Tag Archive: technology


sticky-notes-to-do-listAround this same time last year, many of us said our final goodbyes to Windows XP and Exchange 2003.  This year, Microsoft’s latest End-Of-Life (EOL) event – along with good sense – will force most of the firms that are still using Windows Server 2003  to replace it with a newer version of the Windows Server operating system (OS).  July 14th, 2015 marks the end of extended support for the 2003 product line – after that date, there won’t be any more security updates.

For those unfamiliar with the issue this raises, compliance regulation and standards related to private information and security dictate that firms must keep up-to-date with regular patches to the software and hardware that powers their businesses.  Your firm’s Written Information Security Program (WISP) should detail a policy of adherence to these standards, among many others, and in there somewhere you have almost certainly indicated that you are keeping your systems updated with respect to security.

Like Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 has been around long enough and really should be replaced, so there is not much point in delaying the switch.  Most firms have likely changed over to Windows Server 2008 or 2012, but those that haven’t made the change yet should be planning on upgrading their server(s) in Q2 of 2015.

 

rackAlternatives to Windows 2003?

Assuming your firm is committed to Microsoft Server products, you have two choices:

1. Windows Server 2008 r2 (2008)

2008 is a mature operating system, which is still in use at a large number of firms today. However, mainstream support for 2008 ended earlier this year (1/13/2015), and though extended support is available until 1/14/2020, it probably doesn’t make sense to move from 2003 to 2008 in 2015. Firms that have existing 2008 software licenses may not want to incur the additional expense of 2012 licenses, and those with significant compatibility concerns may opt to install Windows 2008 on new server hardware.

2. Windows Server 2012 r2 (2012)

2012 is the latest and greatest from Microsoft. It has a shiny new interface and a bevy of neat features like deduplication. My experience with 2012 has been overwhelmingly positive. Though worries about 2012 compatibility with legacy applications may delay widespread acceptance of this operating system, many firms will ultimately choose to make the switch to 2012.

What happens if we stay on Windows 2003?

Your server will still work, but you will not get any more security updates from Microsoft, and your firm will technically be out of compliance.

What else could happen?

Software companies and other parties your firm interfaces with will assume that you are making these updates.  Your firm’s failure to upgrade to a later version of Windows Server could cause problems that you and your staff may not be able to anticipate.

As an example of this, one of my clients that was slow to upgrade all of their Windows XP systems last year found that the latest version of Orion’s desktop software, which was automatically updated sometime in Q1 of 2014, was incompatible with Windows XP.  Unfortunately for the client, there wasn’t a way to reverse the update or use an older version.

At the time, I was surprised, especially because the customer wasn’t given any notice of the “feature enhancement.”  It didn’t make sense that a software company would launch an update incompatible with existing customer desktops that were still supported by Microsoft.  Thankfully, Orion addressed the issue quickly by providing the users affected with remote desktop (RDP) connections to Orion servers for an interim period.

About the Author: Kevin Shea is the Founder and Principal Kevin Shea Impact 2010Consultant of Quartare; Quartare provides a wide variety of technology solutions to investment management and financial services firms nationwide.

For details, please visit Quartare.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@quartare.com.

HourglassWindows XP was a mainstay at many financial services firms for nearly a decade.  In keeping with the Microsoft Lifecycle Support Policy, support for Windows XP and similar aged software must eventually end.  You can learn more about the policy here.

According to Microsoft, extended support for Windows XP is scheduled to end on 04/08/2014.  If your office is using Windows XP, you should be working on plans to phase out XP by replacing those systems with new PCs or upgrading the PCs to a more recent workstation operating system in the next six to nine months.  There is no good reason to wait until or beyond April 2014 to perform these upgrades.

Why should you care?

Most security standards – for instance, 201 CMR 17.00 – require that you apply security patches on a regular basis.  It is the extended support from Microsoft that allows you to do this.  After extended support has ended, there is no guarantee that any security patches will be released for these systems.  In order to stay compliant with security standards, firms using Windows XP will need to upgrade to other systems.

Hasta la vista, Vista!

androide

Currently, we are recommending that business users implement Windows 7 Professional on workstations.  Windows 8 makes sense for home users with touch screens, but we prefer not to implement operating systems before they have become mainstream in the workplace; Windows 8 just isn’t there yet.

Vista extended support is good through 04/11/2017, but Vista has always been a dog, and any business users still using Vista should strongly consider moving to Windows 7 Professional immediately.

Server-based systems affected by the Microsoft Lifecycle Support Policy

Windows 2003 Server extended support is good through 07/14/2015.  Nevertheless, Windows Server 2008 R2 will likely be the most widely used network operating system among investment advisors by the end of 2013.  Windows Server 2012 was released on 09/04/2012 and hasn’t yet been widely implemented among SMBs we are familiar with.

Exchange Server 2003 extended support also ends on 04/08/2014.  The implications of this related to security updates are the same as those detailed above regarding XP.  If you know which version of Exchange is in use at your office, you can check Microsoft’s site here to determine when the end of extended support for Exchange will affect your firm.

Like Vista, extended support of Exchange Server 2007 is good through 4/11/2017, so there is no need to upgrade in the near term future.  Exchange 2010 adds OWA support for Firefox and Chrome.  In addition, Exchange 2010 makes better use of lower-cost disk subsystems, allowing you to get a performance boost over 2007 without spending a premium.  Those are nice features, but not nice enough to push an Exchange upgrade before a normal IT lifecycle replacement demands it.

Exchange Server 2003 will be phased out by many advisors this year, and most will move to Exchange Server 2010.  Though Exchange Server 2013 was technically released in November 2012, it may be premature for the SMBs that dominate the investment industry to adopt Exchange Server 2013 over Exchange Server 2010.  Presently, there is no direct migration path from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2013.  A number of small investment advisors will move to hosted Exchange solutions and no longer keep Exchange servers at their offices.

With this many possible changes slated for the next ten months, now is a good time to make sure your firm has addressed the issues or has a plan to upgrade any systems affected.

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide.

For details, please visit isitc.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.

As a provider of technology solutions for financial services firms small and large nationwide, I frequently come in contact with investment firms of diverse dynamics and decision-making processes.  I am, of course, familiar with the process and discipline of getting

three separate quotes for goods and services, but even after decades of bidding on projects, it is still unclear to me what investment firms actually do with this information.

In some cases, it seems like the decision has already been made and prospects are just going through the motions to fulfill the expectation to follow a procedure and process established by their firm.  Gut decisions sometimes overrule common sense.

One of my clients actually adheres to this discipline for everything and, if the rumors are true, even gets three prices for paper clips.  In my own experience with them, they did, in fact, get three quotes for a single piece of computer equipment that cost about $75.  Considering current wage and consulting rates this arguably may not be a good use of time or money.  Perhaps it’s a more altruistic goal of keeping our economy competitive that drives their policy.

 

Opportunity                          

Recently, I was contacted by a firm looking for assistance with some Axys report modifications.  One of our competitors provided them with a quote for the work they needed.  The prospect felt that the price was too high and they solicited my opinion.  I never saw the quote from my competitor, but heard from the prospect that they wanted 3-4k up front and expected it would cost 7-8k.  In another conversation, I was told that there was also a local company bidding on the work.  That made sense to me – three bids.

I was provided with a detailed specification of what needed to be done and asked to provide them with a quote.  The firm was looking to make some modifications to the Axys report that generates Advent’s performance history data and stores it as Net of Fees (PRF) and Gross of Fees (PBF) data.  Though the requirements seemed complicated initially, it eventually became clear to me that the job simply required filtering of a couple REPLANG routines, and some minor additions.

I shared my impression with the prospect and ball-parked our bid at 3k (a 12 hour block of time) less than half of our known competitor’s bid.   I explained that the actual work was likely to take three to four hours, and rest of the time would be spent on testing, support and maintenance.  My expectation was that we would get the work done in a half day to a day at most and the remainder of our time could be used for any required maintenance or modification later in the year.

 

Follow-Up

After about a week, I called to follow up and found out that the firm was strongly considering having the work done by their local vendor, who told them it could be done for seven to ten days.  “Excuse me,” I said.  “Don’t you mean seven to ten hours?”

“No,” he replied.  He further explained that they really like using the local vendor and would probably use them for the job, which I fully understand.  I have, no doubt, benefited from this sentiment in Boston for years.  At that point in the call, I was thinking that it was more like seven to ten lines of code, but thankfully I didn’t start laughing.  I waited until the call ended.

 

No Risk, No Reward

In the end, your firm’s decision to select one bid over another is a personal one, similar in some respects to the one that dictates an investment adviser’s success attracting new clients and retaining them.  It’s about trust, performance, and the ability to continually communicate that you are worthy of one and capable of the other.  To succeed long-term in the financial services business, you need both.  Through good performance, we gain a measure of trust.  However, without a measure of initial trust or risk, there is no opportunity to perform.

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide. For details, please visit isitc.com or contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.

In 2005, Advent released the first version of Advent Portfolio Exchange (APX). This paved the way for enterprise users to take Advent more seriously, while reassuring rapidly growing firms that APX would service their future needs and provide support for legacy requirements. Initially, this change was fine with many of the Axys users that have historically comprised Advent’s established userbase, but after years of baseline Axys updates and Advent’s predominant emphasis on APX, the patience of some Axys users has worn thin.

Today Axys users likely fit into one of four camps:

  1. They are planning to move to APX in the near future.
  2. They understand their options well enough, but don’t think the benefits of moving to APX outweigh the costs.
  3. They simply don’t care about APX or competing products – just as long as Axys keeps doing what they need, everything is fine.
  4. They are frustrated by Advent’s perceived abandonment of their business segment and are either actively seeking a replacement to Axys or in the process of converting to a new system.

I have repeatedly been told that owning a self-hosted version of APX is 2-3 times more expensive than Axys, but don’t take my word for it.  Advent’s pricing changes regularly.  Call Advent and get a quote.   Early on, APX conversions were very expensive, and some firms were quoted six-figure conversion costs.  Although these costs have been reduced substantially, APX is still significantly more expensive than Axys.

In the past, conversions were much more complex and time-consuming.  The primary issue seemed to be the normalization of a wide variety of Axys data.  As APX has evolved, Advent and the conversion utility within APX have created efficiencies in the conversion process.  In a recent conversation with a client, who is now considering the move from Axys to APX, I learned that Advent took copies of their Axys files and was able to demo APX 4.x with representative data from their firm in about a week.

In addition to the difference in the software cost, Advent recommends that APX users host the app in a traditional database server and application server configuration.  Some users may opt to host IIS on a separate server as well.  Currently, many small and medium businesses (SMBs) simply host Axys on their primary file server.

Why would a firm running Axys want to pay the premium for APX?

The answer is improved security, infrastructure, and functionality that meets the expectations of those with higher technological standards – historically enterprise users, not SMBs.  APX promised this from day one, but APX v1 was, well, version 1.  I sat in on a couple dog and pony shows for APX when it was first introduced.  In one, the presenter abruptly but politely disconnected a conference call with one of their early “testimonial” users when the conversation went in an unexpected direction.  At Advent’s conference in Orlando, more time than Advent would have liked was spent on the topic of APX latency, but these types of issues can be experienced with any v1 product covering as much ground as APX.

One of the most valuable benefits of Advent’s portfolio accounting systems is the maturity of their products.  This maturity is the primary reason why so many things in Axys and APX work the way they should.  Though much has changed at the core of Axys and APX, both of these systems can potentially run a report created on The Professional Portfolio (the precursor to Axys and APX) 25 years ago.  Due to the continuity of Advent’s portfolio management systems, users of The Professional Portfolio and Axys have been able to jump into APX without a lot of training.

Last year, when I attended the Advent conference in Boston, a panelist from the Advent Users Group touched upon the issue of APX owners using APX like Axys.  Her point was that you should use the newer features of APX v3, but as she mentioned it, I couldn’t help thinking how much the earlier versions of APX were like Axys.  Aside from the SQL backend and other related platform benefits, it felt like you were still using Axys, only it was more complicated and clunky.

Even now, we see that the heart of Axys continues to beat inside APX, playing a critical role with respect to backward compatibility and legacy reporting.  Over the course of its first five years, APX has matured significantly.  That initial awkward period is behind Advent APX.

In the past 18 months, Advent has made significant strides towards fulfilling the promise of APX, introducing additional SSRS reports in APX 3.x and the ability to create dashboards in APX 4.x.  I have finally heard mention of an API.  Yes, APX is more complex than Axys, but now that more of the infrastructure has been built out, you can feel better about it.  With these improvements, APX should make sense for a larger number of investment firms.

APX is a logical upgrade for Axys clients who:

  1. Want to minimize the need to retrain staff on a new portfolio accounting system.
  2. Understand that additional features, such as SSRS reporting and dashboards, come hand in hand with incremental complexity and the costs of an enterprise solution.

Those that don’t want to take on as much overhead may find solace in moving to APX on Demand (a SAAS offering), but in doing so they will have to sacrifice some of the flexibility and functionality available to self-hosted users of APX.

 

Final Score: APX 4, Axys 0

Looking at version releases of APX and Axys over the past seven years, it is easy to understand the focus of Advent’s primary resources.  Though four minor releases of Axys have been made since APX came out, there have been no major releases.  A major release implies a major change to the software, and at this point it doesn’t appear that a major Axys release is coming from Advent.

Last year’s acquisition of Black Diamond provides Axys users with another choice under the Advent umbrella, but I haven’t seen many users go from Axys to Black Diamond. While Axys improvements have stalled out, Advent’s full-throttle APX development has many of its Axys users feeling disenfranchised.  From my own perspective, Advent appears to be losing some valuable clients through a failure to more actively communicate with their SMB client base.

If Advent wants to keep Axys clients as Advent clients, they should connect with their users and reassure them that they want to work with them. Still, Advent should also understand that for some, it may make more sense to move on.

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide. For details, please visit isitc.com or contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.

I just received an ad for “500 Things Every IT Manager Needs to Know:  Volume 1.”  I am sure there are 500 things, but none of the IT managers I know have the time to read about all of them.  Maybe that’s a good resource for somebody who has never been an IT manager.  I don’t even want to crack open the document for fear that I’ll spend valuable time reading about the 500 things, but thinking about it for a bit made me come up with my own abbreviated list.

In order of priority:

1.  Backup.  Backup.  Backup.  If you don’t know what I mean, read my blogs “Five Rules to Stake Your Plan On” and “Is Your Most Valuable Data Safe in the Cloud?

2.  Communication is key.   Setting expectations and meeting or exceeding those expectations is instrumental to keeping your co-workers satisfied with the quality of your work.  Failure to communicate sends a message clearer than words.  In contrast, good communication establishes a rapport that makes your work easier.

3.  Document your systems and your work.  If you keep things organized, required information is readily available when you or others need it.  I keep a running log that details almost every important thing I do.  If I need to refer to work I did last Friday, last month or last year, chances are I can find it in my log.

4.  Learn what is good enough for your firm.  Very few people that want systems to be perfect actually want to pay for perfect.  Many SMBs operate with a mandate of what is good enough for today and the near future.  IT managers at SMBs need to be adept at juggling priorities moment to moment.  In priority, your firm should want things to work securely, reliably, efficiently and as fast as possible.  Knowing what type of investment your firm is willing to make in each of these areas will help you understand what is good enough, and facilitate your ability to manage the IT objectives of your firm effectively.

5.  It always takes longer than it should, and usually doesn’t work quite the way it is supposed to.  That’s why you have a job.  If you are an IT manager, you fix IT.  Over the years I have learned to multiply my time estimates by two to offset my optimism.  Figure out what your multiplier is.

6.  Newer is cooler, but typically more time-consuming and consequently more expensive in terms of implementation and maintenance.  I like cool new stuff too, but losing a day of productivity to have the latest iPhone OS may not be worth it.  Staying mainstream is ideal and most efficient from a labor perspective, while being on the leading edge or lagging behind technologically carries a labor premium.

7.  Proactive is better than reactive.  Proactive IT management is the Holy Grail of IT.  It appeals to IT managers because we would rather take preventative measures than deal with the carnage of system failures.  It is attractive to the financial decision-makers in management because less downtime means more productivity.

8.  Decide whether you want to wear a lab coat or a tie.  It’s hard to do both, but if you must, tread carefully.  Otherwise, troubleshooting system issues can consume a large part of your day.  We all want to know why, but sometimes finding out why can be counter productive.  From a business perspective, a one-time glitch that you’ll never see again doesn’t merit a half a day of your time.   You probably have other more important things to do.  When you do attack a pesky bug or system issue, understand your options and budget your time accordingly.  Know when you have had your lab coat on too long, and make sure you can find the tie again.

9.  Centralized and standardized systems are almost always preferred.  Occasionally, there are users that need to be set free of the limits placed on the rest of the herd.  These power users may be set apart by their need more rights, faster systems or flexibility, and it’s typically in your best interest to give them what they need so you can limit the time you spend catering to or denying their demands.  Conversely, you may also run into some technologically challenged individuals that need their rights further limited to prevent them from hurting themselves or driving you crazy.

10.  You are only as good as what you have done or are responsible for today.  A lot can happen in 24 hours.   IT is a high-profile area where bad performance is readily apparent and rarely tolerated for long.

About the Author:
Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide. For details, please visit isitc.com or contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.