought to plan ahead has positioned Summus Group to be able to handle any obstacle thrown its way, including those unique to COVID-19.