June 9, 2011

Choosing Software That Works for Your Advisory Firm—Part 7: The Keys to Success

 

In the previous six posts in this series on the process for choosing and implementing the right technology for your advisory firm, we provided you with a detailed step-by-step process when doing so. On the surface, it may seem a bit daunting to accomplish all of the tasks we suggested.  However, it is not necessary to do every step at once in a linear fashion. In fact, you will most likely find yourself coming back to elements that you skipped in order to achieve the business results that you are committed to. Although this might seem a bit inefficient, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and thus, you may need to skip specific tasks until you have more information that is learned accomplishing a different one.

Focus on Executing and Monitoring Your Business Results

It’s okay if you don’t follow the five steps exactly.  Each firm has certain natural strengths and activities that it does well in the normal course of running its business. These activities will align with some of the specific steps and can be completed in the course of managing the business. For example, if you already conduct an effective weekly staff meeting where you review strategic initiatives and client projects that are under way, you may not need to do anything incremental for your software project. From an “execute” step, you can use your existing meetings to review the software implementation project and discuss key accomplishments, next steps, etc.

One key observation of advisors going through a software selection process is they generally overweight the initial step of selecting the software and underweight the back-end steps of executing and monitoring. While there are important differences in various software applications, the gap between vendors is generally narrowing. Therefore, your emphasis needs to be on how your firm is going to execute and effectively monitor the results ensuring that the expected results materialize versus making sure you have every software bell and whistle up front.

How to View Vendors

Another key aspect of software selection and implementation is the pace or speed in which software vendors are improving their product. Historically, a vendor might only come out with one release a year. Now, it is common for vendors to release significant new functionality three or more times annually. Therefore, you are not simply buying the vendors products as they stand today. Rather, you are investing in an ongoing relationship and making a bet that the vendor will continue to refine and improve the product to better meet your needs.

Defining Your Requirements

When working with a vendor, both at the initial installation phase and throughout your relationship, it’s important that you effectively communicate your requirements in a way that minimizes misunderstandings. In general, advisors tend to provide less-than-specific feedback on what improvements or needs they have to their vendors. This causes frustration for both the advisor and the vendor as new software releases then don’t always include the specifics of what the advisor desires. 

The term “define requirement” seems to mean something a little bit different to everyone and it is important that when you communicate to a vendor (or even an employee) that the two of you have a common understanding of what the particular requirement or process is. Make sure you’re all on the same page as it relates to what requirements mean, e.g., a

 

software “bug” that needs to be fixed immediately is completely different than a feature idea that you would like to see in the software sometime. Make sure that you communicate effectively and ask the vendor the question, “did what I say make sense?” and then document your expectations on the “what” and the “when.”  There are great opportunities for advisors who can effectively document their requirements to partner with their vendors and custodian or B/D to drive the product development efforts going forward. 

Your People: The Most Important Tool to Generate ROI on Your Software

You can’t overstate it:100% of the ROI of your software investment will come from your firm’s willingness to actually use the new software. The behavioral change and adoption part of implementing software is typically underestimated and underinvested. If there is one area that advisors could improve on, it is helping the firm effectively adopt and use the new technology. As discussed in past posts, make sure that you budget enough time and money for proper training (hint: usually it’s a lot more than you think, especially on the training side). And make sure that you incentivize your staff to use the software. Hold people accountable for doing the desired work, and reward those who achieve your results.

Conclusion

I hope you found this blog series helpful as you think about adding technology to your advisory practice. Remember that this is a guide only, based on our experience at ActiFi working with hundreds of advisory businesses helping them improve their efficiency, growth and profitability. What works for others may not work for you. So use the steps we’ve outlined but modify them to fit your firm and culture.

All too often we see advisory firm owners “throw” technology at a problem. In reality, technology by itself does not typically solve problems. Rather, technology enables great people with a well-defined process to achieve goals. 

Before embarking on a technology initiative, make sure to ask yourself if you have the right people doing the right things with and the right process in place. If the answer is “No,” then work on your other issues before spending a lot of time and money on technology; otherwise, you’re most likely going to be disappointed if you only solve the technology part. If the answer is “Yes,” then use the process we’ve described to assess your current situation, envision the ultimate one, and then map out a plan for how technology will get you from where you are today to where you’d like to be tomorrow.

Click here to see Part Six of this seriesand links to prior posts on the subject of choosing and implementing the right software for your firm.

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