Capital Support, the London-based IT solutions provider, has a client base of around 170 customers. More than 90% of these firms are hedge funds and private equity players. Thus Capital Support can truly say it offers a niche expertise in setting up and supporting the technology infrastructure of such organisations.
Founded in 2002, with 85 staff based in Docklands, the company has grown to become the UK’s leading provider of bespoke technology solutions to the fund management industry. Capital Support’s ethos is to take all IT matters out of the hands of fund managers if they wish, leaving them to purely focus on their core business – managing money. The Capital Support package consists of core IT support and a variety of additional modules to compliment this.
Institutional quality for IT
“How many hedge funds can afford to finance a team of 65 specialists to run their IT environment?”, asks Ray Bricknell, the newly appointed Head of Technical Services at Capital Support, who manages all the group’s technical functions. Formerly with Barclays, Prudential and RAB Capital Group, Bricknell has a background in corporate, institutional-quality IT. He says his recent appointment validates the offering that Capital Support provides to its clients, by bringing a big-corporate approach to IT management and making it available to smaller customers normally used to an in-house, organically grown IT system.
“Small hedge funds would never be able to employ all the experts that we have in our various fields of networks, storage, due diligence, business continuity, change control,” Bricknell says. “By taking our service offering, our clients are buying a slice of our expertise as and when they need it, and we provide an absolutely top-quality, institutional-quality response to their investors.”
On-site or remote support
Amongst the unique range of IT solutions that Capital Support provides for hedge funds, one is on-site engineering. It sees a number of staff permanently located on clients’ premises and run the desktop and day-to-day support for those users.
“Many of the smaller hedge funds cannot justify the expense of managing an IT infrastructure themselves, recruiting, supporting and doing all the related processes that are associated with having an IT resource on site,” says Bricknell. “We have a large team of field engineer resource for those clients and we can provide those services on a very flexible basis, either five days a week through to half a day a month. When we’re checking their infrastructure that is one of our offerings.”
Capital Support also offers a 24/7 service desk, where users can get remote support for their applications, fund system and core infrastructure. The company can also design, procure and implement a connectivity infrastructure that will keep a hedge fund in touch with its stakeholders at all times. “The typical employees or principals of hedge funds have a very demanding approach to life in general and therefore demand quality service instantaneously,” Bricknell says.
The IT support firm makes a point of maintaining a very customised and familiar relationship with its clients – one of its unique differentiators. Capital Support’s Managing Partners maintain personal relationships with all the principals of their clients, and the company takes client feedback on a day-to-day basis to try to improve and optimise its service provision.
“We have deliberately recruited and developed our offering with high-end staff who have an excellent level of customer service focus,” says Bricknell. “We continually emphasise personality in customer service. For example, the extent to which a certain field engineer fits in with a particular client. If the client says this isn’t working we rotate it. We offer a very focused hand-picked type of approach to meeting our customers needs and understanding their personality.”
Private clouds, virtual desktops
It is possible for clients to run their entire IT infrastructure on Capital Support’s platform, on a pay per use basis. These hosted infrastructure solutions – or private clouds – have been developed specifically for regulated firms, with security, compliance and resilience at the forefront of their technical architecture. In addition to this Capital Support’s hosted infrastructure has gone through rigorous auditing conducted by an independent and highly regarded specialist IT due diligence consultancy.
Capital Support can also build and install a client’s own IT infrastructure on a local site, and then manage it if the client does not wish to operate on the cloud, or has a legacy in a particular environment.
Virtualisation is a technology traditionally only used by large enterprises, but Capital Support is also able to offer it to smaller businesses. Its Smart Hosting solution allows a client’s network infrastructure, servers and desktops to be hosted in a virtual environment. They can then work remotely through terminal services or web-based access to their applications. This resilient, scalable and conveniently portable network solution offers the additional benefits of reducing hardware, energy and space costs.
In an increasingly regulated environment, a good business continuity plan is not just prudent but a legal obligation. Hedge funds, moreover, are required to have a robust disaster recovery strategy in place.
“The FSA and the SEC insist upon a higher level of internal due diligence from the perspective of the people who run their IT systems,” Bricknell says. “Hedge funds are required to demonstrate they have good security around access to their data, solid back-ups and data-retention policies. Sometimes those requirements are very demanding.”
There is also a lot of pressure from investors. In recent years, they have looked much more closely at a fund’s IT operations and expect a cogent operating plan.
“The worst-case scenario is that of an organisation losing its entire functionality and ability to trade at exactly the same time that the market is particularly volatile,” says Bricknell. “We have a responsibility and a commitment to those organisations to ensure a continuity of their technology services. We need to be able to get them back up on online as soon as possible should an event happen that affects their IT infrastructure.”
In an industry highly sensitive to the impact of downtime, outages can be costly, so minimising operational risk in the face of disaster or extended disruption is essential. Capital Support designsand implements a full range of regulatory compliant disaster recovery or DR solutions to mitigate the risks associated with loss of an organisation’s IT systems. This ranges from critical trading platforms and data sensitive applications to real-time replication of a client’s entire infrastructure in order to allow workplace recovery and online working.
To prevent data loss, Capital Support’s SmartDR solution offers complete replication of a client’s corporate data that can be accessed through its own dedicated virtual servers.
“Imagine a scenario where an organisation loses it own premises, there’s an outage of power in their environment, or there’s a gas leak near their building,” says Bricknell. “In that circumstance, the organisation might choose to send its staff to work from home. They can have the full functionality of their office environment in their home environment delivered to them via the internet, and they can access their services on our cloud platform. They potentially have the ability to trade irrespective of their local premises.”
Monitoring and maintenance
Capital Support provides ongoing preventative and proactive support solutions. Their core Support service includes monitoring, maintenance alongside the Service Desk and scheduled on site support services. An Account Manager is assigned to work with each client from day one to develop an appropriate ongoing support solution.
To further ensure business continuity, Capital Support has created SmartWatch, a secure monitoring system. It automatically checks all the critical elements of a client’s systems 24/7. Capital Support will receive alerts when a potential issue has developed that could cause a client downtime, so engineers can fix these issues before there is an impact on the company’s business.
“We monitor things like disk space and viruses, and the utilisation of the services in terms of capacity, network,” Bricknell says. “If there are network outages we will tell our clients first, we check every night that back-ups are taking place. There’s a whole range of proactive, behind-the-scene services that we offer.”
Support to start-ups
Capital Support’s ambition is to ultimately bring to the market hedge fund-in-a-box solutions in order to bring a new fund online quickly. The firm has been able in the past to set up and establish new funds in a matter of weeks, providing emails, internet presence, domain names and everything needed for the early operational demands of a new fund.
Capital Support is also able to quickly provide applications that are specific to hedge funds by teaming up with software providers, such as Tradar, the fund accounting application. “We support Tradar to deliver their application into a new organisation very quickly and at a low introductory price point,” Bricknell says.
The IT support firm also collaborates with core providers to the industry such as Bloomberg, to provide services on a faster and more cost-effective basis to their clients. It houses Bloomberg’s IT network operational infrastructure in its data centres. Since the network infrastructure is already built, organisations wishing to get online quickly (and having access to Bloomberg’s terminal infrastructure) can do that at the flick of a switch. Normally it might take up to 12 weeks to implement, Bricknell adds.
“There’s a huge amount of activity in the market at the moment,” says Bricknell. “We’re seeing an endless string of start-up businesses and we’re winning the vast majority of pitches that we make to new clients. We are increasingly focusing on serving customers that are of a certain size. There aren’t that many providers in this niche who are really capable and have a proven track record of being able to support a wide range of hedge fund firms.”
Nigel Brooks, Director
With over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry Brooks heads up the sales, marketing and account management teams. He has niche expertise creating IT solutions designed to deliver tangible business benefits in a regulated environment. A qualified lawyer, Brooks left the trade in the late ‘80s to work in IT. After growing Computeq for 12 years Brooks sold his stake in 2004 and became a shareholder/director in the newly formed Capital Support.
Dean Foreman, Director
Foreman heads up both the commercial and operations teams. One of the company’s founders, Foreman has over two decades of IT industry experience. He has an uncanny ability to bridge the gaps between technology, business needs and project implementation – helping Capital Support become one of the UK’s leading IT providers to hedge funds.
Ray Bricknell, Head of Technical Services
With over 30 years’ experience in the IT industry, Bricknell heads up the Technical Services delivery function at Capital Support. His career has been spent successfully delivering Technology solutions. For many years he has provided senior management and C-Level, strategic direction, consultancy and technology leadership to organisations operating in the investment banking, alternative investment, insurance and retail banking sectors of the UK finance industry.