From the May 2007 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

Walk -- don't run -- to the latest technology offering

"How will buying a copy of this computer program help me spend more time with my clients?"

While countless reviews of new technology are published every month, this question is seldom, if ever, asked. Reviewers focus their attention on exciting new bells and whistles, but are these incremental improvements valuable enough to justify taking time away from your clients to purchase, install and learn new software?

It's tempting to believe that software -- or any off-the-shelf technology -- will have a major impact on your business. Technology companies represent their latest release as a required component of a successful practice. Spend your time learning and using their software, they say, and your practice will profit. The promotional campaign surrounding the release of Microsoft Windows Vista, released earlier this year, is a perfect example.

Touted as providing tremendous benefits for business users, it's had a negligible impact on office productivity almost six months into its release.

Unfortunately for the technology companies, research tells us the most profitable advisors are not those who have mastered the latest technology, but rather those who devote the largest percentage of their day to client meetings. According to a survey by Advisor Benchmarking, advisors in the top 10 percent of profitability spend more than 60 percent of their time with clients. But rather than working to increase their client face time, advisors are spending an increasing amount of time on administrative tasks, including that of technology. The following strategies can help reprioritize your practice for maximum profitability.

Buy for time saving -- When comparing software packages, focus on features such as process automation and ease of use. Advanced features are valuable, but they require advanced training. Look for applications and services that give back more staff time than they consume.

Pass over the latest and greatest for the tried and true -- Flashy graphics and slick hardware should take a back seat to solutions with established track records. Cutting-edge technology carries risks beyond premium pricing. First-generation products may have bugs and may not operate seamlessly within your office. Training and third-party support are scarce. And because emerging technology is often comprised of multiple standards that compete with one another, you could potentially bet on a losing team. Save yourself the hassle by waiting a year and allowing the market to stabilize before making a purchase. Search for products that have an established market presence and a satisfied customer base.

Create, hire or partner with an expert -- Don't attempt to master every piece of software in your office. Instead, cultivate expertise in your staff and ensure they are cross-trained on the various programs. Hire consultants for complicated projects, and include staff training as part of the contract. Seek out partnerships with larger organizations, and identify ways your practice can rely on their expertise. Can you eliminate un-needed hardware, outsource time-consuming tasks or share costly infrastructure?

Don't be afraid to abandon technology -- When a piece of software doesn't deliver, it's tempting to spend more time with it. But what if the software never provides needed results? It's difficult to dump an expensive piece of technology, even after your entire staff has declared it a failure. Remember that the initial purchase price of technology often pales in comparison to the cost the staff pours into making it work. While every new program has an adjustment period, learn to recognize ill-fitting solutions, and cut your losses early.

It's also tempting to use every last feature available in a program; after all, you've paid for the compete set of tools. But keep in mind that many functions might not apply to your business. Don't feel guilty about underutilizing technology. Rather, focus on the features that have the biggest impact on streamlining your practice.

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