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The 4 I's of building your best tech stack

Identifying the right solutions starts with finding a provider that's in it for the long haul

Jan 30, 2018 @ 10:52 am

By Eric Clarke

Choosing new technology solutions for your firm can feel like upsetting the apple cart. Why, you may ask, should you pay money to fix something that doesn't seem broken?

We go through the pain of choosing a new tech stack because we want to stay competitive and relevant in a rapidly changing industry. But with so much on the line, how do we make sure we make the right choice? In my experience, these are the four "I's" that drive the long-term success of your tech stack decision.

Innovation

Your tech partner shouldn't just chase the latest buzzwords. Right now, your baseline should be a tech solution that is cloud-based, can engage your staff with a modern user interface and can interface with your clients for a better, more efficient experience. But you're in this for the long haul, and you need to be sure your tech provider is as well.

Look at the underlying culture of your prospective tech partner. Does this company have the capital structure, resources and mindset to stay innovative in the future?

Integration

The floodgates have opened for Silicon Valley disruptors, and advisers find themselves confronted with dozens of solutions promising to build scale and provide an edge against competitors both human and robo. But these products don't always mesh with your existing tools. The wrong mix of solutions will promise the moon, but keep you leaning on Microsoft Excel as your back-end spackle to hold everything together.

You need a tech partner that allows you the flexibility to use not only today's integration partners, but emerging tech solutions in the future. At present, you need web application programming interfaces for your big three systems: CRM, portfolio accounting and financial planning. Web APIs allow for two-way communication: not only can they pull information from other systems, web APIs can also share their own reporting and functionality with other systems as well.

Ideally, your tech solutions will be open API, meaning they can integrate far more easily with others. If a firm says, "We do integrate, we have APIs, but we only integrate with these providers," then they are dictating limits on your tech stack. It may not seem like a big deal today, but the tech landscape is always shifting — and two or three years down the road, you might find you've hitched your wagon to the wrong horse.

(More: What top advisory firms do right when it comes to technology)

Implementation

Let's say you've found a customized, future-flexible tech stack from a provider you know has the culture and resources to go the distance with you. Great! Now, how much did you budget for training?

Even if your new system takes three clicks to do something that once took five, those three clicks are different and unfamiliar — and they'll probably run in parallel with your old system during a transition period, initially tying up more of your team's resources. What's more, some advisers will make their decision and push it out onto their staff without involving them earlier in the process and getting their buy-in.

The best software in the world can't help your team if no one knows how to use it to its full potential. Ask your prospective tech partners what kind of training resources they provide: Online? On-site? Are there user groups with which to share a knowledge base?

Once you've set aside the time and resources to learn the new system, create an implementation road map. Some firms will go to the great expense of choosing a new tech stack, set aside ample time for training, get to the point where they can replicate the old system's workflows and outputs … and then just stop.

Replicating your old outputs should be step one. What are steps two, three and four? How will your firm push to take advantage of the new features you're already paying for?

(More: The trials of converting to new financial planning software)

"Idiot"-proof

Before you take this the wrong way, I mean that the technology you embrace should be simple to use, with a clean user experience for both your staff and your clients. What's more, you don't need an in-depth, up-to-the-minute understanding of fintech trends to choose the right tech stack for your firm. It's all about following the three other I's — knowing the right questions to ask, and building in enough time and resources to train on the new systems.

There is no one true configuration of tech solutions that will play to every firm's strongest value propositions right out of the box. With the right amount of due diligence, however, you can find the customized tech stack that is best for you now, and in the future.

(More: Investment firms race to master financial tech before potential super rivals)

Eric Clarke is founder and CEO of Orion Advisor Services. Follow him at @EricRClarke.

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