It’s not about the technology

25 March 2019

Stewart Bell

Stewart Bell is business coach and founder at Audere Coaching & Consulting.

When it comes to fintech, it’s a brave new world out there and the future is looking good. But you first need to know what to look for.

One of my favourite short films is called It’s Not About The Nail by Jason Headley. It’s available on YouTube if you’re interested and, in an amusing 1 minute 42 seconds, makes observations about the difference between problem solving and listening.

But it could be about a number of things. ‘It’s Not About The Money’, is a ready-made slogan for financial planning done right. ‘It’s Not About The Revenue’, the key idea that separates advice businesses from traditional practices.

Or perhaps the reason for raising it here, ‘It’s Not About The Technology’.

If you’ve come along to a session where I was the speaker, you may have heard me talk about technology in the context of practice management. You may have downloaded one of our tools outlining some of the best apps to use, or various other tech-related musings.

Yes, I spend time using, testing and assessing technology for advice firms, but in truth, it’s a small part of a bigger picture.

I’ve had advisers start a conversation with, “I don’t know much about tech, so what you do probably isn’t right for me”, only to end it realising that you don’t have to be a tech nerd to get the benefit of tech-thinking.

Personally, I’m very careful about the tech I use. Everything I create within the program starts with a pen and paper. The starting point for me is always analogue, digital comes much later. I am mindful about the apps I put on my phone – no LinkedIn or Facebook – as for each benefit tech can provide, there is another that will simply deliver distraction, inefficiency and frustration.

Which is the point of what I’d like to share.

Bill Gates famously said: “Adding people to an already inefficient process only makes the problem worse.” Substitute the word people with technology and it’s the same situation. Technology, software and all manner of shiny new objects waiting to have you spend money on them will never solve a problem that you haven’t solved first.

Technology is an enabler

Technology is not a solution. It’s an enabler.Let me explain.

Technology of any kind is purely about making it faster, easier or cheaper to undertake certain tasks. That is what computers do. They follow a pre-defined set of instructions, a process, at a speed humans cannot match.

But they need to know the process first.

When you’re selecting technology for your practice, there are one of two situations about to occur:

  1. You have no processes, fluid ways of doing things and you’re about to discover a world of pain in trying to undertake two massive projects (which you think is one) at the same time. Ouch.
  2. You already have ways of doing things, and in selecting the right tech you need to ensure the software you select will support your current practices. If you’re aware of this, then it’s simply about making sure you’re assessing things well. If you’re not aware of this, well, now you’ve been warned.

With regard to the first issue, I’ve seen the following scenario too many times. Practice X buys the latest software, only to discover that rather than being the tech version of an automatic car, they’ve bought a six gearbox road train and they don’t have a truck licence.

In addition, they’re suddenly required to produce a bunch of email templates, workflow processes and more, so the consultant they’ve hired to make it work can make the whole system flow.

The project stagnates. Eventually they stop paying the consultant’s fees, claiming they got nothing from it, and the Ferrari they bought to solve their problems ends up being used for file notes only (i.e. it becomes the shopping run car). Sound familiar?

The way to avoid this is to follow Bill’s advice. Work out how your business is supposed to operate, before you engage technology to make it work better. Go analogue, then digital. Paper and textas first.

Get ready to step back

How about the second issue? Well, that’s where I invite you to take a step back.

You see, the biggest issue that cloud technology selection is, is what I call ‘the beauty parade’.

Make no mistake, software sales is big business, especially at the top end. Having sat down with software developers to calculate the size of the Aussie market for financial planning software, I can tell you it’s huge.

When selling software, it’s done on two levels:

  1. The benefit to your business; and
  2. Features.

For the most part, the first is pretty much the same between providers in all but a few exceptions. It’s like bank advertising. Most are offering the same thing.

Features though is where differentiation occurs, and confusion starts, unless you start by knowing what you need.

So, this is the key part. The step before. Before you even think about looking for software, start by asking what you need.

The Tech Map

In my world, it’s called the Tech Map. It’s a process of identifying the tech you have across four clear categories, then breaking it down into internal and external, to understand three things:

  1. What software are you currently using to fill certain gaps?
  2. Where are you under-utilising and can remove tech?
  3. Where do you need to fill gaps and should start looking at tech?

Then and only then are you ready for the final ingredient.

To decide what functionality you need, weight it so you can assess tech based on the value it will add to you and have a clear, objective way of assessing the ‘appley-oranges’ from the ‘orangey-apples’.

If you’re interested in the specifics of how, head over to our website and download the white paper on the topic. However, let me give you an example.

Last time we did our tech map, we discovered that the tool we were using for our internal communications – Slack – could actually be replaced by our project management/workflow tool, Teamwork Projects. We also identified that some of the internal communications piece was actually being split inconsistently between our shared inbox – Missive – and Slack.

Upon analysis, we realised that by removing Slack from our tech stack and getting clear on when internal communication should happen in the inbox vs workflow, we’d not only save a bunch of money, we’d also make it easier to find the right information and improve our internal ‘business memory’.

The end result of that exercise was a reduction in our monthly tech bill of $300 (it may not seem a lot, but we are committed to keeping ours under $1,000), and removing a total of seven tech tools from our business.

It’s like tending to the backyard. You need to know what plants to put in there to begin with, otherwise the garden will never grow. Once it’s growing, you still need to cut it back every now and again, otherwise you end up with a garden in the vines, instead of vines in the garden.

A streamlined result

The end result is less confusion, less complication and less chasing your tail either:

– waiting for the messianic single-source-of-truth solution (which is honestly at least 12-24 months away) that will solve all your problems; or

– plugging and unplugging tech into your business like a demented two-year-old with a Duplo problem, all the time wondering how to make it talk to each other.

It’s a brave new world out there and the future is looking good, but first you need to know what to look for.