By Amy Newlan, Maestro, and Jonathan Balkin, Lionpoint Group
Across the private equity ecosystem, sponsors continue to invest in and recognize the value of technology. With record deal activity and intensified competition from existing and new funds, enlightened funds no longer see tech as a luxury, but rather as mission critical to attracting investment, winning deals, extracting maximum portfolio value, and delivering results.
All that said, tech holdouts do remain.
In some cases, sponsor CFOs are hesitant to outlay budget. In others, management teams and operating partners are resistant to change their embedded ways and processes. And sometimes, tech adoption is stymied by those who perceive the procurement and implementation to be an unwanted headache.
Among those still sitting on the tech sidelines, a common set of themes, attitudes, and perceptions – or misperceptions – have emerged. We’ve identified the five most pervasive and, to give a nudge in the right direction, offer the facts that should sufficiently remove any lingering reluctance.
Objection No. 1: We’re too busy chasing deals, in the diligence process, etc. to focus on non-core activities like technology
Yes, PE has never been more fast-paced and frenetic than it is right now. Finding time to do anything other than focus on core deal sourcing and value creation activities is a challenge. But eschewing technology investment on this account is short-sighted. As your firm continues to add new companies to the portfolio, the requirements for strategy execution will grow exponentially. Kicking the proverbial tech can down the road will result in missed opportunities to improve efficiencies in the way you scale the capital you’ve deployed and generate value from current and newly acquired assets.
Objection No. 2: Implementing a new software platform is too complex
The assumption that new technology necessitates a time-consuming, costly and lengthy implementation process is erroneous. Today’s new and modernized software platforms are designed to be onboarded quickly and without the need for complex integrations, meaning that your organization can begin using it and generating value sooner than later. Given that today’s platforms are built on open APIs, they can easily connect with existing systems that are part of the firm’s workflow if that is a requirement. And with almost everything available as a service, you can acquire a license and be up and running in a matter of hours.
Objection No. 3: I don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to roll-out new tech and train partners and portfolio management teams
Of course you don’t. Technology projects are usually not initiated because the CFO or a bunch of partners are sitting around with nothing to do. If you have recognized a need for technology and identified the solution, understand that today’s platforms are incredibly intuitive and turn-key in nature, even for a non-technical user. They are designed to be used right away, not six to nine months from now. Should a more complex implementation be required down the road, there are resources that can offer this support, including the software provider itself or third-party integration specialists. In many cases, these resources can get your firm up and running on the new system and deriving value sooner than later without diverting internal bandwidth and partner power.
Objection No. 4: We know we need to invest in technology, but we’ll just make do with what we have
Sponsors and CFOs that adopt this mentality will find themselves perpetually lagging behind their competitors and never able to move off old-school processes that are inefficient, time-consuming, non-collaborative, and, ultimately, self-defeating. Firms that resist technology will have a hard time recruiting and then retaining talent, particularly younger employees who are eager to join funds operating in a more modernized way. Furthermore, delaying tech investment will only add to the challenge of catching up down the line while, in the meantime, you lose good people and struggle to manage investments or raise money for the next funding round.
Objection No. 5: We’ve invested in technology in the past and never really used it
Any technology implementation must be accompanied by a change management plan, one that has executive buy-in, drives adoption, and incentivizes use across the ecosystem. If users see the new platform as duplicative or extra work, or feel like its use is optional, they are not being properly counseled as to the benefits. You get one chance to roll out new technology, so have a thoughtful and meaningful plan that generates excitement and makes clear how the new platform will improve and enhance daily working routines and operating rhythms.
From budget to bandwidth to just being too busy, there will always be reasons to delay or defer investments in technology. But in the long run, the winning sponsors will be the ones who find both the will and the way.
Amy Newlan is SVP of client development for Maestro, the software business focused on maximizing value in private equity-backed companies. Jonathan Balkin is co-founder and executive director of Lionpoint Group, a global consulting firm for digital transformation in the alternative investments industry.