Why do some private equity system implementations succeed and others fail?

So, you’re thinking about a new Accounting/CRM/Investor Portal for your firm.  You’ve possibly even begun the due diligence process as you come to realize your current systems will not be able to support the firm’s growth.  Visions of a humming back office, a portal that LPs love, and a CRM that will keep everyone on the same page drive the selection process.  Everyone is excited for these improvements, but the big concern on everyone’s mind – the implementation.  This alone can scare off many firms from making a change even if they understand the benefits it will bring. The difference, though, between smooth sailing and what can feel like running through mud can be attributed to some prep work beforehand.

The reality is, it’s never too early to start thinking about the implementation process. Why?  Because taking a hard look at your current system, processes and people ahead of time can save many hours of frustration down the road.  Asking yourself questions like:  Who’s going to be involved?  What’s the current state of my information?   How will we measure success?  How hands-on, or off, will I need to be?  Are all good questions to think about. Having transitioned many clients from both desktop applications like MS Excel as well from other vendors’ systems, here are a few best practices I found that can make your implementation run more efficiently:

Understand the needs

This might seem like an obvious statement, but the reality is, separating the “must have” from the “nice to have’” will help define the scope of what should be done, and when.  Often, a phased approach will allow you to stay on budget.  Masking wants as needs will confuse the implementation – and may end up pushing it in the wrong direction.  A little honest homework upfront will have significant benefits down the road.

Setting the Goal(s)

Isn’t ‘understand the needs’ and ‘setting the goals’ the same thing?  Not exactly.  In software terms, understanding the needs is defining the business requirements, while goals define how the system is going to meet those needs. Shifting goals during the implementation can quickly bog down the process.  Be honest and clear with your vendor up front so that everyone is moving towards the same target.  The most successful organizations are the most cohesive – bonded by a single mission statement. Implementations are not that different.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

It can’t be said enough – communication between the trifecta of management, staff and the vendor will be paramount to a successful implementation.  Despite best intentions, sometimes needs and goals do change, and in those moments, it’s important to bring everyone together to establish the new target and roadmap, ensuring all parties are aligned moving forward.  Most likely, there are very few scenarios a well-established vendor hasn’t already experienced.  When possible it’s good to draw on that knowledge base.  Ultimately, you know your environment and the vendor knows theirs.  Meet in the middle.

Many of the firms we work with don’t know what to expect from their implementation.  That’s understandable.  With all good intentions at the onset, things can start to move sideways quickly.  Rationalized honesty about your current situation, realistic expectations, keeping the goal posts fixed, and a commitment to communication with your vendor can go a long way to keeping you out of the mud.