From the May 2013 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

April 29, 2013

Who Are Your Technology Players? Don’t Overlook Your Employees

You need a team to execute your technology game plan

When I talk with advisors about technology solutions for their firms, the conversation is usually focused on specific products, vendors and data interfaces. However, a big part of the equation—the person part—generally doesn’t come up in the conversation. When we think about how we deploy technology, we often forget to factor in how we manage the employees who use it day in and day out. Your employees—their skills, their knowledge, their habits and their responsibilities—will have a significant influence on the success of any technology product, initiative or process that you want to introduce in your firm. They are your technology players, and just like a baseball coach or football coach, you need to make sure they are in the right positions. If all of your technology issues fall on the desk of the “tech person” at your firm, then you have some work (and opportunity) in store to improve your technology environment and your overall level of success.

A good place to start with your technology players is to expand the number of people you have involved in your technology environment. Yes, it is appropriate to have specific roles and responsibilities for each individual. For example, one individual might be responsible for reconciling your accounts on a regular basis while another is responsible for handling your rebalancing and trading. Even with these distinct roles, though, it is still very important for employees to work together in a manner that expands their understanding of the entire technology infrastructure of your firm. Do your technology players understand both the upstream and downstream effects of their processes? The expectation is that expanding their knowledge will lead to new ideas and opportunities for efficiency gains. This is particularly important in today’s technology environment, which offers many more integration opportunities and products that can address multiple business needs.

When was the last time your technology players switched positions? Do you have employees who have had the same responsibilities year after year? This falls under the heading of cross-training and having individuals who can back up other positions. Taking a step further also involves moving people into new positions from a technology perspective. Sometimes advisors tell me about a new employee who is doing a surprisingly good job of managing a certain technology product right out of the gate. Often the new employee has identified ways to be more efficient compared to the person they replaced, even though they may have less experience. Why is this? The answer is that we often get stale and not very curious or creative in how we use the technology products with which we have the most experience and familiarity. Switching employee positions—whether temporarily or permanently—will help identify new ways to use your existing technology solutions. In fact, before you consider replacing an existing technology solution that is no longer meeting your needs, you might want to think about changing the primary user.

With the move toward cloud computing and remote computer access, a hot topic for advisors is when to consider outsourcing a position or process that is currently the responsibility of an existing employee. This is particularly true for purely technology-based roles like data reconciliation, reporting, IT infrastructure and support. The more important underlying question is whether or not you can use an employee in more critical and productive ways versus their current responsibilities. Of course this can be a very sensitive evaluation, particularly for the employee involved. However, it is possible that you can improve your service in other areas, and the employee will welcome the change and potential new opportunities. Furthermore, whenever an employee is promoted or leaves your firm, it is a perfect time to consider an outsource solution for addressing the responsibilities of this open position.

It is also very important that you encourage your technology players to increase their skills and understanding in their areas of responsibility. This is common sense, of course, but unfortunately it is so easy for day-to-day work to get in the way of this objective. This could be accomplished by attending training sessions, webinars or other conferences and educational events. Product user groups are also a great resource and a forum for sharing best practices. Perhaps the main challenge to improve your employees’ technology skills is providing them with the time to work on it. In my experience, if it is not part of their responsibilities or they aren’t given the time to do it, it simply doesn’t happen. Business as usual will continue, and identifying new ways to become more efficient will be much more challenging.

From your newest to your most tenured employee, they all likely interact with your technology in varying degrees. You also probably have clients and prospects who utilize your technology, whether your own systems or those provided by your business partners. All of these different technology players require attention and resources, in addition to a focus on the technology itself, in order to realize your efficiency goals and objectives.

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