When I first encountered Redtail in the latter half of 2004, it was a small, innovative provider of online customer relationship management (CRM) software to financial service professionals. At that time, many advisors resisted the idea of online applications, so the company's progress was slow. In six short years, however, much has changed.

Broadband connections are widely available now, more reliable and faster. In addition, time has taught the Redtail technology team a great deal about the needs of advisors. Thus, the company has grown its user base of a few hundred users to approximately 26,000 individual users in 5,500 offices.

So it might seem odd that Redtail has now embarked on a bold plan to rip up and start from scratch-to totally rewrite its core CRM application from top to bottom.

Rewriting one's software is fairly risky. But according to company CEO Brian McLaughlin, "There really wasn't any other choice if we wanted to continue to meet the needs of our advisor clients."

According to McLaughlin, the original coding for Redtail CRM began over nine years ago, and the resulting product, released as Our Business Online (OBO), launched seven and a half years ago. Much has changed technologically in the last nine years. Interfaces and Web pages are more dynamic. Web application developers are less constrained in what they can offer.

For example, seven years ago, before the deployment of Web 2.0 tools, Web applications did not have much of the functionality that desktop applications had. You couldn't drag and drop page elements. You couldn't delete an e-mail by right-clicking on it and selecting "delete" from the resulting menu. Now, Web-based programs are capable of much more. But you need a modern software architecture to deliver the better functionality. That's why Redtail has created a new software design. It's Microsoft-based, but relies heavily on the Java framework.

Although the new Redtail CRM (code-named "Project Leapfrog") is still in beta, our initial impression is that users will be pleased with it, though we'll have to withhold final judgment until its final release.

When you log into the application, you land on the dashboard. This area is a new and improved version of what was formerly known as the "Overview." This new dashboard comprises both the overview page and the market news page.

The application offers two toolbars. There is a navigation bar along the top of the page that offers access to the main areas of the program (the dashboard, the calendar, contacts, reports, resources, tools and a section called "Manage Your Account.") The toolbar at the bottom of the page is divided into two sections. At the left, links include shortcuts to the home page and recently viewed items. The company will soon add a "favorites" section and Web links. On the right there are links to alerts and integrations (which you can use to communicate with MoneyGuidePro, Albridge and Redtail Imaging). The integration link is context-sensitive, so it only shows what is necessary depending on where you are in the program. A "What's New" section keeps you abreast of new Redtail CRM enhancements.

The default overview page has two main areas. One is a list area that includes calendar items, recently added notes and opportunities. The other area, on the right side of the screen, includes boxes with a dashboard (a box with an overview of assets under management, the average portfolio size and account status summary); reminders (keeping you up to date on account renewals, account riders, birthdays, checklist tasks, client reviews, wedding anniversaries, etc.); team notices; and lastly, a "Quicklist" feature.

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