Web Favourites Jan 18 2010

This post is part of a weekly/bi-weekly roundup of things that I read and found interesting. There won’t be a lot of comment from me, but hopefully you will find the links useful. Enjoy!

Interesting stuff I came across this week:

SharePoint for Legal Project Management–A Retrospective – “To help you understand the power of SharePoint, I thought I would share what I was able to start doing with it within a week of it having it set-up…”

Case Study: Alternative Fees – “We are at the tipping point when it comes to the billable hour, and one law firm leading the way into the future is Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP…It studied what clients stated in writing what they wanted, gave it to them, and generated lots of new business.”

Get Connected or Get Out of the Kitchen – “I’ll make a prediction here that I’ll review this time in 2011. There will emerge two types of solicitors firms by the end of the year: those that have fully adopted IT systems for service delivery and those that have not.”

How We Beat the Snow and Kept on Working

£1bn of productivity lost to bad weatherThis morning saw another couple of inches of snow dumped on us here in North Hampshire and an accident shut the main route into Reading.

According to The Times the cost to the economy in lost productivity is set to reach £2bn.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Simple low cost technology and modern working practices make it easy for employees of professional service companies to work from anywhere.

Here’s how we beat the snow and kept working as normal last week:

  • Staff get laptops, not desktop PCs as standard enabling them to work from home, client site… anywhere
  • Email accounts are accessible via browser, Blackberry, iPhone and of course Outlook from your laptop
  • Project documents are stored centrally in SharePoint and accessible anywhere you have an Internet connection
  • IM worked as a replacement for those ad-hoc office conversations: “Hey, can you remember where the expenses form is…?”
  • Meetings became web conferences complete with video and document sharing

It used to be that only the biggest FTSE-100 companies could afford this type of technology, but Cloud Computing now means that the cost has fallen drastically and it is now no longer about how big you are, but how agile you are.

Maybe the weather is a blessing and maybe, just maybe, things could be about to change

Cloud Computing Explained

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What is Cloud Computing?

Put simply, Cloud Computing means that your computing resources live outside of your computer or physical premises.

What’s All the Fuss About?

Cloud computing is the key driver behind a new emerging economy based on lower costs and higher productivity than before: an economy holding great potential for smaller, agile businesses. The promise of the Cloud is that it enables all sizes of companies to benefit from the economies of scale that until now only large corporations could afford.

What is the Cloud?

The idea may seem strange at first, but the chances are that you are already using the Cloud if you use an online web editor for your website; host your website with a hosting company, or use a web analytics package to measure web hits. Even if you don’t have a website, the simplest forms of Cloud computing already give you remote access to your email, files, photos, online calendar, and instant messaging (IM).

Access to Data

The Cloud makes a lot of sense for those of us who can’t afford or don’t need our own server, but it can go further than that. For example, web conferencing and IM applications store your contacts and details online and can be accessed from any computer running the client software, or often with just a web browser. Email can managed from your PC, your phone or a web browser – any time, anywhere.

Applications in the Cloud

Stepping beyond basic data storage, cloud applications enable business systems such as finance and accounting packages, CRM or HR systems to run externally too. These kind of cloud applications together are called Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, and are typically accessed via a web browser.

The Upside

With your business applications hosted remotely, there are real cost and efficiency benefits.

  • No capital outlay on software or hardware
  • Predictable annual running costs
  • You have the peace of mind that your data is protected and backed up by a service that will not be affected by anything happening to you physical premises
  • Time and labour saving automatic upgrades that don’t need to be downloaded or paid for outside of the software subscription
  • The ability to grow and scale your IT systems easily as your business grows
  • And perhaps most important of all, you get to focus on what you do best: running your business, not running an IT operation

And the Downside

The potential risk of keeping company data externally is security. Most service providers take this risk very seriously and use highly-encrypted communications and storage systems – it’s worth checking when shopping for providers.

Consider too the financial risk: This is a young market with lots of new service providers competing for a share of the market. If your provider runs into financial problems, your service may be compromised. Check to see what protection you have in that situation.

There is also the imperative to be connected to the web when using SaaS applications – not always possible for the mobile worker or anyone who experiences broadband downtime for any reason.

How We Can Help

At Connectegrity we have partnered with Microsoft, one of the most stable and financially secure companies in the world,  to ensure the strictest security and resilience of all of our Cloud Computing offerings. All of our services include:

  • Built-in antivirus and spam filtering
  • Highly secure data access for users via HTTPS
  • Geo-redundant data centre architecture
  • 99.9% scheduled uptime backed by a financial guarantee

And, unlike some other vendors, we believe that the combination of Software plus Services (S+S) provides the best balance of benefits and risks. Unlike SaaS, you get the best of both worlds. Your data lives in the cloud, but smart client applications enable you to continue to work when disconnected, then automatically synchronise with the Cloud when you are next online. You don’t need to do anything at all!

(p.s. The image at the top of this post links to a great 3 minute video from Common Craft explaining Cloud Computing “in plain English”. It’s a great one to share around your company if you are trying to socialise the Cloud Computing concept).

Web Favourites Jan 10 2010

Frozen Britain Jan 2010 This is the first of what I hope will be a weekly or bi-weekly roundup of things that I read and found interesting. There won’t be a lot of comment from me, but hopefully you will find the links useful. Enjoy!

(The picture here is from NASA’s Terra satellite last week and show the extent of the snow and icy conditions on frozen Britain.)

Interesting stuff I came across this week:

A Case for Operating in the Cloud – “Microsoft’s ‘cloud’ enabled me to survive this downturn, will help me thrive in the upturn”. One law firm explain how they cut costs and moved to Exchange Online and SharePoint Online with Microsoft BPOS.

10 Things SharePoint can do for Your Law Firm – How to use SharePoint to “improve attorney effectiveness, deliver better client service and reduce costs”.

Why Some People Are Reluctant to Share – Rajesh Shetty explains the knowledge capture problem of KM tools: When something becomes obvious people tend to stop sharing.

Social Knowledge Management

In their post on tacit knowledge management yesterday, 3 Geeks and a Law blog ask whether 2010 will be the year that Knowledge Management (KM) thrives or dies.

In its current state, KM has turned into a mechanism that attempts to capture explicit knowledge in a way that is seamless to the person creating that knowledge. The results turn out to be databases filled with retrievable information presented as contributed knowledge from someone within the firm. So, we end up with CRM databases, document management systems, research capturing tools and expertise databases. All of which are simply ways that KM has attempted to capture the explicit knowledge of those within the firm as it written down in order to be retrieved at a later time by others in the firm. Unfortunately, this has become the classical KM routine, and the resulting product turns out to be a rarely used resource because the data is either ‘dirty’, obsolete or irrelevant to the current needs of those within the firm.

The Geeks are right. KM as we know it is dead. And the sooner we all realise that, the better.

The key problem of traditional KM tools is a human one: When something becomes obvious, people tend to stop sharing. It becomes implanted in their subconscious as background thinking and they cease to write it down. Rajesh Setty explains this phenomenon beautifully in Why are some people reluctant to share?

What is needed instead are simple tools that connect people to people and their knowledge. And they are not always technology tools…

In my 7 years at Microsoft plenty of KM initiatives came and went but nothing was anywhere near as successful these simple social business tools:

  1. Searchable discussion forums – by far the most important mechanism for sharing knowledge. Why? Because it is based on need. People ask questions, and they get a response, as and when they need it. (Too many KM system entries are based on what experts think people need, or what they think is good for them)
  2. People Search – the ability to search for people based on their area of expertise, see where they sit in your social graph, and get an introduction.
  3. Instant Messaging – to be able to ask questions of experts in time critical situations. You should aim to create a flat organisation. Create a culture where staff are empowered to ask questions of experts and where experts are rewarded for sharing knowledge.
  4. A buddying system for new hires to coach them on the company culture and processes – all the stuff that isn’t in the training manual.
  5. A mentoring programme for all staff to help people build connections both up and across the business.

Blogs and Wikis also had a place too, but to a lesser extent. Blogs were good for keeping up to date with news from various parts of the company. Wikis useful when a group were collaborating to solve a problem or document a process for the first time.

Finally, in 2008 a prototype twitter-like service called TownSquare was introduced which was incredibly was useful for keeping up to date on what your network was working on. This will see the light of day in SharePoint 2010 later this year.

So there you have it… my take on knowledge management and the use of social tools to capture and share knowledge. 

What tools and techniques have you found most useful for sharing knowledge across your organisation?

The Legal Sector and “FREE”

Free ticket How should solicitors and law firms compete with the availability of free legal information on the web? How might it impact current business models?

In the IT industry, we have been grappling with this issue for a number of years… lots and lots of free information and advice on the Web, free open source software, and many, many free websites. Observations from the IT industry are that traditional paid-for software providers are still doing very well. The radical change that we thought open source software would bring hasn’t been as radical as we originally thought, and there are still plenty of well-paid jobs for IT consultants. Free open-source alternatives now with co-exist paid-for products and to varying degrees are embraced by the likes of IBM, Sun and even Microsoft.

Lessons for the legal sector (and indeed any professional service firms)

  • Get close to your clients. Understand their business and become their trusted partner. Show you provide real value. Good consulting fees will remain for people who can do this well
  • Look at low value-add services that you provide. These could easily become cannibalised and commoditized by free alternatives. Consider acting first and making them free before your competitors do (the Sun Open Office approach). Alternatively look at what else you can add to make your offering unique and worth paying for (the Microsoft Office approach)
  • Look how you can use free products and build on top of them to lower your product/service costs
  • Think about how it is possible to create packaged product offerings that can effectively compete with free, rather than simply an hourly service
  • Think how you can create and distribute free offerings yourselves to introduce people to your brand (And perhaps if a free product is one step to far right now, you could consider starting by using free tools to help in your marketing)
  • Consider getting involved and contributing to free information forums in order to build your brand recognition and reputation.  The idea is essentially to build credibility, trust and brand recognition so that when people do need to purchase legal services, they will think to come to you

Cloud Computing to Top IT Spending in 2010

Gartner has published it’s annual prediction of the Top 10 strategic IT investment areas. They are:

  1. Cloud computing
  2. Advanced analytics
  3. Client computing
  4. IT for green
  5. Reshaping the data center
  6. Social computing
  7. Security
  8. Flash memory
  9. Virtualization
  10. Mobile applications

Of those, cloud computing, social computing and analytics are core to the Connectegrity vision and strategy for professional service firms.

Here’s what Gartner goes on to say about why they are strategic investment areas in 2010.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a style of computing that characterizes a model in which providers deliver a variety of IT-enabled capabilities to consumers. Cloud-based services can be exploited in a variety of ways to develop an application or a solution. Using cloud resources does not eliminate the costs of IT solutions, but does re-arrange some and reduce others. In addition, consuming cloud services enterprises will increasingly act as cloud providers and deliver application, information or business process services to customers and business partners.

Advanced Analytics

Optimization and simulation is using analytical tools and models to maximize business process and decision effectiveness by examining alternative outcomes and scenarios, before, during and after process implementation and execution. This can be viewed as a third step in supporting operational business decisions. Fixed rules and prepared policies gave way to more informed decisions powered by the right information delivered at the right time, whether through customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) or other applications. The new step is to provide simulation, prediction, optimization and other analytics, not simply information, to empower even more decision flexibility at the time and place of every business process action. The new step looks into the future, predicting what can or will happen.

Social Computing

Workers do not want two distinct environments to support their work – one for their own work products (whether personal or group) and another for accessing “external” information. Enterprises must focus both on use of social software and social media in the enterprise and participation and integration with externally facing enterprise-sponsored and public communities. Do not ignore the role of the social profile to bring communities together.

Official SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 Blogs

image Following on from my summary the other day of official SharePoint 2010 resources, here’s a list of 20+ official Microsoft Office and SharePoint product team blogs that you can count on to have the most up-to-date product information as we head towards launch.

 

SharePoint Server 2010 Blogs

 

Office 2010 Client App Blogs

 

Have I missed anything? Leave a comment below to let me know.