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The 2006 Technology Year in Review

2006 was a great year of technology for advisors.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 12/14/2006

This January, join Joel in Miami Beach for the 2007 Technology Tools for Today Conference. Learn how today's latest technology can improve your practice.

As is our tradition in December, it's time to take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of the topics covered in my columns this past year. My review of 2006 is an opportunity to provide additional insight on topics already covered and rethink recommendations as necessary. But more importantly, it gives me an opportunity to remind you of some helpful ideas that you may have previously overlooked in the course of your typically busy days. I hope the holiday lull will allow you some time to reflect on your technology decisions during 2006 and allow you to plan for 2007.

I started off the year with a discussion of AJAX, at the time a little-known technology in the advisory world. While the article focused on AJAX as it relates to Web-based e-mail, the significance of AJAX extends well beyond that.

In a nutshell, AJAX is a technology that allows Web-based applications to behave more like desktop applications. Whenever something on a traditional Web page changes, the whole Web page must redraw. This takes time. As a result, until recently, Web applications were not as responsive as desktop applications. This need to redraw pages also limited functionality that we take for granted within desktop applications; the ability to drag and drop is one obvious example of this. AJAX technology allows developers to create Web pages that only redraw what has changed on a Web page. This not only makes the pages more responsive, it enables much of the desktop-like functionality that users appreciate. AJAX is an important development. By improving the quality, speed, and functionality of Web-based applications, it may hasten the move toward the use of more online programs by advisors and their clients.

In my other January column, I introduced advisors to Ovation, an application the helps advisors easily create better, more sophisticated Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.
In February, I discussed Fidelity Labs, an innovative incubator of beta applications that was modeled after Google Labs. At the time, I profiled two online applications: a financial search and a mortgage search. On a recent visit, those two tools were still there, as were two others: a savings-rate finder and a free-checking finder. Fidelity Labs is a really good idea, and I hope other firms follow suit.

I also discussed key loggers in February. These software programs can be a good or a bad thing, depending on who you are and how they are being used. One legitimate use might be to make sure employees within a firm, or people within your home, are not using technology inappropriately. Unfortunately, key loggers are often used by cyber criminals to illegally spy on unsuspecting victims and steal their passwords. At the very least, advisors need to be aware of these programs and their uses, as well as their misuses.

In March, we turned our attention to telecom. It is clear to me that convergence in this sector is taking place. Cell phone providers are offering music and video in addition to e-mail and Internet connectivity. Cable companies are offering telephone service. Traditional phone companies are offering various data services over their pipes. Will all of this affect the way you do business in the future? You bet it will. Video conferencing and enhanced e-mail services are becoming commonplace, as is VoIP. You can be sure that new telecom technologies are being tested at this very minute that will have an impact on your business in the future.

In April, I discussed some other innovative ways that Fidelity is using technology to help advisors. Fidelity Plan Sponsor Advantage was one example discussed. Another was  Fidelity Roadmap Planning Tool for RIAs. This tool is designed for financial-service professionals in other channels who wish to convert to an independent RIA model. It should be pointed out that Fidelity is not alone here. TD Ameritrade and Schwab also have developed tools to aid those looking to enter the independent RIA sector.

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