SAN DIEGO - When it comes to designing system and workflow automation for your firm, keep it simple, a panel of experts said at the TD Ameritrade Institutional national conference in San Diego.

“Come up with the simple and applicable rather than [trying to automate] every random scenario” in your firm, Spenser Segal, CEO of ActiFi in Plymouth, Minn., told attendees.

Here are 12 more tips from the panel:

Understand Your Firm’s Flow: Take the time to consider the process of automating your workflows. “A question I often start with [to clients] is, ‘How does your office change an address?’” said Erin Kincheloe, director of client experience at Junxture in Raleigh, N.C. “Then I sit back and watch it play. One person says, ‘We do this.’ And, another, ‘No we do that.’” Understand the way your firm approaches workflow, she said.

Workflows Before Systems: Make sure you sort out the basic, repeated workflows before you try to design systems.

New Tricks Before New Technology: Use your existing technology more effectively before buying new technology.

Technology is Backbone of Scalability: People trump process, process trumps technology and technology is the backbone of building a scalable business, Spenser said.

Change is Hard: The two biggest issues are human behavioral change and competency. For some firms, the people don’t want to change. Meanwhile, most firms lack a core competence around process engineering.

Staff Preferences: Make sure you understand how your people work. Some will want to receive a long automatically created workflow to-do list in their inbox. Others won’t want to receive a single automated task.

Find Tasks to Streamline: Ask who is doing each task in your firm and if the right person is doing that work. If an advisor is filling out paperwork, that’s not a good use of time. Find out if there are any pieces that can be automated, streamlined or shortened.

Collaborate: Don’t delegate to one person the task of designing workflow processes. The process needs to be collaborative.

Understand Process Value: 90% of the business value will come from about 10% of your processes, according to Segal, so think about processes in terms of cost, frequency and value.

Don’t Blame Technology: Technology is a great way to hide your mistakes, said Alex Murguia, managing principal of McLean Asset Management in McLean, Va. People sometimes say, “It’s not me, it’s my platform.” Then they get a new platform and say, “it’s not me, it’s my platform,” he said. If this is a repeated issue, Murguia said, you need to ask yourself if you are in the right business.

Avoid Automation Overkill: Don’t be overly elaborate, Murguia said. “The biggest issue we’ve had at McLean is overkill. Are you being overly elaborate for the sake of being overly elaborate? That’s been the bane of our existence at McLean. It’s like a rinse and repeat cycle,” he said. 

Be Consistent: Your practice can be more customized and client-centric when you rely more on systems and develop a consistent workflow.