August 2018 | Point of View

8 steps to leading great nCino implementations

Executive sponsors preparing to invest in nCino must first develop an implementation strategy. Here are West Monroe’s top recommendations to align the organization and deliver a great experience.

Introduction 

Over the past several years, we’ve seen banks increasingly focused on optimizing core business processes with improved workflows and automation solutions. nCino is a leading innovator in this space with their bank “operating system” built on the Salesforce.com platform. nCino’s product provides solutions for lending, treasury management, and retail sales and service. For banks that are still evaluating nCino, defining a strategy must be the first step in the process. When making the case for nCino, ensure your bases are covered by engaging the right stakeholders and building a clear vision of the value-add that an nCino implementation will bring the organization. 

Based on our experience, we have compiled eight key strategic considerations to guide the development of your nCino implementation strategy. In almost every case, our clients were looking to streamline efficiencies and provide a more sophisticated customer experience through improved technology. However, technology is only one piece of the puzzle. The supporting people and processes around the technology are key to successful implementations and that is where West Monroe, a trusted nCino implementation partner, has been able to provide unique insight and expertise to our clients. 

1. Steer your project charter with strategic direction 

First, ask and answer the key question: What business problems are we trying to solve? Investing in a product like nCino is a major decision that should have a significant business case behind it. The business case and ROI will generally be focused on account growth and overall improved operational efficiency. Evaluate from an outside-in perspective: where do we want to be for our customers, and how do we get there? (Hint: it will take about three years to implement, stabilize, and optimize processes—begin with a roadmap on that timeline). 

Decide the strategic priorities for the project. These priorities will become invaluable during situations where the team encounters two or more potential paths forward and needs to decide the right way to go. Some examples of priorities to determine are project scope, expected outcomes, existing risks, and stakeholders. 

Document these strategic decisions into a project charter. This charter will empower teams to build toward the desired vision and results as things move forward. 

2. Layer in your bank’s Cloud strategy, or address it for the first time

 nCino has produced an extremely compelling product that is built on the cloud-based Salesforce platform, meaning that the technology challenges of older on- premise systems are no more. When evaluating vendors, banks see value in cloud options because they provide a way to quickly “catch up” on technology. Small teams can implement robust tools that used to only be within reach of enterprise organizations with armies of developers. 

That’s a good value proposition, but it should come with a thoughtful, more comprehensive cloud “strategy.” 

Adopting a new cloud platform involves training on new skills, both to build on the platform as well as when rolling it out to users. Security is also in question when adopting a cloud-based technology. Work with your information security team before evaluating potential vendors to understand the risks they will want to address. Evaluate those risks against the business value, get the appropriate parties in a room, and hash out a set of security directives and decisions to govern the new platform. 

3. Build your business case 

The technology isn’t the only differentiator of cloud products—the implementation process and methods are different, too. Salesforce and nCino are compelling products because they empower the business to realize their vision quickly, via prototyping and iterative development. These tactics should be incorporated into your implementation strategy, as they add value not just to your product’s development, but more importantly your future roadmap. The ROI of nCino improves with each new feature you add, but it must be done intelligently. A rocket will never leave the ground if it is too heavy. 

Many seasoned executives are familiar with a yearly budgeting process where they must build their business case to include everything they would ever want to implement. We believe this pattern is driven from the historic multi-year development lifecycles of legacy (typically on-premise) platforms. 

But cloud products like nCino flip this approach. Even if your organization does not develop a future roadmap, the platform itself will be updated three times per year by Salesforce. nCino will also provide major updates two times per year, each one with new features and improvements. A governance process should be set up to address how the organization will collect, prioritize, design, and implement future requests vs. predicting years’ worth of requests and including those in a roadmap. 

4. Determine an employee- centered design 

Organizations should also think about how they will adopt and maintain nCino as a powerful asset going forward. These two topics typically require changes to job roles or organizational structure, yet we see many companies addressing these in a reactive manner rather than considering them when developing their implementation strategy. 

Sitting between the business and technology, administrators and business analysts will be needed to translate business needs into system requirements. We observe that some of our banking clients already have these types of roles, but about half do not. In those cases, it may involve a new role being created, or establishing a “special projects” role to make some key people available for the duration of the implementation. The people you assign to these roles can make or break the project’s success. Finding a backfill for one tech-savvy underwriter or team leader might be the best investment a project sponsor can make. 

The business users will need to learn new processes and technology, which means they’ll need to learn how to succeed in an entirely new job. Change management practitioners will need to work with training and communications staff to convey the shared vision and ongoing decisions. The scale of the rollout drives the manpower needed—individuals will need to become familiar with the system’s concepts and specific designs. Stakeholders responsible for change management should be integrated into the entire transformation journey so they are able to effectively train employees post- implementation and ensure adoption. 

5. Take a close look at your data 

Begin thinking about data now. A banking system like nCino will involve tons of it. At the very center of this dataset is your customer data. Begin addressing where the system will get this information. Is your customer database truly clean? An implementation partner like West Monroe can help define options. 

Incorporate your wish list of data sources into the three- year roadmap. The crawl-walk-run approach works well here. Start small and grow once success has been proven. Phase 1 can be kept relatively simple using a one-way feed of data from the banking core into nCino. This one- way connection often takes three or more months to establish, due to the amount of data mapping and testing involved. But once the data successfully loads to nCino, it can be used for business workflows and reporting. Eventually nCino’s reporting can evolve into a full-blown output for use in other systems. 

In many cases, data integrations with cloud products will require middleware to exchange data between your existing systems and the new platform. nCino can include Informatica Cloud as a middleware option to connect the data from your banking core to nCino. If you will have other integration needs, it is smart to begin a selection process. This should be completed within the first six weeks of your nCino implementation, if not before. Be sure to look at the immediate must-have integrations, as well as any future needs on your roadmap, and work to identify vendors that can become supporting partners for all your data needs. 

6. View your strategy through a realistic lens

Many banks tend to adopt a very ambitious transformational agenda. It is critical that banks have a realistic scope and expectation of resources as these can both be impacted by other projects that will inevitably pop up throughout the implementation. To lessen unanticipated risks due to resource availability, it’s helpful to forecast any large priorities on the bank’s overall horizon over the next 12 months. This is how long the first nCino rollout will tie up many of your technology staff and line-of-business experts. Identify projects that can bend to nCino, and those that can’t, such as mergers. 

The old adage applies here: fast, good, or cheap—you can have two. Once defined, the long-term strategy will distill into a wish list of implementation scope. That list may need to be adjusted based on these realities. 

Breaking down your wish list into phases is the best way to achieve value while matching resource availability and capacity for change. There is a limit to how much change an organization can successfully navigate in a given period. 

7. Find your stakeholder and ownership voices 

The nCino project will need to rely on several groups throughout implementation and beyond—including relationship managers, credit, compliance, and others. But not everyone can get involved. 

Individuals should be identified to serve as representatives of their groups and come to be known as “the voice” of that group. This doesn’t mean the individual has all the answers. On the contrary, the representatives serving as the “voice” should be known as connectors of the organization. They should know many people and how to get input and a diverse array of opinions. There will be other constituents that want to get involved. 

Add them sparingly, and decide involvement based on their contribution to the project charter. We encourage organizations to collect a variety of input but also clearly define who has decision-making responsibility. 

8. Establish a governance framework 

Of the thousands of decisions made during an nCino implementation, hundreds will inevitably result in stalemate. Once voices are identified, establish a governing board to serve as the decision-making body above the project team. 

Governance should be designed to be the tie breaker, not the project manager or task assigner. Too much thought, and nothing will get done. Too much throughput, and details will be missed. 

In order to streamline decision making, every nCino project should have a steering committee. The steering committee should be sized using the Goldilocks principle: Too many members, and decisions will take too long. Too few members, and decisions will get made in a vacuum which will create a change management nightmare later down the road. The steering committee needs to be “just the right size.” 

Keep in mind that the project charter should define directives—the steering committee is only there to address the decisions around what sacrifices will need to be made. 

nCino means many, many decisions. A lot of these decisions will come down to this dichotomy: do we change processes, or change the tool? Either option will have far reaching impacts which must be understood and addressed. 

Conclusion 

The steps we’ve outlined here take quite a bit of time and effort to address. If you are envisioning an initiative like this at your organization, it may seem daunting. Addressing these considerations upfront will help avoid delays, strained resources, and project risks down the road. While trying to build a case for change, many folks want to know, “What can I do right now?” 

Our advice: Start breaking down silos. Start mixing across reporting lines at every opportunity. Organize a task force to look at your lending or treasury onboarding. Adopting nCino often requires a new way of operating. 

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