Ispent a good deal of time during the past few months on the road at various trade conferences, looking for technology trends and news. I found several worth highlighting.
APPLE'S MOUNTAIN LION
Brian McLaughlin, CEO and chief technology officer at Redtail Technology, captivated the audience at the Business & Wealth Management Forum in Denver (of which I'm a co-producer) with an overview of Apple's Mountain Lion operating system.
Among the key features McLaughlin talked up was AirPlay, a technology that allows you to wirelessly stream content to an HDTV from a Mac via Apple TV, a tiny, portable $100 device.
He also discussed the Notification Center, which resides on the right side of the screen and can be hidden when not needed. This is a unified center for alerts generated by such applications as Mail, Calendar and Reminders. Users need to modify their settings to customize Notification Center. They can also customize other features, such as the type of alert each app will use and the amount of alert history to be displayed. McLaughlin noted that Apple does not yet allow developers to integrate their own alerts with the Notification Center.
TIPS FOR MAC USERS
Many in the audience were interested in backup options for Macs. McLaughlin uses ChronoSync, a $40 program that can both back up files and synchronize them across multiple devices. McLaughlin also wrote his own app, which allows him to back up his files to Amazon S3, a cloud-based storage solution. He says that ChronoSync can work for advisors who want to back up to another hard drive or synchronize with it.
One advantage it has over Apple's Time Machine is that backups created by ChronoSync are bootable, which means you can run a Mac directly from the backup. For those looking for a simple cloud-based backup solution for Mac, he mentioned Carbonite as a possible solution.
McLaughlin offered a host of other tips. Among them: Novices who have trouble locating an app can usually find it through LaunchPad, which displays all apps in a fashion similar to that of the iPad and the iPhone.
Also, Mountain Lion's powerful search capabilities can be accessed by pressing the control key and the spacebar simultaneously, causing the Spotlight search window to appear. This window can be customized so that it searches only the file types you want to search. You can also change the order, so it first searches the file types you access most often. Spotlight can also perform math calculations and provide entry to Google searches.
Another timely technology session at the forum was the presentation by Robert Powell of Laser App Software about electronic signatures. Powell told the audience that e-signatures are necessary to enable the straight-through processing of new account forms, account transfers and the like. He also provided an overview of the laws that authorized e-signatures: the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act of 1999 and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000, which is also known as the E-Sign Act.
The E-Sign Act bars the rejection of electronic signatures if the denial is based solely on the fact that the signature is electronic, Powell said. He also examined the different types of electronic signatures and the four major e-signature providers: DocuSign, Adobe EchoSign, SigniX and Topaz Systems.
The big news out of the Advent- Connect Conference in Las Vegas was the rollout of Advent's new technology plan, dubbed the EnterprisePlus Cloud Strategy. The company's hybrid approach offers Advent customers cloud and mobility functionality without requiring them to forgo their existing server/desktop software installations.
The goal is to provide a unified cross-platform experience to users of various Advent products. If successful, this strategy will allow the firm to update some of the functionality of Advent products more rapidly with a cloud-based replacement. It will also allow Advent to extend some of the functionality products like APX and Geneva to the iPad and other mobile devices.
In addition, Advent made it clear that it is seeking integration partners in areas outside of its core competency, such as CRM and financial planning.
Peter Hess, the president and CEO of Advent Software, acknowledged some mistakes in the past with regard to Advent's positioning in the RIA space, but vowed to correct them. "When I walked into the Technology Tools for Today Conference in February of 2010, I realized that there was a whole RIA ecosystem that we were unaware of," he says. "That was one of the factors that led to the Black Diamond acquisition. We are totally committed to the RIA market, and we are totally committed to regaining credibility with RIAs." [Full disclosure: I'm a co-producer of the conference.]
Hess added that he intends to make sure that Black Diamond, which was acquired in 2011, has all of the resources it needs to deliver portfolio management and performance reporting for registered investment advisors.
At the Gemini Orion conference in Grapevine, Texas, Eric Clarke, the president and founder of Orion Advisor Services, announced that his firm was making a major investment to upgrade Orion's technology. By deploying new servers and upgrading existing ones to SQL Server 2012, Orion will move to a 64-bit platform, improving server performance. It is also investing about $1million to upgrade its storage area network, which makes data available to servers. According to Clarke, the new system will be five times more capable than the existing one.
These upgrades, combined with multithreading technology, will improve processing time significantly. For example, a rebalance process that now takes an hour for 20,000 accounts will soon be completed in a matter of minutes, Clarke estimates.
This month, Orion will also be upgrading its integration capabilities to include new reporting capabilities. For example, it will be able to integrate elements from a Money-GuidePro financial plan right into Orion reports. (Think of "reports" as a broad term - the financial planning elements will be available in paper reports, Web reports and the client portal, and through the mobile app.)
MoneyGuidePro Confidence Zone results can be incorporated into Orion reports, and are expected to be one of the most popular MoneyGuidePro reporting elements.
Early next year, Orion will start offering its own advisor email service as an additional avenue for advisors to deliver reports digitally to their clients.One reason for this development is that alternative delivery methods (file-sharing sites and client portals) are not being adopted as rapidly by clients as some advisors would like.
Lower adoption means that advisors have to continue sending paper statements to a high number of clients. That in turns means still paying for printing and postage, as well as the expense of having two distinct reporting workflows - one digital and one paper.
In addition, many advisory firms do not have the ability to customize email templates with the type of information Orion intends to provide.
With advisor email, advisory firms will be able to offer clients highly customizable email reports with all of the essential information that quarterly reports typically contain, except for personally identifiable information. It will also offer an ability to link users to the video market commentaries that Orion creates for advisors who subscribe to this service. Advisors will be able to create client groups and then create separate templates for each group or even individual clients, so that each person gets a report that meets his or her specific needs.
Orion will provide email hosting and archiving for advisors who want it. For those happy with their current email system, Orion will offer an option that allows advisors to deliver content and archive it through the existing email host.
Orion also provides advisors with many ways to enhance their websites. The splash page can be customized, as can the landing page. Pages can incorporate training videos, frames and video content. Custom Web tiles (widgets containing information) can also be placed throughout the site. Scan tags can be displayed that link to a mobile site, for example.
Orion also announced enhancements to Orion Connect. This platform, built on the Salesforce infrastructure, combines Orion's portfolio management and reporting solution with Salesforce CRM tools. Among its many appealing features is the ability to create custom dashboards for different employee roles or levels.
So, for example, a firm could customize one view for a manager, a different view for a wealth manager and another view for back-office personnel. You can also create separate views for examining data at the household and account levels. The goal is to make the data needed for each role or task available immediately with the fewest possible clicks.
MAJOR UPGRADE CYCLE
One takeaway from my recent conference tour is that technology is again moving to the forefront after years of neglect. Firms that want to expand and increase their efficiency realize that technology can play a crucial role in their development, and they are demanding more of their vendors. The vendors in turn are responding with software that is more functional and easier to use.
There is an increased awareness that the cloud and mobile technologies are going to play a critical role in the evolution of financial planning in the years ahead. Almost every leading vendor is developing new products, or refining existing ones, for the cloud and mobile.
Laser App's Powell pointed out in Denver that e-signatures are the leading remaining impediment to the wide deployment of straight-through processing. He predicted that e-signatures will become widely available to RIAs and independent B-Ds next year.
By all appearances, it seems we are now in the early stages of a major technology upgrade cycle. The release of Windows Server 2012, Windows 8, new Windows mobile devices and Microsoft Office 2013 all indicate that technology will need to remain in the forefront of advisors' consciousness in the year ahead.
Joel Bruckenstein is a Financial Planning editor-at-large and co- creator of the Technology Tools for Today newsletter and confer- ence series. He is also president of Global Financial Advisors in Mira- mar, Fla. For more info, visit JoelBruckenstein.com.