Much thought and effort goes into the overall operational structure of a good advisory firm. Common terms used in our profession include, do you operate as a solo advisor practice (silo type operating structure) or an ensemble advisor practice (team-based operating structure). When you think about these terms, how does it influence the approach to managing your technology solutions? The answer for a number of firms really depends on the specific technology solution involved, regardless of the operational structure of the firm.
But here are the ways that the structure of your firm affects your technology needs.
The first area to consider is to evaluate and determine whether your underlying technology solutions are designed for more of an ensemble or solo advisor practice environment.
Frequently, when we spend a lot of money on a technology solution, we expect that everyone in our firm will use it. However, that might not make the most sense, or it could be a big mistake, or it may not even be possible. For example, wanting everyone at your firm to use the Contact Relationship Manager program is a worthy goal, especially for a firm running an ensemble advisor practice where having shared data and tools is critical to serving the clients.
However, there are other technology solutions that are not designed for or simply can’t accommodate a “shared” or team-based user environment. This doesn’t mean it is a show-stopper for a firm to deploy a single-user solution, because, of course, deciding to use it would need to relate back to your requirements and expectations for the product and not just on the cost of it.
Your associates and their responsibilities are another important area that should directly influence how you deploy a technology solution. With today’s technology solutions, it is common for a product to be utilized across multiple departments, locations, roles, and positions. Even if the use of the product is different for each position, you may still have a shared experience through a single user interface and core foundational features.
On the other hand, you also might have specialized responsibilities that perhaps equally have specialized user solutions to support each position. The critical point is to recognize these distinctions between types of responsibilities and the influence they should have on how you deploy a technology solution throughout your firm.
When you introduce a new technology to your firm, your firm’s structure will have a big impact on the various stages involved in how you adopt and integrate the product. For example, in an ensemble advisor practice, when beginning the effort to introduce a new workflow process, it might be prudent to “isolate” the work with a select group of employees.
Further, when replacing an existing system, it is important to have a well-defined transition plan and a schedule that specifically details when each employee or team is expected to use the new system. Remember to be flexible with the schedule even when you have a sense of urgency for completing the transition. Clear communication and advanced preparation is the key to success here. Too often the existing operational structure of a firm can create unintended consequences when technology adoption is imposed on an unprepared team of employees. Be realistic.
Regardless of firm structure, you should consider having an internal technology research and development team. This is the group that is allowed to test run new solutions, think outside the box, and be creative with potential technology opportunities … and they might even break some things. Of course, this should be done in a “risk free” environment where it is doesn’t impact the firm’s other systems and established business applications.
Bottom line, running a scalable and efficient business with quality results is often a key objective for an advisory firm. Certainly, an important aspect of realizing this objective is how you evaluate each technology solution and ultimately how it performs within your operational structure.
Dan Skiles is the president of Shareholders Service Group in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.