Adding Executive Sponsors to Software Implementation is a Must

A Good Executive Sponsor is Essential

Software implementation of any type requires planning, technical setup, training, and change management. These actions are particularly important for fund administration software implementations. 

However, none of them can be done effectively without proper buy-in from all levels of the organization. 

Unfortunately, many companies assign software implementations to employees who don’t have the knowledge or expertise to properly understand the full scope of the project. 

These people also may not have the authority within the organization to secure the necessary resources to get the job done. 

Consequently, having a good executive sponsor is critical to a successful fund administration software implementation.

What is an Executive Sponsorship in a Software Implementation?

Executive sponsorship is a term commonly used in project management that refers to a situation where a senior-level executive is responsible for the business success of a project.

In software sales, typically a small number of stakeholders are involved in making the decision whether or not to purchase a product. In most cases, this decision will impact a much larger portion of the company. 

In the case of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, for example, the selection impacts almost everyone in the organization. A CRM software implementation can be a daunting task that not only requires things like technical expertise and user training but change management as well.

Having an executive sponsor on the software implementation team significantly increases a project’s likelihood of success. For one thing, it helps ensure that the software is being set up in a way that will support business needs at a higher level of the organization. 

This oversight also promotes the adoption of the new product at whatever scale is appropriate.

Why is a Sponsorship Important?

At Altvia, we work with people in a variety of roles during the sales process, depending on the firm—CEOs, managing partners, data analysts, heads of investor relations, and others. Most often, an engagement is initiated by associates or analysts who realize there is a better, more efficient way to address tedious, manual data entry. 

They conduct extensive research into which tool is the best fit for their firm, thoroughly vetting the company they choose before the software implementation begins. 

(Note: If you are currently in this process, our free Buyers Guide to Private Equity Technology can be extremely valuable to you.)

However, after the purchase decision is made, all too often the responsibility for integrating the product into the company’s operations is carelessly tossed to lower-level employees. This can occur for a number of reasons. In some cases, these team members are perceived to have more time available. They may also be assigned the task as a form of “paying their dues” or, more positively, to help with their professional development and add to their understanding of the organization’s operations. 

Whatever the reason, a few things usually happen at this point. The firm must assess its data quality in order to extract old information from its original source and seamlessly transfer it into the new system. 

Often, it is during this process that people have some realizations about the quality of their data. There may be contacts that are duplicated several times, they may not have had all the right information in the right fields, or they need to define additional fields in order to create accurate and clean reports. 

Then, frustration sets in. Team members who also have day-to-day tasks on their plate start to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work necessary to ensure the software implementation is successful. 

Generally, the reality is that the task isn’t as daunting as it seems. But nevertheless, this perspective affects their opinion of the new system. 

As a result, they struggle to see the new system’s potential and may be less likely to begin using it and less interested in taking the time to learn how to use it effectively.

An executive sponsor understands these types of software implementation roadblocks and knows how to lead team members, and the organization as a whole, around them. 

How to Engage an Executive Sponsor in a Software Implementation

So, who needs to be involved in a fund administration software implementation? From our work on countless projects, we recommend having:

  • A senior-level champion to guide the process and lend support. They should be engaged as needed to keep the project moving forward, but not weighed down by small details. So, as described below, providing them with clear, concise information, and queuing up any challenges the software implementation team faces in a way that the sponsor can address them effectively is essential.  

  • A mid-level employee who is more hands-on with the firm’s technology and applications. This person still should be senior enough to understand all of the firm’s “moving parts” and how business processes work independently and within overall operations. They must know what data needs to be tracked and also have enough authority within the organization to effectively engage other senior executives for feedback.

Keep in mind that effective communication is key for every employee affected by a software implementation. That includes interacting with the executive sponsor as needed. 

Here are some tips for engaging your executive sponsor during a software implementation from the Guide to Project Management:

  1. Be trustworthy: Trust is built over time, but it’s very valuable. Executives will be more inclined to engage with you and the project if they trust what you are doing. You can earn their confidence by delivering on your promises, completing tasks, and showing that you know what it takes to get things done.

  2. Be structured: Being organized in the way you plan, communicate, and execute helps set expectations (and also helps build trust!). It’s easier for an executive to engage with someone they know isn’t going to waste their time by being disorganized.

  3. Be clear: Ditch the jargon and technical terms in your communications with executives. They don’t have time and probably won’t have the patience to try to figure out what you’re talking about. Keep it simple, clear, and concise.

  4. Be transparent: Hiding problems is a bad strategy at any time, and working with an executive sponsor on a software implementation is certainly no exception. Be transparent about problems the project is facing so the sponsor can determine how to help you. Plus, an executive would much rather know about a problem upfront than be blindsided by it down the road.

  5. Be flexible: Every person—like every software implementation—is different. So, be adaptable in your communication type and style. Some sponsors are more formal than others. Some prefer somewhat more detail while others will only listen to an overview. Make sure you’re tailoring your communications and expectations to the project and the sponsor.

It is difficult to understate the significance of executive sponsorship in a fund administration software implementation project. Identifying the right sponsor is an important part of the planning phase. It is a decision that you should not take lightly. 

Without the right people backing your decisions and driving the implementation in the right direction, even the ideal software solution can fall flat and wind up being rarely or ineffectively used in a year. Or worse, it can be discarded altogether, resulting in a significant waste of time and money.

Looking for more information on how to transition your data from Excel or your legacy software? 

A traditional crm was built for general ‘customer’ scenarios

Software platforms have made the world a better place by making work a better place. Indeed the world is better off when people enjoy their jobs even marginally more, and workplace applications on big CRM platforms like Salesforce.com have done that and much more.

But the potential that platforms like these offer presents diminishing returns: once the platform provider has engineered too many industry specific components into its platform, its usefulness for other industries begins to be threatened, and with that so do the usefulness of the component tools built into the platform.

So it is with the CRM category that Salesforce.com has defined: it is generic enough to work for many industries, and yet still offers the potential for others to round off the edges and nail more vertically-oriented and extremely tailored software solutions.

Private capital markets are actually a great demonstration of this dynamic. Where generic CRM platforms simplify — appropriately so — to assume there’s a business, a customer, a sale, and service of that customer, there are a few industry-specific pieces that are missing.

Take for example, that investors become customers by investing through legal entities the GP raises. It’s a subtle but important nuance that just doesn’t make sense at a platform-as-a-service level (because it’s overly complicated for a simple one-time sale that many industries require), but which can easily be added without 10 years or software engineering. Once provided, the rest of the platform’s components become tremendously powerful again and you’re set to take over the world.

As a traditional CRM in our pillars methodology, these nuances must be present to properly account for investors in these legal entities, potential target companies and which are owned by these entities, the context of all interactions with these parties (as well as the appropriate overlap, ie co-investments), and how you’re arriving at finding these opportunities on both sides of the equation, such that you’re able to piece together what’s effective and what’s not. Not just because we say so, but because these are the very relationships and data that are key to the motivation behind a CRM in any industry.

It’s critical, too, that the valuable publicly-available information that helps to enrich CRM systems and save users painful steps of entering it themselves is fully-integrated at the platform level.

Again, look no further than the 3,000+ pre-built integrations that Salesforce.com — the creator of the CRM platform concept — has at a platform level to do so, and which only exists by way of holding just short of overly-specifying certain industry workflows that would present challenges to properly integrate.

Stakeholder reporting and communication (investor relations) draws on a range of datasets

The traditional “customer service” model of CRM systems once again makes overly-simplified assumptions about the customer relationship when applied to private capital markets.

In fifteen years I personally have yet to hear the terms “warranty” or “service call” in this market because it’s just not the same. But make no mistake, as uncomfortable as it may be to say aloud, customer service is more important now than ever and it’s constantly happening; the industry is, after all, considered to be a financial “service”.

As it turns out, that service is primarily information-based — it’s driven by data and takes the form of reports and analysis that drive decisions, and then end up again in investor-facing reports and analysis.

The foundational elements of a private capital markets CRM must be built such that they accommodate this data (like we discussed above), but so too that it can accommodate additional supporting data that investors (customers!) need in the context of service.

Oftentimes this supporting data — financial metrics and time-based values, for example — is believed not to meet the traditional definition of CRM and the natural thought is “well, better do this in Excel!”.

While I happen to believe Excel is still the greatest software application ever built, its introduction to this value chain we’ve discussed herein actually creates the problem many firms suffer from: key data needed to provide customer service (again: effectively the entirety of a firm’s reports and analysis) is now in disparate systems and detached.

Both of those dynamics are important and distinct: not only is this supplemental data disparate, but when brought together there is no logical association that can be made between the two data sets.

Allow me, then, to make the point very simply: not only can this financial and time-based value data (you may be thinking about is as “portfolio monitoring” or “accounting”) be a part of a CRM, it is arguably the most important part of a CRM because it’s at the core of what providing service to the customer entails — information that comes out of data!

Firms need a digital method to engage stakeholders (ie investor portals)

Investor portals are not new; in fact, for many of us — including myself — they conjure up horrifying nightmares in which we’re aimlessly guessing at folders to find the newest document we need.

So in lies the opportunity: not only have the portals we’ve come to hate not simplified the process of acquiring information, they’ve failed to create an entirely new experience that is “customer service” driven.

To be fair, this is not a B2C market where you’d be long out of business for not having focused on customer service and thus the customer’s technology-driven experience. But don’t expect to be around too much longer if you aren’t thinking about this shift.

Today’s institutional investors increasingly expect this same consumer-like experience, and a massive opportunity is being missed by not providing it. It’s not about providing them the experience they desire; it’s more about the ability to measure engagement that is had in return.

Put simply: what’s keeping the market from providing this experience is the availability of the information that’s required to create the service that provides the experience.

If you’ve hung in this long, you know that by focusing on your CRM, you have the data that’s required to manage the customer relationship and the technology-driven experience through which that information is shared to create a differentiated and opportunistic customer experience.

data management strategy