A year ago ago, I made the jump across to Apple, with my first MacBook Pro. Since then, I’ve been asked a number of times whether it’s realistic for advisers to do the same in an industry that intrinsically favours Windows.
Many businesses asked me whether, given the potential for compatibility issues, it was really possible for an advice business to make the switch from PC to Apple.
I decided the only way to find out for sure was to talk to someone who has done it.
Yul Hardick is one of the lynchpins of First Capital Financial Planning (also known as Edplan), who also happen to be a client of mine. As well as an up-and-coming planner, Yul is also a self-confessed tech fanatic like me.
As a progressive business, First Capital made a decision in 2012 to move across to Apple. I chatted to Yul about why they made the choice, how they went about it and his advice to other businesses considering it.
Most of the financial advice industry is firmly wedded to Windows-based technology. Why did First Capital make the decision to move across to Apple?
When we looked at the pros and cons, it was a very one-sided argument.
The Apple environment is frankly simpler, less likely to encounter problems and meant we’ve spent less time dealing with the kind of infuriating software issues that others lose time and money to. It was a classic no-brainer.
Give us the background.
We were 2 years beyond our last technology lease. Our computers and tech infrastructure were mostly 6 years old. We were still on Windows XP and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. We were using XPLAN, though not consistently. Our tech was old. We were still using tape backups and our Internet connection was awful – 2Mbps each way.
It got frustrating enough that I started bringing in my own MacBook to work (which I had just bought, my first Apple product ever!). I was basically using my Mac and PC side by side, using a tool called Synergy.
Now, I was never an Apple fanboy. I’d grown up on PCs and consider myself an Advanced Windows user. If anything, I would waste too much time customizing my Windows machine exactly the way I wanted it or enjoying solving all the quirks of the system. It wasn’t an effective use of time and I knew it, but that’s the Windows experience!
So, I started using both side by side and soon realized I was using the Mac more and more. Compared to the older PCs, the computer was better and didn’t seem to suffer from the longer and longer to boot up times that Windows machines always seem to develop.
Perhaps that was simply because it was new? However, after first being frustrated by the OSX (Mac) environment, I realized the frustration was more that I was forced to focus on being productive, rather than fiddling with the system. I realized that was a good thing.
The whole thing was just cleaner and, I realized, it was simply easier to use.
It’s a big leap to go to rolling out to the whole practice though?
True, and the compatibility thing was always in the back of my mind, so we didn’t do it immediately.
However, the turning point came when emulation software started getting really good and I discovered the virtual Mac was running Windows better than our existing machines!
Then, when XPLAN suddenly announced that it would run on other browsers (rather than just Internet Explorer), it opened a door. So, I continued testing things and eventually it became clear it was very viable.
We priced the options for replacing the Windows infrastructure vs. going across to Apple. The financial difference was negligible and the Apple option, combined with using Google Apps for all our email, was quite simply far better value.
I thought Apple is supposed to be a premium brand?
It is, but the removal of the need to upgrade to Microsoft Server 2010, essentially removing the need for the server, made it cheaper.
I mean you need a special certification to set up an Exchange server. I had a guy setup the whole thing and watched attentively, and believe I would be able to set up the OS server myself. Frankly, I think anyone probably could, simply off the back of a couple of YouTube videos.
How much did it cost exactly?
We bought everything direct from Apple under an operating lease. The total cost for the phone system (vTalk), 1 iMac, 9 MacBook Pros, 3 MacBook Airs, a MacMini, 9 Thunderbolt screens, all peripherals, cables, hard drives, mouses, routers, switches, Apple TV for the boardrooms plus installation and a new, faster internet solution was $81,143. It wasn’t half as pricey as I’d thought it was going to be.
Was it hard to get it up and running?
We did the installation over the Xmas break. It was pretty straightforward. I paid careful attention to how the guys were setting up and configuring (because I’m both interested in that kind of thing, and so that I could potentially troubleshoot issues myself – saving on a callout fee), to the point where I could do it myself if needed.
We backed up all the existing PC info, using the VM Ware tool to cryogenically freeze each PC machine, including our old server! We ran our old server on our new server as a Virtual Machine while migrating – I can still boot that old bastard up if need be! Basically, the “copies” of those machines now live on the server, so if we ever need to reboot them, we simply load them onto the new MacBooks and there they are, just like the day we stopped using them.
There were teething issues. The router bought was not fully compatible with the hardware, but that was simply because the software on the router itself was just poor. We resolved that by replacing it with the Edge Router Lite. It’s an amazing piece of kit that is basically a super-simple router with no frills. It’s like a racing car, stripped down to a basic operating system, so you just have what is absolutely needed. It’s works so much better.
How did the team go adopting it?
Training our people was addressed early. The joint venture with Apple included bundling in set numbers of hours training at the Apple Store (which people loved, very cool) plus priority service, 24 hour replacement guarantees and tutorials, all included in the cost. Everyone did basic training at the Apple store.
To be honest, everyone was excited anyway, so it made adoption easier. After the old PCs, having sexy new MacBooks was genuinely something that everyone was pretty stoked about. If anything, it gave the team a lift.
Some of the things people needed to learn were around how to create and merge a PDF (the functionality is built into Mac, instead of being a separate program), the different folder structure, switching between applications and how to get the most out of multi touch. Just basic functionality differences.
For Advanced Users of windows it was painful, but it did force us to become users of software for work, rather than wasting time working out how to customise the software in ways that really didn’t add to productivity. It was a wake-up moment.
The other big hurdle was the switch from using Outlook to using Google Apps – this one really freaked people out. Simple things like using labels not folders in Gmail, the now redundant fear of being offline, or using canned responses instead of templates. But in reflection we remember the days when the inbox was full of unimportant emails and newsletters, or we would be waiting to sync that big email attachment, or searching for an email would take forever, or Outlook would say “Your quota is almost full” and you would spend hours deleting and archiving mail. Those problems are now, thankfully, things of the past.
At this point, Rob Bacsko, a senior planner at the business, chirped in for a moment.
Ha! I was psychologically depressed; lost for a couple of months. I struggled with working out how to use the laptop day-to-day. Stuff that took a minute would take longer – sending an email, navigating. In retrospect though, a lot of that was to do with us also switching to Google services at the same time.
What about now?
Now I’m glad I did it. I got comfortable and it became familiar. It feels better. Seems more practical.
Compatibility with financial planning software is a big concern for some businesses. What issues did you find?
Initially there were bugs. XPLAN had only recently upgraded to support non-Internet Explorer browsers when we made the move, but these were ironed out quickly.
The main issue we found was the linkage with Word 2003 in XPLAN. Basically, XPLAN uses a plugin called X-Word in the background. It enables you to drop code into templates (SOAs etc), so you can play around with the type of information that is automatically included in the documents XPLAN produces.
X-Word only works in the Windows environment. Having said that, as long as you have VMWare Fusion (Windows emulator) on the Mac and Word loaded, there are no problems. It just won’t work in the Mac environment. Not a biggie.
There are differences in the way XPLAN treats file headers too. So if you’re saving csv or word files for uploading into XPLAN, you need to specifically save those files in MS-DOS format. Easy to do as long as you can ensure you remember.
Not really. I mean we maintain a single desktop PC in the office anyway, but only because of a legacy program. It’s an old Oasis piece of software called Money One Office, which has a weird structure, but it only really gets used once or twice a quarter.
I guess if you’ve got a dependency on legacy software that you absolutely need and isn’t getting updated anymore, it’s worth testing it first. Worst-case scenario is you end up keeping one PC in the office for that.
So, what’s been the outcome of it all?
We’re glad we did it. It’s been just so much easier to administer.
We actually didn’t engage ongoing support beyond the three months, because we didn’t need to. Because the Mac has so few viruses and all applications are sandboxed, there have been very few issues. I’ve personally saved countless hours that I would have previously spent undoing people’s Windows-based stuff ups.
Backups happen automatically without users even knowing. They come in the office and it does it in the background. If something goes bad, we just simply grab another laptop, reload that persons computer image and they’re away again
It’s great for meetings, because the machine boots quickly too. We don’t have the 8:30am lull whilst everyone waits for computers to start. Apple TV means wireless broadcasting of screens within the meeting rooms, which is awesome for client meetings.
Admin staff using the laptop with the thunderbolt screens find it more productive too, because they have more desktop space to play with. It makes it easier to work on XPLAN, because they’ve got full width view and plenty of screen real estate to tile windows.
Bottom line; it simplified everything. It gave us a faster core system designed to stop users stuffing things up, and reduced a bunch of time spent cleaning up other people’s problems.
So, what final thoughts would you share with someone considering it?
● Macs run faster, cleaner and more securely. It’s designed for use not functionality, so there’s fewer pulling-the-hair-out moments. You can put a Mac in front of anyone and they’ll struggle to stuff it up. It’s hard to say the same about a Windows machine.
● You have to like the idea of switching. If you’re going to be a diehard Windows fan regardless, don’t bother.
● Test it first. Get a MacBook and use it as your dedicated machine for a year. Work out the problems, then ask other people who’ve made the switch how they solved them.
● Go Solid State! That’d be pretty much the only regret we have!
Yul Hardick is a Financial Adviser and the resident Technology Expert at First Capital Financial Planning. Since his humble beginning with the group in 2007, he has been an instrumental force behind pushing First Capital to adopt innovative and new technology solutions. Notwithstanding his work in financial planning, Yul has an incredible passion for anything software or hardware, and likes to explore the limits of any given system with a vibrant enthusiasm. By networking in the field of entrepreneurial software developers and financial planning he has established a comprehensive list of solutions that have achieved massive cost savings and time saving efficiencies for his business. Yul is now also a shareholder of First Capital.
Yul has offered to share information around detailed costings, the proposal he created or the contractors he used for anyone who would like to connect with him. Drop him an email at [email protected] if you’d like to avail yourself of his offer.
This post was authored by Stewart Bell who was a coach with Elixir Consulting between 2010 and 2014.