Wednesday 1 June 2016

Woeful Weatherbys Fall at the First Hurdle of Technology Change Management – The Frustrating Shambles of their Online Banking Upgrade and Worrying Concerns for 2017+

In the last blog I was very supportive of the statements that Richard Wayman made at a recent BHA strategy forum at Newbury on 1st March relating to a major innovation led by Weatherbys to streamline ownership administration from 2017. He assured the audience that the changes “will put the customer, the owner, at the centre” of the exercise. It would be easy to say, “about time too”, because racing administration is far too expensive, over-complicated and a real burden on those who have to deal with it. Indeed, needlessly costly and frustrating administration is a barrier to owning and one factor contributing to owners leaving the sport.

You may know that Weatherbys is a privately-owned company established in 1770. It has 16,000 customers (12,000 racing clients and 4,000 private) and its latest accounts show that it made profits of almost £6m on income of £18.5m. One element of its work is to provide British racing with its central administration under a sole source contract with the BHA. The fees that they charge are not only a source of profit to Weatherbys but also co-fund the BHA. This is hardly guaranteed to drive significant transactional and cost efficiencies. Furthermore, I doubt whether its actual competencies in modern integrated transactional processing have ever been market-tested. It may do a marvellous job with the Stud Book, but that doesn’t guarantee that it has the expertise to design, launch and deliver a modern, owner-friendly, online administrative system.

A project has been running in Weatherbys for over five years to simplify ownership structures, integrate all the administration and transfer it on to this online system so that racing finally moves into the modern era with a highly user-friendly process involving minimal paperwork and easy-to-operate technology. In Owners for Owners we are really looking forward to the system being launched in 2017 – not least my wife who has the unenviable task of doing all our OfO racing administration and VAT reclaims. It is obviously essential that this project is a real success, otherwise it will generate considerable owner negativity, which is what Weatherbys’ latest online banking upgrade has done. At least four success criteria need to be met from a change management perspective and, alas, I’d have major reservations at the moment that Weatherbys can meet them.

  1. Owner pull, not Weatherbys push. Whatever system is designed must meet the explicit needs for simplicity and cost-effectiveness of different types of owner. They are the primary stakeholders. Administrators and technologists at Weatherbys’ HQ need to view all changes through their eyes, and not just push out a system that may or may not be fit for purpose.
  2. Intuitive, simple and workable. The average age of owners is 57+. Many are not particularly technology-literate and are doing administration from home, where broadband may not be super-fast, and computers and software may not be the latest versions. The new system must be easy to use, operable from home and with a “look, touch and feel” that is owner-friendly and intuitive. 
  3. Properly tested. It is incredibly easy in process redesign to have frequent delays that put pressure on planned launch dates. The critical time for stakeholder testing is often skimped. Initial versions are launched too early. Owners must be actively involved in testing the system and have veto rights, with the ROA central to this and ideally the overall project sponsor. Never launch a system such as this until success is guaranteed. 
  4. Dramatically reduce cost and complexity. There is far too much paperwork, much of it confusing and repetitious. Delays and errors easily creep into the system. It is slow, costly and stressful. Weatherbys and the BHA should set clear improvement goals, e.g. to reduce racing administration total cost to £100 per owner, per horse; or to have every registration necessary on a one-page form that only has to be inputted once. So what went wrong with the recent Weatherbys online banking upgrade? It doesn’t appear to have had any testing whatsoever; no-one appears to have known much about it prior to launch, and it clearly wasn’t ready, as a number of modifications have already been necessary. Registering a new password and PIN number was far too laborious. Logging on to the new site takes about four times as long as previously, taking 21 key strokes. The new site was designed to enable the user to carry out tasks in one place. In practice though, and particularly if you are operating a number of accounts for different horses, it can be easier to carry out tasks separately by account. In other words, go on the site, select the account you want to operate, check the balance and recent transactions, pay the bill and move on to another account rather than checking balances in one section and then moving on to pay a lot of bills in another. The real disaster though came with the bank statements. Before, my wife had checked these, updated her spreadsheets, filed the VAT returns and received any refunds due by the middle of the month. To her dismay there was no VAT column on the new statements so it was just about impossible to do the VAT return without a separate spreadsheet being emailed to her. When she received this it was a very rudimentary document …. and so the story went on. We have documented a number of these other issues and sent them on to the ROA for discussion directly with Weatherbys.

The big picture on all of this is that if Weatherbys are going to be the lead body for the major administrative changes coming in in 2017, then they must adopt an owner-led change management process. And then on the smaller picture of the detail of all the procedures there has to be far more active testing. If Weatherbys aren’t up to the job, then this whole administrative task could be a prime candidate for market-testing and outsourcing. More about the argument for this in another blog, even if Queen Anne might well turn in her grave at the thought of Weatherbys losing its time-honoured right to manage so much of British racing.

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  1. Imagine "upgrading" the statements by removing the key piece of administrative info used by the statement recipients, i.e. the VAT column! Not much "voice of the customer" testing can have gone on