Considering a new tech project? We asked three experts about some crucial aspects of implementing a new piece of technology. Read responses below from Ned Gannon, president of eBrevia, James Fung, chief technology officer of Northleaf Capital, and John Manganiello, head of business development at RFA.
What should PE firms/CFOs consider before deciding on a piece of technology?
John Manganiello: CFOs should take into consideration how the new application will fit into the current IT and cybersecurity environment and overall strategy. The conversion from ‘on premise’ infrastructure such as data centers to a cloud or SaaS based model should be a key factor. Another concept is assessing how this fits in the firm’s overall data strategy and to centralize data from the new technology into a data warehouse for business intelligence purposes. Lastly, they should think how it can be integrated into other applications and technologies via business process automation and integrations.
James Fung: First and foremost, we want to be clear on the problem we are solving for, whether it is a business change that we have to address, or issues with the underlying process or resource constraint. If we decide to explore a technology solution, we want to be laser-focused on the primary objective for the solution so that we will not be distracted by the “bells and whistles” of the solutions of the day.
Once we start a search, we need to maintain priority in evaluating the technology’s ability to address the business problem, together with its capability in security, the costs and change management, that is, both the onboarding of the technology to gain initial success, as well as ongoing support.
“In our experience, the most successful implementations of a given technology start with the users’ pain points”
Ned Gannon: Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the excitement around a given type of technology such as artificial intelligence. In our experience, the most successful implementations of a given technology start with the users’ pain points. It’s better to find the right solution for a particular problem or process than to have a solution in search of a problem.
It’s also useful to focus on technologies that can create value for users right away. This helps with adoption if users see the benefits of the software early in the process. Setting expectations around both the advantages and limitations of a given technology is important too. For example, we’re very candid about the fact that eBrevia’s contract analytics software doesn’t totally eliminate the need for an attorney in the contract review process but rather helps them do their job more accurately and efficiently.
How long should the decision-making process take?
JM: This process can take three to 12 months depending on the relevance of the technology and application. It is important to start with an IT infrastructure and data strategy and/or roadmap.
JF: This will vary owing to how much we know of the solution and how quickly the suppliers can respond to the request. It can range from several weeks to several months for us depending on the complexity of the solution and often, the availability of our people given the day-to-day business demand of their time.
NG: This depends on the type of technology being implemented as well as the entity itself. In addition to PE firms, we work with some of the world’s largest audit/consulting firms, law firms, corporations and financial institutions. Each of our customers across these types of entities has moved at a different pace with respect to decision making. Two common themes in most decision-making processes include: (i) a pilot period where prospective customers can try to software (usually six to eight weeks), and (ii) a security review.
What should the testing process consist of?
JM: The business-users are critical in providing details regarding the business need and feedback during the design and implementation phase
NG: The testing or pilot phase should focus not only on the core technology (in our case, using machine learning to extract data from contracts) but also on how intuitive the user interface is and how naturally users can incorporate the software into their current routines. In addition to evaluating the software itself, PE firms should also gauge how much they like working with the vendor and the quality of the support they are receiving during this process.
“IT is merely the custodian and advisor on the technology, and it is the business who needs to own the solution”
What should communication be like within the firm when implementing new tech?
JM: There needs to be adherence to a robust project management process between the business users and CFO/operations group. Third-party project management tools should be considered in creating timelines and assigning tasks/ownership
JF: Whatever technology we choose to implement, we have to keep in mind that it is a business solution. By that I mean IT is merely the custodian and advisor on the technology, and it is the business who needs to own the solution. Thus, business needs to be onside from the get-go, their involvement needs to be active throughout the implementation, and they need to be the champion on the solution. Having said that, there are some firm-wide solutions that cut across business units, but it does not negate the critical need to have business involved and have their inputs continuously injected into the process.
NG: We recommend that the PE firm personnel responsible for communicating the new technology to users work closely with our team in crafting a message that will resonate and help the users get up to speed as quickly as possible. Often that message can be tailored to the specific use cases or pain points that a particular group of users is facing.
“The PE GP is in a historic transition where technology and the applications used to run the GP are critical to attracting and retaining capital”
Anything else you want to add?
JM: The PE GP is in a historic transition where technology and the applications used to run the GP are critical to attracting and retaining capital. Another key consideration is ensuring their portfolio companies follow a similar model to ensure they are utilizing the latest technologies in running their businesses.