Think about it: Labor prices only go up, while technology prices drop over time. Which do you want to pursue as a first line of attack against your firm's efficiency challenges?
Yeah, we thought so, which is why we've compiled 10 technology tools for your consideration. If just one makes a difference in your efficiency, then you'll be glad you read this article.
Dell Latitude D620After keeping a close eye on new laptops coming onto the market, I made up a wish list of features I wanted in my new laptop:o A Core 2 Duo processoro CD/DVD read-writeo Wireless-capableo Built-in EVDOo Biometricso Bluetootho Six-hour batteryo Weight of three pounds or lesso Four USB slotso 14" screeno Three-year onsite warrantyo A price under $2,000
Sounds impossible, doesn't it? But the Dell Latitude D620, costing less than $1,500, includes most of the above. The Core 2 Duo -- Intel's maximum-performance/minimal power-consumption processor -- is blazingly fast. And if I set the screen brightness on extreme power-management mode, I can get a true six hours of battery life. For the Internet, I can connect automatically to a wireless network or, if one's not available, I can connect via Verizon Broadband.
What doesn't work? The biometric fingerprint security feature is on-again/off-again and the laptop weighs 5.4 pounds because I chose the long-life battery.
Yet, this laptop is a keeper, offering so much for so little.
Webroot SpySweeperFor the uninitiated, spyware is software that -- unbeknownst to you -- installs itself on your computer to monitor your activities and collect personal information. The way to keep spyware off your computer is to do a sweep-and-removal periodically or, better yet, install software that will prevent spyware installation in real time.
The problem with the latter is that programs designed to conduct security operations "in the background" while you work too often slow down the computer they are meant to protect. However, SpySweeper from Webroot Software accomplishes the task more thoroughly and unobtrusively than any similar product on the market.
Check out this software for just $29.95 per year for a single computer or $39.95 for a three-user pack. Yes, we said "per year." A new trend in software is annual licensing fees rather than a one-time sales price.
At least the price is reasonable.
Norton 360Norton 360 is one security suite that fixes more problems than it causes.
A next-generation, all-in-one solution designed for consumers, Norton 360 is also appropriate for small businesses. What really sets Norton 360 apart from the pack, though, is its level of automation. Even the computer-illiterate can feel comfortable with this security suite.
Norton 360 protects you from viruses, spyware, phishing attempts, online identity theft, and provides both a firewall and two gigabytes of secure online storage. In addition to these core functions, Norton 360 subscribers can install a free add-on pack including anti-spam protection, parental controls, and ad blocking.
At $59.99 a year, Norton 360 is designed to be a security suite you install and forget about.
Aliph JawboneAs a writer who does a lot of telephone interviews requiring that my hands be free for typing, I've tried my share of Bluetooth headsets. Most have disappointed.
Not so of the Aliph Jawbone, though. Radical name? Yes. Radical design? Yes. Radical technology? Thankfully, yes.
The Jawbone employs "adaptive sound technology," originally developed by the Department of Defense to maximize communications clarity in wartime situations (or, in your case, rush hour traffic).
A sensor on the Jawbone's inner surface rests gently against your cheek detecting vibrations produced by your speech instead of picking up sounds produced by your mouth. This enables the Jawbone to isolate your words from the ambient noise around you, dampening the latter so your caller hears more of your voice with less background noise.
Since using the Jawbone, I've had only a fraction of the I-can't-hear-you complaints common with other headsets I've used. If you need the level of headset clarity I do, you should find the Jawbone worth every penny of its $120 retail price.
JottSometimes a simple, free, stand-alone utility will fill a need you'd be willing to pay to have filled. Jott is one of those utilities.
Here's how it works. You let Jott get to know you first: your e-mail address and phone number, that is. Next -- often when you're on the road -- you call Jott's toll-free number and say something into your phone like, "Pick up an anniversary gift before the weekend or suffer the consequences." By the time you get back to your e-mail inbox, the reminder will be waiting for you as text in the body of an e-mail. Jott has used its voice recognition feature to convert your message to the written word.
You can send messages to others, too. And did I mention that it's free?
IPS AdvisorProIPS AdvisorPro, a Web-based application developed by veteran financial advisors Norm Boone and Linda Lubitz, helps firms create professional and compliant Investment Policy Statements.
Those who have never drafted an IPS might question the need for an application that automates this task, but IPS AdvisorPro recognizes there is no "one-size-fits-all" IPS. For example, you will need a different IPS for individuals, trusts or retirement plans. AdvisorPro presents you with language choices and lets you decide exactly what to include or exclude from each IPS.
The professional version of AdvisorPro costs $495; the standard version, $395. The professional version produces detailed IPSs that typically run 18 to 20 pages with executive summaries; the standard version creates compact IPSs of only a few pages. Users of either product get 100 new IPSs per year for their subscription fee and can maintain an unlimited number of IPSs on AdvisorPro's server. For large firms, institutional pricing is available.
If you use IPSs in your practice, or if you want to add them to your practice, look no further than IPS AdvisorPro.
CarboniteBackups are a necessary evil.
It used to be advisors would turn on their magnetic-tape backup systems when leaving the office at night, capturing the critical computer data generated that day. These backups no longer cut it. We've learned from disasters like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 that backups must be foolproof. In other words, multiple backup systems -- one of them preferably Internet-based -- are now the rule.
The problem is that even small-volume Internet backups have heretofore been mighty expensive. Fortunately, a new company -- Carbonite -- has changed all of that. For just $49.95, you get unlimited backups to this company's secure servers for one year.
What's the catch? None, really, although the first time Carbonite backs up your selected files -- depending on the total volume -- the process may take weeks... literally. However, once that initial backup is complete, Carbonite automatically backs up all changes to those files in short order.
Comodo FirewallComodo has sprung up in the last few years to offer a suite of free security products, one of which is its excellent firewall.
And Comodo Firewall Pro isn't just free; it's easy to install. Simply download the program and wait a minute while Comodo e-mails you your free activation code. That's really all there is to it.
My only complaint after six months of using Comodo is that it pops up a couple of times a day in its "learning" mode to ask for approval when programs on my computer want permission to access the Internet.
Why pay for a firewall when you can use Comodo Firewall?
4Shared.comSometimes you need to send an associate a file that's too large to e-mail.
Now there's 4shared.com where you can get -- entirely for free -- 1GB of shared Web space with unlimited bandwidth. Or, for just $48 a year, you can "rent" 2GB of space, a better approach. Why? Because the free service doesn't keep your files on 4shared's services indefinitely, while the paid service keeps them there until you delete them.
Either way, 4shared.com is a simple way to share large files with multiple recipients.
CoverUpStudies show that most computer data thefts happen within the workplace. Wish you could easily secure a specific application before stepping away from your computer?
Maybe you're looking at your team's salary numbers when you need to step out of the office. You don't want to exit your bookkeeping software; you'd rather just lock it away from prying eyes while you take a five-minute break.With CoverUp, it's easy. After installing the software, right-clicking on its taskbar icon loads a menu from which you can select -- from a list of all applications you're running -- those you wish to "lock." For those applications only, CoverUp then runs your password-protected screen saver.
Check out this simple security enhancement that could pay big dividends on its $7.97 price.
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So what are you waiting for? Most of these tech tools -- and the relief they can bring you -- are just a click away.
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David J. Drucker, CFP, is president of Drucker Knowledge Systems; see www.DavidDrucker.com.