We often take for granted the huge role technology plays in our lives; that is, until an issue threatens to disrupt the entire way we do business.

It was December 2009 when our CRM software provider made the call to us. The shock was profound when they informed us they were no longer supporting our CRM software and that it was being phased out effective December 2010. We had purchased the system over 25 years before, and had used it extensively to keep personal and policy data, recorded telephone calls, memos, letters, agreements and all means of communications with our clients and product providers.

My first thought was, it’s a great time to retire – but who would pay for my daughters’ tuition fees at university? After the initial shock, I called in our IT person and asked her what to do next. She reassured me the world had not come to an end. Although looking for a new system, transferring the files and training our staff on a new program was a big job, it wasn’t as bad as I envisaged.

That conversation started a year-long project of reviewing the various CRM programs on the market, choosing a system, and beginning the implementation of the system in our office.

During the 12 months that followed, our IT team met with several suppliers and spoke to many references. We had presentations from the finalists and made a determination of the type of system we needed.

We are a full-service, high-touch agency. Included in our product offerings are all lines of insurance products: life, critical illness, long-term disability and long-term care insurance. We’re also involved in retirement planning and use fixed annuities, variable annuities and segregated funds. Our group division is involved in health and welfare plans, group retirement plans and other group products.

We reach out and “touch” our clients in one form or another approximately eight times annually, aside from sending them holiday cards and calling them on their birthdays. The system we selected had to manage all the products and the day-to-day running of the office – no small feat.

The challenge we faced in selecting a system was finding one that did everything. Some systems were very good with respect to the insurance aspect, but didn’t make the cut on the investment side of the business. Some were very user-friendly and others were just plain scary. As the 14 assistants in the office had varying levels of computer literacy, and would all need to be trained to use the new system, anything too technical was out of the question.

Our approach to the challenge was to create a team led by our IT person. The team was made up of a representative from each of our interest groups. Each had their own goals in mind as to the features of the system. Together, they built a vision of the type of program they needed.

We also had to determine if the system was going to be Web-based or local, and whether it would integrate or not with Microsoft. We knew it had to be compatible with other systems so that it could download information from the Internet to update records and the values of segregated funds.

Finally, we also wanted the system to be flexible enough that we could build in some of the unique processes we use in our office.

As I write this column, we’re nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. The final programs are being written and data is being transferred. The testing will begin next month. I’ll let you know how it goes.

David Wm. Brown, CFP, CLU, Ch.F.C., RHU, TEP, is a member of the MDRT, and a partner at Al G. Brown and Associates in Toronto.

Originally published in Advisor's Edge