by Tony Vidler
Professionals keep getting their fingers caught in the trap of “penny pinching”, especially in IT. This is especially crazy when the IT is protecting the IP.
We know that there are many many areas where cheap actually becomes expensive in the long-run, and nowhere is this more true in my view than when it comes to the decisions we make around our information technology use, and how that can enhance or protect our intellectual property.
In a “service” business our intellectual property is the combination of existing relationships, areas of expertise and store of technical knowledge within the firm, together with our own unique tools and documents and communications tactics to enhance the delivery of advice and maintenance of client relationships. Typically we store the majority of this IP in a CRM system.
The entire security system to protect this IP is still often a single password and user name for access. Used by everyone in the practice…and when a staff member leaves the password and user name is typically not changed either.
And WE are in the business of providing professional personalised advice and guarding the privacy and confidentiality of our clients affairs.
The backup facilities to ensure restoration and protection of the IP are whatever a particular software supplier built in to the package…and typically the practice relies upon that software vendor entirely for data backup.
The practice joins an institutional group, or a dealer group, or a network of like-minded professionals or whatever and perhaps gets a discounted price on their software subscription for the CRM. Cool…$50/month saved drops straight to the bottom line, right? Later they find that the group actually controls the CRM licence and has ownership rights in all the data stored thereon…maybe the practice even finds that it is now a captive as it cannot move its own client data out of either the group or the CRM program without other parties agreement. Was that worth $600 saving (or whatever) per year per user? Not only has a practice then not protected its data and IP adequately, but it doens’t even control it.
Even when practices are smarter than that on their IT issues, they overlook the value of buying extra licenses. Again, the penny-pinching mindset of saving $200/month perhaps by not paying for an additional licence for an admin person to be able to use the system continually and effectively under their own login (and with the associated audit trail this provides) more often than not results in 3 or 4 x that cost being introduced in the form of additional labour (more staff or more overtime hours) or inefficiencies (lost staff time/labour hours) as multiple users wait their turn to use the system.
Even if you don’t quite buy in to the concept that our use of technology, especially in the CRM area, is usually the store of value for our firm (and that should be worth spending a bit of money on!), you don’t have to pay too much attention to the press to realise that the following issues are looming as massive ones globally:
We’ve sen in the last couple of years how a big data breach has impacted upon the reputation and market confidence in some firms…what would it do to our own ability to retain client support if it happened to an advisory practice?
IT systems and protection of the intellectual property of a professional practice are no longer areas to indulge in penny-pinching, if indeed they ever were. The cost to a practice of trying to save a few hundred dollars a month or whatever, and the potential liability issues for company officers and practice principals, is simply too great.