But because of the quantity and quality of the questions, I am dedicating this column to answering several more.
Q. What would you do if you were opening a new office and could set up all the technology you want? I am leaning toward cloud technologies for customer relationship management, phone systems and data. What would you use? I am all for an all-Apple office, as I think its products best accompany the cloud movement.
A. Most financial services software runs only on Microsoft Windows systems, and online applications often require Microsoft Internet Explorer.
There are work-arounds for this situation, primarily involving running what is called virtualization software, which allows you to run Windows software on an Apple computer.
The two most popular products in this category are Parallels Desktop for Mac from Parallels IP Holdings GmbH and VMware Fusion 5 from VMware Inc. (see product links at the end of the story)
“I think that the choice of technology needs to first be driven by the adviser's business goals,” said Sunit Bhalla, a webcast participant and principal of OakTree Financial Planning LLC.
Once those are determined, an adviser can address more-thematic goals, he said.
For example, one of Mr. Bhalla's goals is to move toward having a virtual office. In other words, as cloud-based and paperless as possible.
Other goals include using best-of breed software that is as integrated as he can find and that allows him to handle information intelligently (strong security and simplified backing-up of his data).
“I do run my practice on Apple products including computers, an iPad and an iPhone, and it works great for me,” Mr. Bhalla said, adding that he doesn't try to convince other advisers to follow suit. “If people are being efficient on a PC platform, that's great.”
CLOUD, OUTSOURCED, HOSTED VERSUS RESIDENT SERVERS
Q. Please discuss the pros and cons of having your own server for software programs (other than CRM or portfolio management systems that are usually in cloud-based programs already), corporate data and documents, personal programs, etc., versus a cloud-based server.
A. “I like having a virtual, cloud-based practice because it allows me to be more mobile. My entire office can be with me whether I am at my physical office or at a coffee shop,” Mr. Bhalla said.
He added that reputable cloud-based solutions will maintain redundant copies of his data, which reduces the amount of information that he has to back up, including, in his case, data for all the apps listed in the question.
“I love not needing to purchase and maintain servers in my office,” he said.
And that is the major drawback to having your own resident servers.
You or a consultant will be responsible for setting them up, maintaining them, backing them up regularly, storing those backups in a safe place, recovering the system if it fails or having to set up a new one, which includes the often tedious, time-consuming task of restoring the data to the new hardware — a consideration that is often overlooked.
And once restored, a newly recovered system has data only as recent as your last backup.
On the other hand, a drawback of cloud-based applications can be latency, the delay that you may experience when working with software or apps delivered over the Internet.
This is becoming less of an issue as cloud-based providers lower latency rates, but there are always going to be slowdowns or outages. For example, Redtail Technology Inc. recently had a daylong outage among users of its e-mail services.
Q. What are some of the most important factors to consider in terms of secure mobile computing?
A. “Although I really like the ability to use the cloud, I have to make sure that I'm using the cloud in a secure way. This means that the information is securely stored and is secure as it moves to and from my computer,” Mr. Bhalla said.
To maintain security, Mr. Bhalla doesn't rely on free Wi-Fi when working at his favorite coffee shop.
Instead, he uses a feature of his new iPad 2 with 4G LTE technology that allows him to use it as a hot spot to connect his laptop computer to the Internet. This feature is available on many phones or special dedicated devices available from mobile-phone carriers, frequently with “mobile hot spot” or “MiFi” in the name.
“I also sometimes create a personal [virtual private network] with software from WiTopia or Anonymizer [Inc.] to create a more secure link, as well,” Mr. Bhalla said. (see product links at the end of the story)
These services are used most by people who want to encrypt their communications when using an unsecured Wi-Fi network (as at that coffee shop) or add another layer of encryption on secured networks.
Advisers working on sensitive client data while on the road need to enable password protection for their devices, consider turning on encryption for storage on all devices, including their laptop hard drives or solid-state drives, as well as any portable hard disks or USB fobs. Better yet, don't carry or use portable drives for client data. See some of the following related stories for even more in the way of reasons why.
LINKS TO PRODUCTS DISCUSSED IN THIS STORY: