Ian McKenna: Resisting the sales push on adviser software

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In my last column, I considered how recent developments in the world of industry software have changed adviser priorities when selecting systems. This week, I want to examine a factor that has been a constant challenge: defining the right requirements for any new system.

In my experience, when software projects fail to deliver what the adviser wants, it usually boils down to one of three things. Two of these – the importance of training and having suitable change management processes in place – I will address in a future column. This week, I want to focus on how to make sure you get the system you need rather than the system someone wants to sell you.

Software suppliers understand exactly what the strongest elements of their systems are and, given the opportunity, will build any demos around them. For this reason, it is crucial to take firm control of any presentations that take place and ensure each potential supplier goes through exactly how they address the functions most important to you.

All too often, the first thing an adviser firm will do when considering new software requirements is ask a number of suppliers to present their solutions to them. However, this should be one of the last things on the list. Rather than looking at what suppliers have to offer, firms should conduct their own internal processes in order to identify what their priorities are across the business.

One technique I have seen used well is for each part of the business to identify a list of 10 things that are really important to them, 10 that would be nice to have and 10 that would be a real bonus. Small firms with just a couple of staff can still use this approach but might want to look at it separately for each of the core areas of activity. Having created these lists, compare them to identify which features come up most frequently.

From here, build a final list of requirements and priorities and then write to potential suppliers asking them to document how they can be met. Once responses are received, create a shortlist based on those who have recognised what you have asked for. If they gloss over or ignore any area the chances are they cannot support your needs.

Only at this stage would I suggest inviting suppliers in for demos but, again, make sure each vendor focuses on your priorities not theirs. It is a good idea to tell the providers in writing in advance of any demo exactly what you want them to show you. Make it clear selection will be based on ability to address those areas you have identified. Do not allow them to deviate.

Before taking a decision to proceed with any software system be sure to talk to some of its existing users. Try and engage in discussions around the specific features you have identified as important to you. Online forums can be a great way to connect with others for this purpose.

The technology that firms select as their core operating systems will be used day in day out and will have a massive impact on the profitability of the business. With this in mind, the decision is not one to be taken lightly. Making the wrong decision is something that will be regretted every day for many years. It is almost impossible to do too much homework before reaching a conclusion but, hopefully, the above guidelines should help firms make the right selection.

Ian McKenna is director of Finance & Technology Research Centre