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Here Are Your Key Tech Decisions for 2020

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It’s hard to believe it is 2020. We have seen so much growth and change from a technology product perspective in our profession, yet perhaps not enough progress has been made for some systems. For example, back in 2010, desktop-based applications were fairly common in an advisor’s office. Now, almost everything is cloud based or some version of a “hybrid” type solution, leveraging installed components connected with a cloud environment.

Although you still might have desktop-based applications used by your firm for many services, now is a good time to think about the “state” of your overall technology environment and what your systems might require as we enter 2020 and beyond. No doubt this is a broad question, so here are some ideas on how to approach your ­evaluation.

Tracking and Prioritizing Product Updates. Take a look at all your technology systems and determine when the last time was that each product received a material update. Was it in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 or even earlier? Then, consider the product’s level of importance to your firm, and give it a higher weighting if it is a more important system. Ideally, products that are more important to your firm should be receiving regular updates and improvements. If that is not the case, then you have a clear action item for 2020.

Technology Risk Rating. Every technology product that you use involves some level of risk. For example, the risks could entail an application’s overall reliability, the level of importance to your firm, the difficulty of switching products, the impact to your clients, or even how well you and your staff understand how to use the product.

It is important to manage the risks with a technology product. Too often advisors understand the risks, but don’t have a strategy to mitigate or reduce the them and suddenly the risks can increase and become a problem that requires immediate attention. Therefore in 2020, make it a goal to reduce your technology risks.

Requirements vs. Technology Dreams. In 2020, you likely are considering new products: either entirely new to your firm or replacements of existing systems. Make sure that you start the task with a clear set of defined requirements.

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the technology dream — meaning what new features you will gain — while not giving enough attention to what you really need in your business. In addition, try to keep time on your side by giving yourself enough leeway to deal with any technology transition — especially if a product retirement or contract termination is driving the date. Technology “Change” Appetite. No matter what is on your list in 2020 for your overall technology environment, it is always key to assess the appetite for change within the context and culture of your firm. Some firms thrive in a fluid change environment with their technology (regularly introducing new products, adopting new features, learning new processes, etc.), and others prefer to maintain a consistent environment with minimal changes. Knowing this information about your firm should influence what you decide to do or not do from a technology perspective in 2020.

One thing to know for sure in 2020 is that advisors have more technology options to consider and evaluate than ever before. Advisors who have been in this profession a long time know it hasn’t always been this way. This might be a blessing or a curse depending on your viewpoint and on your willingness to take risks.

You don’t want the increasing number of options to overwhelm your decision process, so be sure to lean on your business support networks to help with the evaluation. And don’t be shy about asking other advisors for advice. I’m confident that you are not the first advisor to face complex technology ­decisions.

Dan Skiles is the president of Shareholders Service Group in San Diego. He can be reached at [email protected].