Some advisors don’t want to deal with IT, but like fire insurance or an emergency call from your security alarm company, if you need IT support, it’s because something isn’t right.
The reality for advisory firms is that you can approach your IT support in many ways. Some firms do most of the IT work on their own (when they have time). Others outsource the responsibilities, and some even hire full-time staff focused only on IT support. No matter which path you choose, there are best practices that you should follow and common pitfalls to avoid.
Successful IT support starts with having expertise and knowledge of the systems used by your firm. Advisors use products that are widely adopted in other businesses like Microsoft Office or SalesForce, but they also use products specific to our profession that manage portfolio reporting, trading and rebalancing, and financial planning. It is critical that whoever you place in charge understands all of your systems. Too frequently I hear of situations where an IT firm was great in supporting common systems but had no idea how to support the advisor’s reporting software. If this deficiency isn’t caught early in the engagement with the IT firm, it can be a very unpleasant surprise when you realize that they are not properly updating or backing up one of your core systems.
No matter which path you choose to meet your IT support needs, you must constantly verify that everything is working properly. IT is unfortunately an area where problems or issues do not always make themselves immediately obvious. For example, if you have outsourced to an IT provider to back up your systems and data, then it is critical that you regularly review these back-ups (by opening and reviewing a backed-up file, for example) to ensure the process is working.
Another area that you should review involves your network security and infrastructure. Specifically, double-check that your server and firewall are regularly receiving the important system updates necessary to protect your overall network. If this is an unfamiliar area for you, simply have your IT provider show you all the system updates that they have implemented on your network.
Perhaps one of the more frustrating areas of IT support is the “trial and error” that is a part of any engagement. The fact of the matter is that IT support is a blend of art and science, especially when trying to resolve unique problems that affect your daily work. What you want to try to avoid is overpaying for the extra time involved when a solution is not immediately identified. Sometimes this can be avoided by simply asking your IT provider about the time expected to resolve a problem. Of course, this estimate is not set in stone, but it at least gives you an idea of what to expect. Furthermore, the background and years of experience should make a difference in an IT provider’s ability to resolve issues more efficiently and effectively. Often it is worth paying a higher hourly rate for someone with more applicable experience, which ultimately allows the IT provider to resolve the issue in a shorter time period.
The No. 1 rule for your IT support is not to become too dependent on any one individual or provider. This is a best practice for all your roles and responsibilities, but unfortunately this situation occurs more frequently with IT. The costs and frustrations can be high when you don’t have any idea what was previously done for your firm, so you must have an understanding (preferably documented) of what your IT support is doing.
Success can happen with the right partner or staff, especially when they are proactive in supporting your IT infrastructure. For example, when the Heartbleed security bug was big news, proactive IT firms were quick to send a guide to their clients detailing the risks and actions that they should take (if any). That is the type of IT firm that you want supporting your organization.