An integrated platform can also reduce the number of vendor relationships and software applications advisors must manage.  "In times like these, with margins under substantial pressure, advisors need all the time they can get to spend on profitably growing their practices," O'Brien says. "By wisely choosing the right applications and integrating them in a way that makes sense for their firms, technology can help advisors boost efficiencies and improve the bottom line."

Fidelity launched Fidelity WealthCentral to help advisors address these market challenges. WealthCentral helps independent advisors drive greater practice efficiencies by integrating key applications including portfolio management, CRM, financial planning, and portfolio rebalancing and trading into a single Web-based offering.

Similarly, Redtail Technologies integrates three key functions that already have a natural fit, yet are addressed with non-integrated systems by many advisors. Brian McLaughlin, Redtail's CEO and chief technology officer, said, "Redtail's core products are CRM, imaging [or document management] and email archiving.  We have identified three ways in which advisors who subscribe to these integrated services can become more productive.  First, integrating CRM with imaging and email archiving makes the advisor more organized, and there are cost savings to increased organization.  Second, using a CRM wisely allows the advisor to offer his clients an enhanced level of service and gives him the ability grow his client base.  Third, a robust CRM with imaging and email archiving increases the advisor's strategic ability to view, manage, analyze and allocate firm resources in the service of clients."

It seems indisputable that integration-whether achieved through stand-alone, internally-integrated systems, or independent systems that have partnered to create "bridges"-is inherently more efficient than using separate, non-integrated software systems.  But what if advisors, especially given the impact of current market conditions on firm revenues, simply can't afford to purchase lots of new technology no matter how much sense it makes?  In other words, how can advisors better leverage the technology they already have?

One way, McLaughlin said, is through training. "Advisors can get more out of their technological tools by taking advantage of training opportunities.  We see a lot of advisors purchase emerging technologies but never fully implement them.  To help our users more fully implement our tools, we will soon be releasing Redtail University, a learning center in which our users will have interactive opportunities to explore and increase their familiarity with Redtail's Productivity Suite."

Dan Skiles, Charles Schwab's vice president of technology for its advisor services division, added, "The first step is to think about your custodian and what it can do to help."  Advisors are often unaware of the technology assistance custodians can provide, and even newer technologies already available to them-but thus far unused-on the custodian's Web site.  An advisor might say, "I know you have a new way to open an account on your Web site," but the advisor isn't the one opening accounts in his firm-his staff is.  

"We can run a report to show them how their staff is already using [or not using] this technology," Skiles said.  "We can demonstrate to them the time savings possible with greater use.  We encourage firms to stay on top of our offerings by assigning that job to one person in the firm.  That person then reviews our Web site periodically, watches for our emails and stays in tune with what we can do for the firm."

"It's important to contact your existing technology providers and see what additional solutions they offer," said Davis of Scottrade Advisor Services. "Most technology providers have multiple technology solutions that can add value or have key integrations with other best-of-breed providers.  Also contact your custodian or broker/dealer to find out if they're able to offer their technologies at a discount-sometimes a substantial discount-or if they have internal solutions."  

These are some of the keys to lowering costs or creating new efficiencies with the wiser use of existing or new technologies.  To boil it all down, however, I asked the five T3 sponsors for the one piece of advice they would give financial advisors when all else is said and done.

Michael Wilson, Morningstar's director of marketing, said, "I think that advisors need to run the numbers on their software setup.  They should determine the cost of all the software they purchase on an annual basis and then determine the cost of maintaining and managing that software.  Could they be saving money if they changed their solutions?  Could their staff be more efficient and provide better support if they streamlined their software solution and, if so, how much more revenue might they bring in?  This exercise is important because it forces an advisor to take a fresh look at his firm's needs and helps him determine how he could make his practice more efficient and cost-effective."  Morningstar offers an integrated solution to advisors called Workstation Office Edition.