When scanning the ecosystem of technology solutions available to advisors, there are many providers that are gaining sizeable market share, especially in the “popular” categories like CRM, reporting, trading, imaging, financial planning, risk measurement, and other areas focused on supporting advisors. As a client and user of these products, what grade would you give each of these solutions? Given that it is “back to school” season, it is a good time to hand out report cards for your technology.

To begin grading your technology report card, list the categories of features and performance that are important to your firm. These areas could include ease of use, overall value, client benefit, technology innovation, integration with other systems, long-term importance, etc. If yours is a larger advisory firm, be sure to involve staff from multiple business areas to develop this list of categories to grade. Also decide at this time the actual “grading” that you plan to use. It could be A through F or 1 through 10, but imagine what the perfect grade might be so you can interpret and evaluate the overall results.

Next, select the technology systems that will be graded under each category. Perhaps there are one or two categories that don’t fit with every system, but there should be a few truly unusual facets to grade. For example, even your firm’s rebalancing system yields “client benefits” even if your clients never directly see or use the system. After linking the list of your technology systems with the categories, the framework of your report card is ready.

Now, be sure to include everyone who “touches” any of your technology systems when you have the staff complete the technology report card. The goal is to gather as much feedback as possible from a variety of roles that use the same technology system. This is especially critical today when there is often multiple business groups using the same product (e.g., your CRM) and the success or failure of the solution is not based on one user group.

Upon completion of the grading exercise, you should have valuable data to better evaluate where you stand with your technology systems. Often times, we base the success of a technology system on general comments or feedback — and frequently the only thing the decisions makers know is what they hear from the “loudest” users. This is part of the feedback process, but the data received using the structure of the technology report card exercise should provide a more thorough evaluation of each system. You might be surprised by some of the results, for example, evaluating how each system was graded compared with how long it has been used at your firm.

Perhaps the most critical part of this exercise is how you use the data generated. Meet with your staff to review the results and discuss the similarities, differences and other interesting comments for each technology system graded.

Expect to discover in these meetings a connection between how well someone knows a product and the grade they give the system in each category. In fact, this might lead you to identify several areas for future training opportunities.

Another helpful evaluation step is comparing the “grades” versus your overall technology budget. Do the higher rated systems or products receive a larger portion of the technology budget? Or is it the reverse? Ideally, the systems that cost your firm the most should receive the highest marks. If not, your firm should have a new sense of urgency to understand why and take the appropriate actions. Furthermore, if you hire a consultant to help your firm with your technology strategy and initiatives, your technology report card will definitely help them get started.

Ultimately, every firm’s goal is to get the best value and results from all its technology systems and products. Conducting this report card exercise is a great method to obtain feedback, identify gaps, and understand and gain alignment on where your firm currently stands with your technology solutions.

Dan Skiles is the president of Shareholders Service Group in San Diego. He can be reached at dskiles@ssginstitutional.com.