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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.

May was devoted to IPS AdvisorPro, an application that creates investment policy statements. In June, I took a break from technology and covered the Morningstar Investment Conference.

July was the annual "free stuff" issue. I covered a number of free security applications from Comodo, a firm that continues to intrigue me. Comodo offers a full suite of free security products (antivirus, firewall, antispam) as well as a free backup program and a free iVault program. Comodo makes its money selling SSL certificates, authentication products, and other useful security related items. Also of interest is a free document-management software package called Docsvault Home Edition.

The focus in August was Microsoft Office 2007 beta. With the official release of Office 2007 expected soon, this is a good time to revisit that article. Office 2007 is a major rewrite of the entire Office Suite of products. Everything from the interface to the files formats will be changing. This promises to create some short-term headaches for all advisors, whether you upgrade immediately or not. The silver lining, if there is one, is that once you get used to it (and it can take some time), the new user interface is more intuitive than the current one.

In September, we got our first look at Upswing, a new, reasonably priced online CRM system. We also looked at some utilities that can help you keep your hard drive clean and healthy. In October, I wrote about another new online CRM application called Advisor Tools, and I concluded that it was best suited for those practices that put a high premium on marketing. I also addressed an angry letter from a reader who had a bad experience using one of the utilities I recommended in September. That letter served as a reminder to me that readers need to be reminded to use all new programs with care. So, I'll remind you again: Always back up, and always create a restore point before making major changes to your system (read the article for all the details).

Last month, we focused on e-mail-related issues. I discussed one method of sending secure e-mail: a service of Echoworx, which can be purchased through USA.NET at a reasonable cost. I also addressed add-ins that will increase your productivity with Outlook. If you feel that e-mail is taking over your life, or if you just want to work more effectively within your e-mail application, this article should help.

'Tis the Season
Before I relegate my 2006 articles to a virtual folder in preparation for 2007, I want to say thanks to Jerry Kerns, who has edited almost all of my work here for a number of years. Although most readers would never know it, Jerry does a wonderful job behind the scenes of catching my mistakes, adding links, adding graphics, and getting everything posted to the site on time. He's a true professional!

Second, I'd like to take a moment to thank all of the readers of this column for another gratifying year. One of the many advantages of writing for MorningstarAdvisor is the short time lag between completion of an article and its posting on the site. As a result, I tend to get rapid, and often passionate, responses from readers. The messages I receive are a critical ingredients to the continued success of this column, so please keep them coming. I can be reached, as always, at Joel.Bruckenstein@morningstar.com. I cannot always reply to each e-mail, but I can promise you that I read them all.

Here's wishing all of you a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year!

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