Nien-Ling Wacker, the CEO of Laserfiche, recalled at the mid-January Laserfiche Institute annual conference how things were 20 years ago when he was developing the software that would lead his company to dominance in the document management field. “When you look at early technology,” he told the 1,000-plus users at the event, “you always look at the diagram and probably even more–it is complex!” Wacker pointed out that complexity often makes it hard for early users of technology to figure out what to do with it. His job was to make it easy for advisors to use technology. “You have to really look at how people work, at how to improve their efficiency,” he continued. “And software’s not just enough…It’s the ability to pool the knowledge, the education of the users.”

The 82 vendors and their 181 separate products listed in the pages that follow are all meant to accomplish Wacker’s stated goal: improving advisors’ efficiency.

That goal was part of what prompted Dale Hall, president of CapWest Securities, to pick Investigo’s Web-based, enterprise-wide practice management system for its nearly 80 representatives in January 2008. A full-service B/D based in Lakewood, Colorado, that concentrates on the alternative investments side of the business–including a concentration in 1031 exchanges–CapWest is “small, but in growth mode,” says Hall. That’s where the Investigo system can help his reps, says Hall, since it “helps us to get more precise,” providing consolidated statements to reps and clients, the ability to prepopulate new account forms, incorporates a contact management system, and provides compliance help to the home office.

As the recent hostile bid for Yahoo by Microsoft reminds us, the M&A sharks in the technology business can often make even major, if smaller, players disappear after they are gobbled up, but sometimes an acquisition can bring benefits to a smaller tech firm. That’s the case with Albridge Solutions, the data aggregation company that was acquired in December 2007 by PFPC, the investment services arm of PNC Financial Services, according to Albridge President and CEO Gregory Pacholski. “We’re very happy with the transaction,” Pacholski said, since “we’re working with people looking to build the organization,” and will continue to develop leading-edge technology. Unlike in some other instances where the acquiring firm is looking for an outlet for its own proprietary technology, Pacholksi says that the acquisition “doesn’t close up our offerings; we’re open to integrate with client portals and third party” vendors. That openess extends to the broker/dealers who incorporate Albridge’s offering on their platforms, Pacholski says, allowing them to provide customized sevice offerings, perhaps providing higher-level services for top producers if they so wish. That flexibility, multi-functioning, and ongoing development reflect the shared traits of independent advisors and the tech companies that seek to meet their needs.