The quarter is ending. An office needs to gather information for performance reports. Documents are everywhere-market commentary is in Word files, performance measurement data is in the portfolio management system, client profiles are in the CRM system. Documents are pulled from everywhere. Facts and figures are manually aggregated. Pages are created, passed about and given to employees to fact check and proof.

That's the picture author Neesha Hathi paints in her Practice story ("Integration Issues," page 89). Not exactly a model of efficiency. And, as she says, not an uncommon portrait of what happens in many RIA offices.

Advisors, she notes, have made substantial investments in technology over the last few years. And, as we found in our annual technology survey (page 60)-which was led again this year by tech expert Joel Bruckenstein-financial planning software, customer relationship management packages and portfolio management systems have become everyday tools. And compliance and rebalancing software are being used.

With depressed asset levels, increased compliance requirements, heightened competition and Great Recession belt tightening, automation is no longer an option. Each year, the percentage of RIAs who say they are willing to spend more on technology to improve their operations inches up. This year, 65% said they'd be willing to buy more technology than they had in the past to boost productivity.

But just spending money on hardware and software isn't the answer. Hathi cites a Schwab RIA Benchmarking Study that found that the RIAs who spent the most on technology weren't always the ones who saw the highest operating margins.

The key to technology success is being able to tie systems together. Easier said than done, of course. In the Schwab survey, 53% of advisors said systems integration was one of their biggest challenges.

But there are ways to integrate systems properly and reap the rewards of technology investments. Hathi recommends having a clear, practical plan for technology; designing a workflow with the new technology in mind; and establishing metrics-even as simple as employee satisfaction surveys- to measure your success.

Over the next few years, the ability to integrate systems fully will become a critical success factor. Consider this: More than 3,100 readers responded to this year's survey. Of those, 1,800 answered our question about which smartphone they were using. Seventeen percent said they had an Apple iPad, but an astonishing 51% said they plan to buy one in the next year.

It's one thing to wrestle with office technology. It's quite another to manage mobile computing. And still another to master suites of customer-facing and back-office software. As Hathi says, "As advisors look for ways to boost efficiency and profitability, technology integration should top their priority list."

As we head into 2011, what tops your list?

-John McCormick, editorial director