Investment management firms are deluged in a flood of data today, and data complexity, velocity and volumes will likely only escalate as data becomes the primary “currency” supporting critical business activities. That’s why a strong enterprise data management (EDM) strategy could increasingly be a source of competitive advantage in the investment industry. But EDM is only as good as the integrated workflows that help connect the end-to-end data landscape within the firm.

EDM workflows are connected process steps that can be simple or complex, manual or automated. I have found that tribal knowledge of data sets, lack of communication, process inefficiencies and poor exception tracking can often plague workflows involving people (versus machines). Firms could address these common pitfalls with a structured approach based around several core principles of design and development.

Start with the business need

True business needs—not IT’s perception of business needs and work processes—should inform the design of workflows, regardless of their scope or complexity. Firms should start any design process by asking this fundamental question: “What is the required business outcome?” While it can be tempting to ask people during the discovery phase what they would like to do, it is much more productive to ask about the business issues that must be addressed. From there, the team can take a thorough and objective look at the design issues, exploring how and why things are done a certain way today and identifying high-priority operational improvements for the future.

Use storyboarding to drive design

The golden rule of workflow development is to involve end users early in the development phase. After all, they are ultimately the judge and jury of a workflow’s usability and outcome value. Storyboarding—which uses visual panels that illustrate and describe the workflow—is an effective technique to bring end users into this critical phase. It can help pinpoint what users need to see, clarify what actions can be performed, confirm necessary validations and map where, when and why certain actions are triggered in the workflow. Insight from this end user focused development is invaluable to creating workflows that meet business needs.

Develop with the edge in mind

Going in, it’s important to challenge the norms and status-quo as we try to reimagine the most creative and holistic ways to solve and optimize business problems. Firms that think of workflows as living processes which are continually revisited and optimized, rather than set-in-stone absolutes, have a clear advantage. The reality is, requirements and the underlying data will change over time—likely even faster than in the past. By adopting a modular approach that breaks large, complex workflows into smaller, discrete units could help facilitate the future modifications of workflows. Workflows should also be designed with monitoring, correction activities and performance metrics as top priorities so problems can be identified and addressed quickly.

Test, test and test again

Testing is another piece of creating workflows with usability and value. It is imperative that firms develop a comprehensive testing plan during the design and development phases. I also highly recommend that firms maintain a “separation of powers” in this area. This means the testing team is completely independent of the development team to ensure the appropriate level of objectivity, rigor—and as necessary—a “devil’s advocate” mindset. As part of a business-first approach, tests should focus on business requirements, not on technical specifications.

Complexity on the horizon

I expect that workflows will grow in complexity. As they do, I believe that staying true to these fundamentals will be increasingly important for asset management firms. What’s more, expect the most effective EDM solutions to be those that closely integrate workflow management with underlying data management to meet firms’ evolving EDM needs.

If you’d like more information about this topic, please read, Enterprise Data Management: Managing Complex Workflows with EDM from IHS Markit, or contact me at