From the September 2011 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Are You In a Technology Rut?

You could be missing time-saving tricks available on your current system

If you don't stay up-to-date on what your solutions can do for you, you could be letting yourself fall behind. If you don't stay up-to-date on what your solutions can do for you, you could be letting yourself fall behind.

There is little we do to run a business today that doesn’t involve some form of technology. The challenge for advisors is that our ordinary work habits make it easy to miss new technology tools and solutions offered within the very programs we use day in and day out. There are potentially new products or new ways to do things that are already available on our desks. How do you keep your technology “edge” without having to do too much research or spend a lot of time to get your normal work done? Here are a few tips that I think will work very well for advisors and their staff.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for children (perhaps your own) to embrace computers? I can play games on my computer, but my 10-year-old son will show me a dozen or more features of the game that I had no idea existed. The reason why my son knows more is because he lets his curiosity guide him in exploring the program. Furthermore, he is not afraid of breaking anything—of course, he knows his dad will probably be able to fix any problems he creates. Advisors should approach the technology solutions that they use frequently in a similar way. Perhaps take 30 minutes on a Friday afternoon and try to learn what you know you don’t know about your most frequently used technology solutions. Let’s use your custodian’s technology platform as an example. Start by going through the entire menu system, which is generally listed at the top of the main opening page. Do you recognize each menu item and what it does? If not, let your curiosity lead you. Look for “mouse-over” tools, right-click functionality, drop-down menus and out of the way dialogue boxes. These types of features can often yield new operations or nice time savings by minimizing the number of clicks necessary to access information.

When you attend conferences, meet with the exhibitor staff of the technology companies you work with and ask what are the best features of their product that are commonly overlooked by advisors. Generally, the exhibit booth is staffed by sales representatives, which I would argue are some of the best people to help you learn how to really use a product.

Reviewing the release notes provided by your technology providers is another important exercise. Generally, release notes provide a descriptive list of the new features and tools in the latest version of the product. With a quick glance through the document, you will be able to understand the new features that are most applicable to your firm and warrant further investigation. Furthermore, following this best practice will greatly minimize the chance that you will miss the introduction of a new feature that could help your firm.

One simple but easily overlooked tip is to watch others use the same product. For example, Excel is a very common product used at all levels of an advisory firm. Excel offers an extraordinary number of features, tools and data calculation possibilities. However, the overall number of options can be overwhelming. When you watch someone else operate Excel you can easily learn a couple of tips and tricks that they use, but perhaps you never knew were available.

Breaking out of the habit of using your technology solutions the same way every day is not easy to do. This can be particularly challenging for your staff if they have a specific set of tasks that they must complete each day. The goal is to get the work done, which probably doesn’t leave a lot of time to learn or explore other tools and features. Ironically, it is this exploration effort that ultimately leads to efficiency gains and improved satisfaction with your technology solutions. Set aside a little time for discovery, and you might be very surprised about what’s available right at your fingertips today.

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