Industry Expert Answers Our Data Management Questions

At what point does it make sense to invest in data management technology?

As soon as a firm knows it wants to scale to the point where the need for data management is going to be inevitable, it ceases to become a question of when you have to do it and it becomes a question of “when is your ROI on making that switch going to be highest?” (assuming the the resources are available).

It’s easy to incorporate annual licensing and maintenance costs when running the numbers but firms shouldn’t forget the implicit costs that are associated with making the switch from a Microsoft Office based system (Excel, Outlook, etc.) later in the life cycle. Decision makers should consider the sharp increase in internal man-hours required for these efforts when existing, entrenched processes have to be re-engineered, data has to be cleansed and transformed and in some cases, data that could have been easily captured is so disparate or dirty that it is no longer economical to bring it into the new system. You’re also making a bet about the speed at which the business will scale – and there are implications in both directions for improperly timing IT spend with growth and expansion.

In those terms, I think the question becomes when does the added business value and costs of upgrading a data management system sooner compare favorably to the increase in implicit (and sometimes explicit) switching costs that firms will incur if they upgrade later. There’s no right answer to this question, though. It all depends on the firm and the people.

Is the threshold at which it makes sense for a firm to invest in data management earlier than it used to be?

Absolutely. Generally speaking the costs of today’s data management systems are lower. Many of those inputs driving the ROI of a data management system have changed significantly over the last 5 or 10 years – subscription pricing models have dramatically changed the economics, system configuration and administration tasks have become more democratic, integration tools continue to improve every year – all of these things shift that point of parity on the timeline between sooner vs. later further to the left. And that doesn’t even consider the expanded applications for a data management system that have increased the average business value per licensing dollar of many of these systems.

Is it easier to get ROI if you invest in data management sooner than it is if you wait?

I’m not sure easier is the right word. I would say that the point where the average firm can achieve favorable ROI is much earlier in its life than it was 5 years ago. I would also say that a firm is more likely to achieve their anticipated ROI than they were before. In other words, execution and technology risk for the implementation of data management systems is much lower than it used to be.

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 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 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 — 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.