Operating at Imagination’s Frontier

Killerwhales_jumping“Does my dog know that whales exist?”

When that curious question popped up on yik yak* yesterday, it sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole: Whales are beyond the experience of most dogs and, therefore, presumably can’t be imagined by most dogs. This, in turn, led me to the following question: How much more is beyond our personal experience and possibly beyond our imagination?

As technologists, we often find ourselves in the position of having to do the human equivalent of explaining the existence of whales to disbelieving dogs. Our colleagues understand the material world and they understand the tools they have at hand. However, they may not always be able to appreciate how something new can improve their professional or personal lives. They really need to see it before they can believe it.

Is it any wonder that adoption of new technology is tough and creation of new technology is tougher?

Our role as technologists is to operate at the frontier of imagination, creating out of whole cloth new possibilities and capabilities that simply did not exist before. Our role is also to act as guides and translators for colleagues whose experience and imagination may not extend as far as ours. When we get it wrong, everyone’s lives are diminished. When we get it right, we open the door to even greater possibilities, and push the frontiers of imagination out just a bit further.

* * * * *

*In case you haven’t tripped across yik yak yet, here’s wikipedia’s description of it:

Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app. It is available for iOS and Android and it allows people anonymously to create and view “Yaks” within a 10 mile radius.[1] It differs from other anonymous sharing apps such as PostSecretand Whisper in that it is intended for sharing primarily with those in close proximity to the user, potentially making it more intimate and relevant for people reading the posts.[2] All users have the ability to contribute to the stream by writing, responding, and “voting up” or “voting down” (liking or disliking) yaks.

 

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

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Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss – Part 2

Roosevelt and Churchill in conversationA constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. While blogging sometimes feels like a solitary activity, occasionally readers pay a writer the compliment of commenting on her work. Then the conversation begins. When the participants in that conversation are good-natured and well-intended, that conversation can become a constructive one that leads to greater understanding.

Last week I hoped to start a conversation that I believe is long overdue in the legal industry. That conversation concerns how law firms go about deciding to purchase intranet/portal technology. Law firm knowledge management departments often see an intranet as a core part of their offering to the firm. Yet too often the technology is chosen by the IT department and does not always serve the needs of the KM department. Unfortunately, some KM professionals are not aware that there are alternatives readily available in the market, so they cannot engage their It colleagues in a more productive conversation about the relative merits of the various technology offerings.  The result is rarely good for the KM department or the lawyers it serves. Consequently, my assertion was that Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss.

My solution to this problem was not to recommend a particular technology solution. Rather it was to urge my law firm KM colleagues to make sure they had done their due diligence to understand fully what the market offers before choosing any product. I closed my blog post by asking my readers to do themselves the favor of exploring alternatives to SharePoint before they make their purchase decision. If SharePoint is the right choice, then they should go ahead with it. If it is not the right choice for them, then they should choose another intranet product.

There is nothing radical about this advice. I would give it to someone contemplating a home purchase, a car purchase or even a toaster purchase. We make better decisions when we have better information. I’m simply asking my law firm colleagues to ensure they have better information.

In the spirit of better information, I am reproducing below two comments I received on my blog post via LinkedIn. Normally I would simply have responded in LinkedIn, but the word limitations there did not permit a thoughtful response. Therefore, I have moved the conversation here:

Comment from Doug Horton, President and CEO, Handshake Software:

Mary, I realized you got paid to review this software but having downloaded and read their SharePoint v. Interact whitepaper, there are many false assumptions in their comparison when viewed in the context of law firms. You know that Handshake Software is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market. You may not know that we have at least one client that is using our software and integrations to create an Intranet without SharePoint. Anyway, I would be happy to discuss offline with you or anyone else.

My response to Doug’s comment:

Doug, thanks very much for reading and commenting on my blog post.

I was asked by Interact to prepare a knowledge management white paper for the legal industry. I was not paid to review their software. My blog post on intranets was intended to start a conversation about right-sizing intranet investments in law firms. The white paper has the same goal. Your comments help by pushing this conversation forward and, for that, I thank you.

You mention in your comments that the company you founded and lead, Handshake Software, “is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market.” I congratulate you on the success of your company. In light of that success, I must note that my economic interest in Interact is infinitesimal in relation to your economic interest as the founder, president  and CEO of a company that continues its Microsoft SharePoint-focused growth in 2015.  Consequently, I was disappointed when you suggested that economic interests would sway me. This seems unfair in light of our relative economic interests.

You mention there were false assumptions in the Interact document to which I linked,  but you did not provide any specifics. That paper cites sources such as Gartner and AIIM. Are you questioning those sources or something else?  I would like to learn more specifics about your concerns. Until then, it is hard to respond to a general allegation. You offered to have an offline conversation on this, and I would welcome that opportunity.

Finally, I am delighted to learn from your comment that you have at least one client that is using your software and integration to create an intranet without SharePoint. Would you be willing to tell me more about that case so that I can feature it in one of my blog posts? The experience of that firm would undoubtedly be instructive for other firms weighing an intranet purchase decision.

– Mary

 

Comment from Ted Theodoropoulos, President, Acrowire:

Like Doug, I would also challenge the validity of Interact’s assessment of SharePoint. SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms? You can’t have a SharePoint environment stood up in weeks? There are no search analytics in SharePoint? All these assertions are completely inaccurate. I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products. I know a few legal CIOs personally who were let go for embarking on initiatives in which SharePoint was leveraged for uses in which it is not particularly well suited (i.e. legal DMS).

My response to Ted’s comment:

Ted, thanks for your comments on my blog post.

You noted that you share Doug’s analysis, so I’d invite you to take a look at my response to Doug.

In your comments, you referred to assertions that (i) SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms, (ii) you can’t stand up a SharePoint environment in weeks, and (iii) there are no search analytics in SharePoint. I did not make those assertions in my blog post and I did not see those assertions in the Interact document to which I linked from my post. Can you tell me where you found them?

Finally, you stated “I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products.” In fact, that was not my claim. I said: “No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.” (emphasis added)  My point was simply that Microsoft is often seen as a safer choice at the purchase stage than smaller, less-established vendors. However, I understand that the Microsoft label will not protect a CIO who has not deployed the software appropriately. Your example proves my understanding to be correct.

Would you be willing to tell me more about the examples you have in mind regarding CIOs who failed to deploy SharePoint properly? In particular, I would be interested in learning about the failed SharePoint-as-DMS examples you mentioned. This topic comes up frequently in law firm KM circles, so it would be good to have more facts at hand about why SharePoint does not deliver as a DMS.

– Mary

Conclusion:

As I stated earlier, a constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. It is my hope that Doug, Ted and others in the legal industry will join me in creating this constructive conversation regarding intranets. I know there are some law firms that are happy with their SharePoint deployment. I also know that there are law firms that are not as happy. As we raise everyone’s understanding about intranet technologies and opportunities available in the marketplace, we ensure that people make smarter purchase decisions. Obviously, the implementation is in each purchaser’s hands, but if they correctly make the first critical decision — buying the right software — that should put them miles ahead in terms of implementation, adoption and engagement.

At the end of the day, isn’t that where all of us want to be?

 

[Photo Credit: Roosevelt and Churchill in conversation (Zorba the Geek) / CC BY-SA 2.0]

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Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss

image002If you ever have the opportunity to hold an off-the-record conversation with law firm knowledge management personnel, ask them if they are delighted with their intranet. Many will confess that they are not. Equally, they will tell you that they did not have much choice about the software because their IT colleagues did not believe there were credible alternatives, and everyone agreed that it would be too expensive and time-consuming to build an intranet from scratch. Consequently, they defaulted to the standard law firm approach to software.

Law firms generally use three types of software:

  1. Purpose built: Software that was created specifically for a legal practice. Examples of this would be Diligence Engine, Exemplify and KM Standards. These applications were created by lawyers to address specific challenges that arise in the practice of corporate law.
  2. Client preferred: Software that law firms use because doing so makes it easier to share information with clients. The leading example of this would be the Microsoft Office suite of tools. There is nothing about those applications that was created specifically for the practice of law, but we use them because the results are in a form clients recognize.
  3. Herd default: Software that was not created for the practice of law, but we use in the legal industry because other firms use it. This is software that was not designed to address the challenges of legal practice and may present its own challenges to lawyers and law firm administrative staff, yet we contort ourselves to make it fit. A perfect example of this type of tool is Microsoft SharePoint.

Using the first two types of software makes sense: In the first case, because it makes the lives of lawyers easier and, in the second case, because it makes the lives of clients easier. So what is the rationale for using software that was not created for law firms and is not required by clients? In the case of SharePoint, there seem to be several reasons that, taken together, can make the decision nearly inevitable in some firms:

  • No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.
  • Some firms received SharePoint “for free,” in that it was bundled into the enterprise Microsoft license for no additional cost upfront.
  • A survey of IT colleagues indicates that SharePoint is “industry standard”.

If everyone else is using it, how bad can it be? An honest conversation with knowledge management colleagues working in firms in Australia, Canada, England and the US suggests that it can be pretty bad. This does not mean that they are unable to create something that works, more or less. However, few truly are delighted with the results. And even fewer are happy with the actual costs of implementing and upgrading SharePoint, much less the logistical challenge of finding and keeping experienced developers and administrators to maintain the resulting intranet.

So why do we adopt the herd default? Often it is because we simply lack information about alternative options. This would be excusable if information about intranets was hard to find, but the reality is that a simple search online will turn up many credible alternatives. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group (who are leading intranet experts) reports that there are lots of credible alternatives to SharePoint:

Many organizations are happy to report that a variety of tools, including open-source tools, are catching up to their needs. Everyone cannot necessarily afford to integrate and support large, complex intranet portal solutions such as SharePoint. But as technology matures, the barriers to entry are lowered, and more portal technology options become available.

This is not a new concept for intranet portal design. In 2000 when we first began studying intranets, open source was used heavily. Not until 2008 did we see SharePoint taking a strong hold. Even that year, our 10 Intranet Design Annualwinners used 41 different products for their intranet technology platforms. In our most recent (2014) Intranet Design Annual, 5 out of 10 winners used SharePoint. In our intranet behavioral-research studies, organizations used about 20 different portal-software tools. So there has never been a paucity of intranet portal technology that can produce worthwhile portals. What’s different today is that technology has advanced to a point where a fairly nontechnical team can create a highly functional portal without an advanced design team in-house.

Here’s the rub: according to the Nielsen Norman Group, it should be possible today to implement an intranet without significant technological expertise. Tell that to the law firm KM departments that struggle daily to modify and maintain their SharePoint intranets. It would be their dream to be able to create, modify and maintain an intranet without any intervention by their IT staff once the active directory was hooked up. Sadly, they consider this to be an impossible dream.

In fact, this dream is not only possible, but the reality for organizations that have chosen intranet software that does what good enterprise or consumer-facing software should do: it does all the heavy lifting so that the user can work more productively without getting bogged down in development challenges.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about one of the alternatives to SharePoint. It is intranet software created by Interact. The folks at Interact retained me to learn about their software and then write about how software like theirs might be helpful to law firm KM departments. I have done that and the resulting white paper will be available within the next few weeks.

While I don’t want to steal a march on the white paper, I must confess that seeing the Interact software in action made me sad for my colleagues in law firm KM departments. When I compared the sheer ease of implementing and administering Interact’s intranet with the stories my colleagues told about their own intranets, it was clear that many were struggling unnecessarily. Given the general approach of law firms to software, I realize that moving away from Microsoft may be a challenge. However, before following the herd, do yourself and your firm the favor of investigating the alternatives. It would be a crying shame to resign yourself to unnecessary struggle just because you did not know there were better alternatives within reach.

Intranet ignorance is NOT bliss.

[This blog post was cross-posted on the Interact blog.]

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Law Firm IT Whiplash

Head and Neck - Gray1194The Mayo Clinic staff describe whiplash as,

a neck injury that can occur during rear-end automobile collisions, when your head suddenly moves backward and then forward — similar to the motion of someone cracking a whip. These extreme motions push your neck muscles and ligaments beyond their normal range of motion.

Whiplash is what I experienced this weekend. The backward movement happened when I read early reviews of the newly released ILTA 2014 Technology Survey. The forward movement occurred when I read Riverview Law’s announcement of its new Software-as-a-Service offering entitled “In-House Solutions.”

Without a doubt, the ILTA survey is an enormous undertaking that provides a real service to the legal industry by shining a light on current IT practices among law firms. As Jobst Elster of Inside Legal reported, the survey results reflect the input of “454 law firms (33% of the ILTA membership representing more than 106,000 attorneys and 217,000 total users) responding to almost 200 questions about what technologies they are using to run their firms.”

Legal IT for the rest of us

While ILTA provides this incredible resource to the legal industry, it is not responsible for the data. That responsibility lies at the feet of law firm technologists and the senior partners of each firm who make the technology decisions. In reviewing the survey’s findings, Ron Friedmann of Prism Legal noted the following:

  • Social Networking and Collaboration Tools: “The results here disappoint but do not surprise.”
  • Legal Project Management and Budgeting: “The survey did not ask about  legal project management, pricing, or budgeting software. … As clients demand value and as more firms respond, demand for LPM, budgeting, and pricing software surely will grow. So I hope the survey will cover this area in the future.”
  • Contact Management and Marketing: “Corporate CMOs looking at these results, if they understood all the software listed, would undoubtedly chuckle.”
  • Predictive Coding / Computer-Assisted Review: “…I was surprised to see what I consider fairly low percents of larger law firms using what I thought was a well-established (if not universally accepted) technology and process.”
  • Document Assembly: “Less than half of responding firms report using any document assembly.”
  • Chargebacks to Clients: “Many firms continue charging for items that many clients likely consider overhead.”

There may be good news inside the survey, but the items noted by Ron Friedmann, Randi Mayes (ILTA’s executive director) and Jobst Elster suggest that, among survey respondents, law firm IT is constrained externally by client concerns about security and internally by partner concerns about cost.

Legal IT for the best of us

What’s behind the new Riverview Law product? According to their website, they are responding to a clear client need:

Having met our people and seen what we do, visiting General Counsel and In-house lawyers often ask whether we will license our technology. Whether we can help them design, implement and roll-out processes, workflows, and data analytics tailored to their in-house function. As one General Counsel commented “If I had your systems, if I could tailor your model to my function, it would help my team make quicker and better decisions.”

In the words of Karl Chapman, Riverview Law’s CEO,  they are “taking the Riverview Law model and enabling general counsels and legal teams internally to actually tailor it to suit their business.”  This means that corporate legal departments that purchase these tools get the benefit of the technology platform that gives Riverview Law a competive advantage in delivering managed legal services. Their SaaS customers can now use the Riverview expertise embodied in a collection of modules to

  • manage the flow of matters,
  • manage “new contract creation from start to finish via multi-channels (desktop, tablet, mobile)”, and
  • manage their processes and productivity through the analytics module that “provides detailed management information and business insight” to help GCs “preempt risk and reduce future cost.”

As Katy Robson, Riverview Law’s head of IT, observed: they have built these tools from the bottom-up, from the lawyer’s perspective and reflecting lawyer user requirements. Equally, they have built these tools from the top-down to ensure the tools provide the necessary data and analytical capability to run a legal business more efficiently.

 Treating whiplash

So what happens after you suffer from whiplash? According to the helpful Mayo Clinic staff:

Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe. Treatment typically begins with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice applied to the painful neck muscles. If pain persists, prescription medications and physical therapy may be helpful.

Most people recover from whiplash in just a few weeks, but some people may develop chronic pain after a whiplash injury.

While most people recover within a few weeks, I suspect the denizens of the legal industry will take much longer. However, all is not lost. Karl Chapman has kindly offered to license their technology to in-house counsel who do not use Riverview Law’s managed services. I wonder how other law firms will respond when their clients purchase Riverview Law’s In-House Solutions? The contrast between a client’s new software-enabled efficiency and their external counsel’s approach could be quite striking.

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

 

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An Introduction to Microsoft’s Office Graph #KMWorld

kmworld-socialSpeaker:  David Pileggi, Senior Consultant, Earley & Associates

Session Description: Pileggi discusses the recently introduced Office Graph that offers an innovative foundation for designing and delivering information rich experiences to users based on behavior and their relationships to both their peers and content. He explores how these contextually relevant experiences can be delivered through custom developed apps such as Oslo and how components of information architecture including taxonomy and metadata can be used to enrich these search-driven solutions.

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2014 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • What is it? Office Graph is an extension of Yammer’s Enterprise Graph. It is a tool that does not operate independently. It needs another tool such as Office Delve to surface insights. Office Graph combines 3 buzzwords: Social, Cloud and BigData. 
    • According to the Office Blogs: “The Office Graph uses sophisticated machine learning techniques to connect you to the relevant documents, conversations, and people around you.”
  • What’s driving it? Data is doubling every year; information workers are overwhelmed by content. Further, people have been relying on the Verizon Search Engine (i.e., picking up the phone and asking for help) or Email trees.
  • How does it work? Office Graph records what you are doing. What people, sites or documents are you following? What have you posted? What have you shared? With this data, Office Graph then starts identifying relationships and relevancy. Then it can present relevant content to you via Delve.
  • What works with it? SharePoint Online, Office 365. In time, it will work with Yammer as well.
  • What does this mean for us? Office Graph is to unstructured data as taxonomy is to structured data.
  • Governance: Office Graph is either turned on OR off for your ENTIRE enterprise. At this point, it cannot be turned on for some uses/users and off for others. Be sure that this is acceptable under the data privacy rules of every jurisdiction in which your organization operates. Delve respects the permissions in SharePoint, so Delve will deliver and display only the content from Office Graph that a particular user has permission to see.
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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Purchasing Digital Workplace Technology #KMWorld

kmworld-socialSpeaker: Jarrod Gingras, Senior Analyst and Managing Director, Real Story Group

Session Description: Based on work with thousands of enterprises, Gingras shares the common mistakes that cause technology projects to go off the rails before they even start. He reviews the 10 most critical mistakes that enterprises make during the digital workplace technology selection process and introduces ways to navigate around them.

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2014 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Perspective & Disclaimers: Real Story Group describes itself as the consumer reports of the digital workplace space and digital marketing space. They analyze the weaknesses and strengths of the tools and their vendors. They also do some consulting on technology audits; technology strategy & roadmaps; and product and vendor selection (i.e., tech matchmaking). They consider themselves to be a buyer’s advocate for enterprises looking to invest in content technologies (e.g., web content and experience management, digital and media asset management, enterprise collaboration and social software, SharePoint, etc.).
  1. Neglecting the Business Case: Now that there are some cheap/free technology options, it is easy to overlook the business case. After all who wants to go through the hoops of identifying and documenting the business case? Wrong! It’s important to consider more than just the financial implications of new technology. The companies that go through the discipline of creating a business case find that they are more honest about goals and requirements, and it improves their communications internally about the project.
  2. Prioritizing systems over screens: IT tends to focus on the “IT stack” (e.g., access channels, common core of standards and frameworks such as permissions and security, systems of records, technology platforms, infrastructure services). This approach is good for the enterprise, but Gingras says you should take a more employee-centered view. Employees want efficiency, effectiveness, ease of use. They want applications that help them work better. Think about giving them a social Q&A capability rather than thinking about a system (e.g., document management system). Focus on what they want to get done. This means you have to put a priority on the user experience (e.g., user journeys and top tasks, workplace “contextually inquiry,” etc.). This may mean poaching UX/UI talent from other businesses/industries.
  3. Thinking project, not product: Think beyond the implementation project. Think about your digital workplace initiative as a product that needs to managed, they need care and feeding, they need continuous improvement. Focus on product managers, not just project managers. Product managers work with your internal communities to improve the product and mine those communities for new ideas and use cases.
  4. Falling into the requirement checklist trap: The RFP isn’t the problem. The type of RFPs are the problem. Don’t start by identifying all your technical requirements. Vendors will just respond by claiming that they can do every little thing you want. Do start with a handful of high-level technical requirements. Then, focus on typical scenarios and processes for which you need a tech solution. Be careful to be sufficiently DEScription without being excessively PREscriptive. This allows the vendor to engage with your issues/dreams rather than disembodied requirements. These scenarios can be used to shortlist the right vendors and create a bake-off among vendors.
  5. Shortlisting the wrong vendors: If you shortlist the wrong vendors, you end up doing an apples-to-oranges comparisons. It can be confusing to sort out vendors because many of them overlap. Yet not all of them are right for your needs. Yes, they all may be able to solve your problem BUT they will likely use very different approaches.  Do your homework so you understand the difference in their approaches. How do you get to the right shortlist? Start with your use case scenarios. Then compare those to the “canonical use cases” that each vendor is best at. (When they move outside their sweet spot, they end up customizing massively to get their square peg into your round hole.”) You want to match your key use case to their greatest area of strength. In other words: find the products that were built with your use case in mind.
  6. Only viewing canned demos: Most canned demos are a waste of time. They always look good, but they have very little to do with your use case/problem. Demand that the vendor provides a demo that matches your scenario. In addition, insist that they spend the vast majority of their time on these scenarios and just a few minutes (10?) on their company. Be aware that vendors want to focus on the Sexy: social, mobile, cloud, sentiment analysis, etc. Instead force them to focus on the Not Sexy: workflow, version control, audit trails, content models, taxonomies, metadata, etc.
  7. Underestimating the full implementation picture: Most companies overbuy and over-estimate. Don’t overbuy on products. If you can’t implement or adopt them sufficiently, it’s a waste of time and money. Equally, don’t over-estimate your capability to implement and use a technology. Often you need a third-party integrator, implementor or consultant to help you actually standup and adopt the new tool. You may need a blend of in-house team, professional services and third-party advisors.
  8. Improperly test-driving the solution: Conduct a realistic bake-off or proof-of-concept to build out something that closely addresses your most important scenarios. This will reveal what it is really like to accomplish simple things (e.g., configure users, create templates, modify workflows, etc.) and it reveals the harder things you will face. Use “your kitchen, your ingredients and your cooks.” This means your premises, your users, your scenario.
  9. Ignoring the intangibles: Don’t purchase without first assessing vendor professional services, channel partner services, support & community, strategy & roadmap; and the viability & stability of this product and this vendor. You need a scenario fit, a technology fit, a vendor fit and a value fit.
  10. Waiting too long to negotiate: List pricing is always negotiable in larger deals. They have seen up to 100% price reductions in order to win/keep a customer. So don’t accept rack rates. (Obviously smaller deals have less room to negotiate.) Most organizations do their price negotiations at the selection/launch phase, which is after you have made a substantial investment of time and effort. This is too late. At this point, you don’t have much negotiating room. It’s better to negotiate at the time you are getting your true scenario onsite demos — always pushing the price down as the vendor learns more about you and how well the product fits out of the box.
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A Law Firm Lesson from Apple

Apple_gray_logoOkay. I’ll admit to a fangirl moment (or three) as I watched the much-anticipated Apple announcement. Apple had lots of good news for device junkies: bigger and better phones and a gorgeous new watch.

Wedged between the announcements about new devices, however, was an interesting introduction to an innovative service: Apple Pay. In brief, Apple deploys near-field communication technology to allow us to use phones and watches to make contactless payments. Apple’s vision is to replace the wallet altogether, beginning with payments.

According to Apple CEO, Tim Cook, credit and debit payments are a huge business in themselves — 200 million transactions each day totalling $12 billion per day and $4 trillion each year, just in the United States. However, this business is built on a precarious foundation: thin pieces of plastic that use magnetic strip technology that is five-decades old and security codes that are not terribly secure.

None of this is news. In fact, we’ve known for some time that this business was ripe for disruption, yet that disruption never materialized — despite the evident dangers of the current system.

Enter Apple and Apple Pay. Granted, Apple has the technology, reach and audacity to reform a business so different from its core business. (After all, we’ve seen Apple make this move before in the music industry and the telecoms industry.) Yet, what made it possible for Apple to take on the financial services industry when others have tried and failed? Here’s the answer in Tim Cook’s words:

It’s no wonder that people have dreamed of replacing [credit cards] for years. But they’ve all failed. … Why is this? It’s because…most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.

We love this kind of problem. This is exactly what Apple does best. So we’ve created an entirely new payment process and we call it Apple Pay.

In case you missed it, here are the critical words: “most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.” When I heard these words, I sat up and took notice. I couldn’t help but wonder: was he talking about law firms? How many firms are built on a business model that privileges the self-interest of partners instead of focusing on the client experience?

While every law firm claims to put its clients first, does it really? Does your firm?

If you’re wondering what the client-first approach would look like in practice, consider Riverview Law. This firm claims to have built its business model “from the client up” as opposed to “from the partner down.” According to Karl Chapman, Riverview’s CEO, putting the client first has a direct impact on the type of people they recruit, the systems they use, and the way they reward and compensate people. Above all, it means developing a firm culture that is markedly different from that of most firms you know.

Apple is considered the most valuable company in the world. Riverview Law is tiny compared to Apple, but it shares Apple’s focus on the client experience. And, like Apple, it has created an entirely new process to serve that client focus. How does your law firm stack up?

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org]

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A Fitter Bit for Lawyers?

shocklawOne of the biggest stories at the recent South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW) concerned wearable technology. This technology comes in the form of accessories (e.g., wristbands, watches, rings, pendants, bags, etc.) and clothing that collect and process data or provide other functionality. Most folks are familiar with Fitbit, Google Glass and the Pebble watch, but if you want a quick introduction to some of the latest devices, consider a few of the wearables described recently by New York Magazine:

  • Nymi – This bracelet can identify you based on the unique rhythm of your heart beat. If you are wearing the bracelet it can authenticate you and give you access to your smartphone, computer and, theoretically any account that requires a pin or password.
  • Skully – This voice-controlled motorcyle helmet incorporates augmented-reality tools like a rearview camera, GPS, and music.
  • The 314 Purse – This handbag uses “MIT fuel cell technology” to charge a cell phone 14 times. Why 314? Those are the the first three digits of pi.

We expect trendy tech at SXSW. But if you are like me, the last place you expect to find trendy tech is in a law firm. So imagine my surprise when I received a press release from the Janders Dean management consulting firm stating that they were bringing to market the first ever wearable device specifically for lawyers:

Janders Dean is pleased to announce the launch of the ShockLaw© wearable time management technology solution for law firms and lawyers – featuring the Bill-IT© bracelet with LawyerShock© vibration technology, the ShockLaw© Server, and associated mobile device monitoring apps.

The press release goes on to recite some of the device’s remarkable features:

  • The device “integrates wirelessly with the firm’s practice management or time capture products.”
  • “Not only does the innovative solution allow for tracking of a lawyer’s movements, the software integration with the firm’s time capture system allows firm management to be informed when an individual lawyer (or an entire Practice Group) has not reached their billable hour targets for a set period of time.”
  • “The individual lawyers also benefit from the inbuilt vibration motor. This sends an alert through to the wearer every six minutes to remind them to record their time, while also sending further and more intense alerts through if they have fallen behind in their billable hours.”
  • “Sensors within the wearable component of the Bill-IT© bracelet also alert management if the user is attempting to remove the device, or if inactivity of the user for a determined period of time is detected.”

To be perfectly honest, as I read through the features list, I found myself grateful that I had left the full-time practice of law before the advent of ShockLaw. The monitoring permitted by the device seemed to me to go far beyond what lawyers already deal with as they struggle with the realities of being on call 24/7. But perhaps I have an old-fashioned and sentimental view of the profession of law. Justin North of Janders Dean appears much more pragmatic about the realities of the business of law in the 21st century:

`Interest from law firm management in the product has been overwhelming.’ said North, `It shows that firms are truly embracing emerging legal technologies, in an increasingly competitive market, with a clear desire to proactively increase lawyer productivity‘ he concluded.

While I applaud the pioneering spirit (and sheer audacity) of this device and its makers, I must admit I was relieved to note that the date on the press release was April 1. And, if I had any doubts about the implications of that date, the following announcement in the press release gave me the confirmation I needed:

It is expected that the new release of the ShockLaw© platform (due out in late December 2014) will contain functionality which can automatically disable a lawyer’s ability to exit the building or access refreshments if they have not entered their time as required, or if they are falling behind their expected billable hours.

Kudos to Janders Dean for their brilliant celebration of April Fools’ Day!

 

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Iron Tech Lawyers: Unleashing Technology to Improve the Practice of Law

For years optimists have said that things will get better once Millennials become associates in law firms. According to these optimists, this younger cohort will bring new values and new ways of working to hide-bound firms. At this point in time, several classes of digital natives are now beavering away in law firms around the country, but we haven’t seen a huge wave of change. In fairness, they are still very junior and probably do not have the requisite power within their firms to insist on improvements. Further, in harsh economic times one could be forgiven for putting one’s head down and working hard rather than rocking the boat. Finally, and most importantly, their law school education was fairly traditional so they were not trained to buck the traditional ways of doing things within their firms.

Does this mean that nothing will change? Not necessarily so. At least one law school is training its students to think differently about the practice of law.

On April 17, Georgetown Law School will be hosting its second annual Iron Tech Lawyer Competition. It is the capstone of the practicum taught by Professor Tanina Rostain and Adjunct Professor Roger Skalbeck called “Technology, Innovation and Legal Practice Practicum – Access to Justice.” The focus of this seminar is to ground law students in the possibilities and practicalities of  law practice innovation enabled by technology. Here’s how the curriculum guide describes it:

This practicum course exposes students to the varied uses of computer technologies in the practice of law. During our seminar meetings, students become familiar with various innovative software platforms that are being adopted in law practice to enhance access to justice, capture legal expertise, interface with clients, manage litigation and transactional processes, and increase the efficiency and quality of legal services. Topics include: legal expert systems, virtual law practice, automated document assembly, technology assisted document review, and electronic legal research. For the field placement component, students work in small teams for a legal service organization to develop a platform, application, or automated system that increases access to justice and/or improves the effectiveness of legal representation. These organizations include civil rights organizations, direct service providers, and government agencies. The course culminates in a design competition, The Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer Contest, which is judged by outside experts in the field. Along the way, students learn teamwork, an understanding of the relationship among the rules and doctrines that apply within a particular legal regime, and visual literacy skills. The goal is that, by the end of the semester, each team will have built a functional app that is adopted by the legal service organization and put into use for the organization or its clients.

This course is not about using Microsoft Office efficiently. It’s about unleashing the power of technology to unleash the power of the law.

Wow.

I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens when these Georgetown Law School graduates begin to practice law. They have been taught how to use technology to practice smarter for the greater good. More law schools need courses like these. And every law firm needs graduates like these.

[Hat tip to Neota Logic for providing the expert system that was so critical for the Iron Tech Lawyer program.]

Update from Professor Rostain on April 16: “If you want to catch a glimpse of the action, go to http://apps.law.georgetown.edu/webcasts/eventDetail.cfm?eventID=2007 or click through our home page. The link will go live shortly before 1:30 {Wednesday] afternoon.”

 

 

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G100 CIO Recap #ILTA12

At every ILTA conference the chief information officers of the 100 largest global law firms have a day-long meeting. This session provides a recap for those of us who were unable to attend the full day session.

Speakers: Gareth Ash (CIO, Allen & Overy), Ash Banerjee (CIO, WilmerHale), Don Jaycox (CIO, DLA Piper), Andy Jurczyk (CIO, Seyfarth Shaw). Marcia Stein helped organize the G100 event.

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2012 Conference 2012. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Jim Jones Presentation. Jim Jones (from the Hildebrandt Institute) often is asked to provide a strategic industry perspective to managing partners. He came to the G100 session to share the information he is providing to firm management. Key points: 2012 could be tougher than 2009; the outlook for the next 2 years is not great. Jones reminded the CIOs that this is not just about economic pressures. There are other factors coming into play such as commoditization, enabling technologies, new service providers, globalization. The key is to understand that our economic model is fundamentally unstable. Law firms will not be able to rely on year over year rate increases in order to meet revenue goals. Further, demand for legal services has basically been flat since the market downturn. In Jones’ view, we are firmly in a buyer’s market. Therefore, clients are in a position to make demands on law firms. This means that law firms will have to compete for business on the basis of costs, efficiency and results rather than just on reputation.
  • Implications of Jim Jones’ Presentation. (1) Law firms need to be serious about operating as a business. This means they need to focus on efficiency and effectiveness, addressing productivity issues as soon as possible. (2) Will declines in law school enrollment make it more expensive to find and hire good associates?
  • How Technology can Transform Law Firms FAcing Changing Pricing Models. (1) multiple pricing and billing systems; (2) systems for tracking profitability on a matter basis; (3) user-friendly interfaces allowing partners to perform sensitivity analysis on different pricing strategies; (4) technical support to assist partners in analyzing and setting pricing options; (5) systems enabling fims to respond quickly and efficiently to competitive proposal requests.
  • Implications for the CIO. Technology will increasingly “commoditize” many areas of legal practice, including some complex and high value ones. This means that lawyers will change. Since information is increasingly becoming freely available, clients will pay a premium only for expertize and superior judgment.
  • Gartner Discussion. Data protection and security are key. Law firms need to gather and dig deeper into the data with analytics. There is an increasing push to outsourcing in order to control costs. However, that may limit career opportunities within the IT department. It also can mean that the IT department cannot respond as nimbly if they have to manage lots of external providers. On the flip side, having resources in the cloud can provide some flexibility. Just be sure that you don’t outsource any function that comprises your agility and ability to respond.
  • Data Security. A poll of the G100 CIOs revealed that relatively few had security specialists on their staff. All understood that in addition to technical controls, the key is to increase security awareness among attorneys. Several firms recommended data security training for lawyers based on resources from the SANS Institute entitled “Securing the Human.”
  • What do CIOs want to learn more about?. At the G100 session, they crowdsourced the following topics: (1) How are CIOs measured? What KPIs are used? (2) What are the risks of benchmarking? One big issue is that the benchmarking reports may not allocate the data exactly like your firm does. For example, do network costs show up in operational costs or in IT costs? You have to understand the benchmarking reports before you rely on them for your analysis and planning. (3) How to handle PWC/Citi Reports? Handle with care! It’s very important to key educating the partnership so they understand what contributes to cost and how new projects add value.
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