Journal of Financial Planning: March 2017
Greg Friedman, CFP®, is CEO of Private Ocean, a wealth management firm in Northern California, and CEO of Junxure CRM, the leading, purpose-built CRM system for advisers. Follow him on Twitter @JunxureCEO.
It starts with a vision. Maybe it’s a more efficient way to deliver portfolio management reports, offer real-time data via a client portal, or in my firm’s case, a CRM upgrade to Junxure Cloud. Or maybe it’s to solve a problem. Advisers often have an “a-ha” moment with technology when they realize that they could be providing enhanced services—while streamlining operations—with an upgrade to a system or multiple programs.
Embarking on a core technology upgrade is like building a new house. A successful build means clear communication, planning, and execution. Undertaking a change of this magnitude is not without anxiety and a few unexpected setbacks, but if done right, you can minimize surprises and take advantage of technology’s benefits more quickly and efficiently.
The following seven steps, based on my personal experience, is a guide to help navigate any new technology implementation.
Step 1: Communication
Although your firm’s management team may have done a lot of the heavy lifting and planning for the upgrade, getting started means opening up the conversation to the rest of the team. Their feedback is invaluable; after all, these are often the people who will use these new programs the most.
Start with an all-hands meeting to discuss the plans, including the timeline, who will be impacted, and information on the programs you’ve selected (encourage live demos of your programs between the vendor and your employees). Most of all, you want to stress the “why” of this equation: why are you making the change, and what are you trying to improve or enhance? Express your desire to be completely transparent throughout the process and welcome everyone’s input. Change is easier to digest when people see the end goal, so be clear about the benefits for the firm and your employees individually.
Step 2: Find Your Champion
You’ve laid out the plans to your team, stressed the benefits of the upcoming change, and introduced your programs. Your next step is to identify your power users and designate a champion for the system(s). Ideally this is someone who:
- Has played a role in the research and selection process.
- Will use the new programs daily. This person (or persons) can analyze how you’re using your legacy program and envision how your new program will work for the firm.
- Is well-spoken, organized, and engaged. You want to choose someone your employees can rely on and look to for information and answers.
- Is tech-savvy enough to learn the new system from top to bottom and liaise with your vendor to troubleshoot any issues along the way.
Step 3: Outline a Blueprint for Change
When you decide to build a house, you start with a blueprint. Similarly, when you decide to upgrade your technology, you need an outline to manage the change. A good blueprint should include:
A realistic time frame. What is your goal for rollout? Does that time frame include busy times or holidays when many people take PTO? Are you upgrading one core system or multiple systems over time? If you’re changing multiple systems, in what order should they be implemented? Lastly, how much cleanup will be necessary to your legacy data before you can migrate to a new system?
A realistic budget. Aside from the cost of the new system(s), have you taken into account the bandwidth necessary to implement the change? How will this impact your revenue? What additional training or support will you need to ensure a smooth transition and is there additional cost for these variables? Anticipate these expenditures so you’re not hit with surprises further down the road.
Milestones. Don’t shy away from drawing lines in the sand to ensure milestones for transition, training, and testing are met on time. Accountability plays an important role in a successful rollout, and everyone should be responsible for a certain number of tasks as it relates to their role. Just remember that people learn technology at different speeds, so be sure your champion is aware of your early adopters and late bloomers and manages them accordingly.
Anticipated disruptions and how to minimize them. If you’ve laid out your time frame properly, you will be able to plan when your team will experience reduced productivity with the new system. Consider in advance how you might address this down time to alleviate unnecessary pressure and continue to provide your clients with the service they expect.
Step 4: Assemble the Right Integration Team
For your implementation, you’ve selected a vendor and a system (or systems) that you feel will elevate your business. Now you need to consider how that new technology will work with your existing programs. Will you use an integration partner, or will you rely on your staff to lead the project?
Although hiring a third-party integration partner is a viable option, with so many forward-thinking technology firms available, you will find that many vendors offer the connectivity you need via their own integration partners. Having a technology expert or two on hand is never a bad idea, especially when there is minimal additional cost.
Conversely, you may be lucky enough to have your own tech integration expert on hand to manage the transition and set up the proper integrations. Just keep in mind that while your IT guy knows technology, it may not be the best option for your business in the long run should problems with the integration arise.
Step 5: Assess Your Data and Your Team
How clean is the data in your legacy program? Especially when it comes to CRM, we often say “garbage in, garbage out.” Before making any transition, it’s important to take the time to ensure the data you’re moving is accurate and properly stored. Your champion, along with other assigned users, should set a plan in motion to clean up your data prior to migration. The time this takes may vary, but it should be accounted for in your initial blueprint.
This stage provides an excellent opportunity to assess your staff to see how ready they are for the change. Have they done their homework and completed their tasks? If you have not already, set up training for all people using the system so that everyone has a basic level of knowledge. We have found sandboxes and simulations using sample data to be very helpful in getting the staff comfortable with the change, so inquire with your vendor to see what training they offer before, during, and after you go live.
Step 6: Migration and Testing
A majority of the time and resources spent on a technology change is the prep work. Now that you have a good plan, the right team, and the right tools, there shouldn’t be a lot of surprises. Yes, there will be setbacks; and yes, there will be unexpected delays. Some people will be excited about change, and some will fight it despite their best efforts to embrace what’s best for the business. The champion’s job is to monitor the project and with leadership, constantly reinforce that the end is worth the change.
The migration process can be tedious and nerve-racking at times, but there is no greater feeling of relief than knowing that your data has transferred over properly and perfectly into a new system. The testing phase is essential, not just from an operational standpoint, but also from a comfort level for your staff. Once your staff uses the system and envisions how they will be able to accomplish what they need faster and more efficiently, it’s a great boost toward adoption. This is also the time to make tweaks to processes that best fit your business.
With any tech implementation, it’s important to stop and celebrate small successes along the way. Every win is a step toward a better quality of work for your employees and better service you can pass on to your clients.
Step 7: Go Live
Your project is finished and it’s almost time to celebrate! Once the migration of your data is complete, it’s finally time to set a go-live date with the vendor. It goes without saying that you should avoid busy office times like year-end, tax season, or when you know key team members may be unavailable (vacations, maternity leaves, etc.).
After you go live, be vigilant about testing your data and making sure everything works as expected. Stay in close communication with your vendor, letting them know what’s working and what isn’t meeting expectations. Most of all, be prepared and accept that you will need to take a step back with productivity while you learn; if you plan and expect that temporary slowdown, you won’t be surprised and you’ll quickly start to see your ROI.