What Is “Integration”?

Posted by Darren Tedesco

December 14, 2012 at 2:30 PM

You hear the term integration all the time. In our industry, almost every advertisement boasts technology tools that are “fully integrated,” allowing users to have a “seamless experience.” But what does that truly mean?

First off, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to marketing; just saying something is true doesn’t make it so. What’s known as the “hotel swimming pool” concept comes into play here. That is, there are certain features you just have to list in your marketing materials, even though most people will never use them, like a hotel swimming pool. True integration is different in that advisors will—and want to—benefit from it.

These days, open architecture is the phrase du jour mentioned by broker/dealers and custodians alike. The concept itself is a thing of beauty, best described via an example. Envision five doors, each with a certain software function behind it. In our industry, the five doors might be labeled as follows:

  • Portfolio management (performance reporting and so on)
  • Document management (imaging)
  • Contact management (CRM)
  • Trade/model management (rebalancing)
  • Wealth management (planning)

In theory, each of these doors or functions could have 5 software vendors behind it (25 total), all of which would work “seamlessly” with each other. But this is where theory and practice begin to diverge. And that’s where my vision of a truly integrated technology world for financial advisors comes in. That vision is defined as follows:

  • All core functions that an advisor needs to do the job are integrated in one software platform. Bringing together the best-of-the-best software offers several key advantages for advisors. One obvious benefit is that sharing data across the platform reduces data entry for the user. Another is that the advisor has outsourced the due diligence on which vendors offer the best functionality, including ensuring that the software has the flexibility to support multiple business models with ease. Additionally, an integrated platform avoids the “paradox of choice,” when too many—or sometimes even any—choices paralyze decision-making. Of course, this platform should support all browsers, operating systems, and devices.
  • Information and operations are integrated. Although many firms still aren’t doing this, passing data between applications is only the price of admission these days. For example, if you’re looking at a page showing any given household’s holdings, you should be able to sell from there, journal positions from there, or even change how dividends or capital gains are coded on a position, account, or household. If you update an address in CRM, that should update the custodian’s books and records. You should be able to look at your calendar and, with a single click, generate portfolio reports for all the clients you’re meeting with in the upcoming days. True integration involves more than just data.
  • The advisor’s experience is integrated. Defining an “experience” might be even more challenging that defining integration or CRM (likely a future post). But, for me, the experience is largely determined by the user interface that advisors must navigate—and learn! Most people would acknowledge that learning five different interfaces is more difficult and overwhelming than learning just one. Consistent navigation, buttons, and the like help the user feel comfortable and empowered, which ultimately leads to a better experience.

One thing holds true for both integration and software: Nothing is ever really complete; there is always more that can be accomplished. May your integrated software functions, information and operations, and experience be great and continue to evolve!

Topics: Technology

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