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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Save the Wave: Creative Ways to Use GoogleWave


I read a blog post a while back, which referred to news of the anticipated demise of Google Wave.
The comments about wave were less than favorable.
To sum up , it was basically “See you buddy, won’t be missing you”.
This probably captures the sentiments of all those people who tried and eschewed the wave, as just another tedious thing to learn. After all email is still the communication medium of choice of office workers everywhere. Anything you find, send it off in an email to everybody else.

I guess it would take something fabulous and out of the ordinary (and VERY easy to use), to   displace email. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE email and am on it all day, checking every new item that reaches my inbox. I could not imagine life without email after all.
(On another note, the generation born after the Millennials think that email is way too slow. But that is another blog...).
However, who has time to read all the dozens of references sent so kindly to us by co-workers in the spirit of sharing all the good stuff they find online, when time is at a premium and deadlines are to be met. It’s interesting to read “Look what I found about the feedback on the Galaxy Tab, or sales of the Ipad, or about “The Apprentice”, or even a very relevant link to a topic that’s related to a work project on your schedule. But you don’t need all those article links in your inbox. It just creates a mountain of data  to wade through.
Worse yet, when you’re ready to settle down to work on that project, you may not remember that little link that you or some kind co-worker found, way back in April. You could do an email search, but it brings up a host of irrelevant ones.
Now this is where I have been using the Wave to great advantage, and I’ve been asked before, why Wave, when there’s Google Docs.
My answer to that is that Wave is so much more.
I think Google Docs is a great tool for working on a document in collaboration with other people. Several persons can work on the same doc at the same time, editing and adding, thereby shortening time spent back and forth between contributors. You can add links and pictures as well.
However I see Google wave as being open to several other uses (and being more user friendly for those uses).

To create new ideas and designs
It is a wonderful tool for a project/team/business manager, or anyone who holds a lead role. I see it as a repository for all kinds of wonderful stuff that could seed the next great idea or service or product for a business.
Let’s say we are thinking of what’s on the agenda for next year’s customer or client offerings and need to brainstorm the ‘what can we create’ process.
Well the wave is a super e-bank for storing all bits and pieces of information that we find interesting and possibly predictive of future trends. Any item, in any electronic medium could be a diamond in the rough that if you look closely and think about long enough, may spark a new idea. You can open a new wave for every new topic or subject matter you want to develop. It then becomes a convenient drop-box where anyone you’ve  added to the wave, can leave anything they find related to that topic. So let’s say our company is in the business of designing baby products. You can open a wave for the next new baby design. Now anyone in your company who is not even on the design team, can contribute their ideas. Every person who is a parent, or takes care of babies, may have some views they want to express. E.g., They want a particular kind of bag with so many pockets, compartments etc , to hold certain baby items when taking baby out. Some people might have come across pictures of bags/receptacles that are native to some far flung community for instance, which might be a worth looking at as a model. These pics may be thrown in as well. Someone could have come across an article dealing with issues moms face that could shed some light on their needs from a  design or health standpoint. A link to the latest amendments to regulatory standards. An interview that discusses fashion trends for next year. A video from any source that shows parents toting babies around in the mall, the streets, the park, the beach etc. A news documentary, a book, a magazine. In short a cornucopia of raw data from different electronic media, plus staff just posting up their thoughts in a conversational format. Perhaps links to blogs, tweets, facebook pages etc etc.
The thing to note here is that each piece of information or link in the wave may not be of much use by itself. However, when you look at all this stuff from a larger, global type perspective, you may see an idea emerging. Something begins to take shape and assume a form, and this could  be the genesis for the next new product you design. The stuff in the wave are simply the touch stones which may set off the lightbulb in your head. I see it as a great medium for collaboration to take place in, among people from different kinds of disciplines, who come at the same issue from different perspectives.For example people with scientific, artistic, business economic or marketing backgrounds, giving their take on the same issue, but informed by their particular type of training and experience.

So those were detailed examples of kinds of data that can be thrown into the wave.
Here are some other ways that the wave can be used:

For project leaders to see what data team members have come up with so far on a creative project.
Project design and management software the wave is not. But instead of sending emails to update or share information with the team, the wave is one central location where the leader or members can see all the information that’s available on the project so far. Links can be pasted to documents, charts, memos, and other works related to a project.This use may be of interest to the smaller businesses who don’t have funds to purchase expensive software.

To collect relevant information and data, to write that next article, assignment, or book
I am constantly collecting information from all kinds of web sources to  inspire me to write something new, whether it’s for my blog, or a work related article.
Some of the material I collect is my research for writing, or simply to educate myself about a subject I am interested in.
There are many very good add-ons and extensions which work with my browser (Firefox), which have become indispensable to help organise my work. I mentioned several of them in my last posting about the old ways and good days (zotero, pearltrees, read later, delicious etc).
These add-ons are excellent for helping me capture links or screen shots of webpages which contain information I want to store for later. Sometimes I don’t have time to read it, so one click on my ‘Read Later’ button ensures I can find all of them together when I want to sit down for a good read.
However when I am ready to put together a piece for a presentation, blog, article, paper etc, it helps to pull only the relevant web pages together in a wave, for there’s a mass of interesting info that I’ve collected in these other bookmarking tools.
Usually though, when I am not generally browsing, but searching for specific topic-relevant info, I put them straight into the wave. This way I only have highly relevant data that I know I want to use to construct the piece.

I was very disappointed to hear the news of the Wave’s possible/probable/certain? demise.
Now what will I use that is free, to do all the stuff I described above?

I am open to any and all suggestions.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old Ways and Good Days?

I am working on a new article for posting on JD Supra and find myself challenged to locate my source material and quotes, despite the cool technology aids I have on my computer.
I use add-ons such as zotero, pearltrees, read later, amplify and delicious (not all at once...that would lead to chaos), in order to store webpages and snippets of research for later, or to comment on. I extract informational gems I wish to keep together and put them in one location in a google wave for easy retrieval when I'm ready to write on a particular topic.
When first I started, I compared the way that technology enables me to work faster and more efficiently than the days of yore. In pre-digital days one would collect numerous tomes, or pages thereof with the prized information that would form the basis of one's next great discourse. A large table or desktop ( latter not to be confused with the machinery that sits on the top of a desk), was essential to the whole writing process as one had perforce to spread out all the necessary papers in order to organise one's thoughts and information.

Then along came the internet. And then came the more recent advent of applications, add-ons and such, with which to make the internet more easy to use, and use more of it.
The above-mentioned add-ons have enabled me to collect so much information from scholarly and news sources, and it's all stored on one little portable machine. And I don't even need a large desktop (or top of a desk), to keep all the stuff on!
So here I am with tons of research purportedly at my fingertips and it should be a cinch to write an article. Right?
Well, truth be told, I am butting up against the bane of technology...information overload!
To be using that term today is so 'yesterday', I know, I know, but here's the thing:
I am finding that while I can open several windows and tabs with the various sources of information (usually articles, whitepapers etc etc), there just isn't enough real estate on a laptop screen to view it all in perspective.
Woe is me!! I got the smallest one that is not a netbook, in order to tote it around without it steadily becoming heavier, as light things are known to become with distance (ever held a newborn for hours at a time?).
But even if it were a large screen, desktop or laptop, it really would not be able to give me that facility of the days of yore.
You see, it's a matter of being able to put it all in visual perspective. When I had my papers spread out on the traditional desktop, I got a bird's eye view of all the information I had. Somehow seeing it from that overview, makes a difference. It's like looking at a puzzle and seeing where all the pieces should fit. Even though Windows 7 allows me to snap to two screens quickly, and I could open more screens if I wanted to, it's not the same. The screen shots get too tiny to be of any real use. And I have so much information now, that it's quite tedious to go into each source to extract the passages or pertinent parts that I would want to refer to in the article I am writing.
I never thought I would be saying this about enabling technology, but today I am a little nostalgic for the old days and the older ways, when life was much less complex.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saturday and the City

One lazy Saturday morning in the city...

What a way to live I thought. Strange enough, there are ways to find serenity in a big, busy city.
Toronto is not New York, but we do have a population of about 5 million in the GTA.
The metro area in the city centre has a concentration of about 2.5 million.

So how I found my serenity in the downtown core of this busy city...
It is rather easier on a Saturday morning when the business folk take the time to reconnect with living outside the office domain.I did what I felt like yesterday and this is how it went.

Got up early and was out for a trot walk by 8am. I took the tree and garden-lined streets with names like Kilbarry and Dunvegan to find my way to Lonsdale Road where I turned towards Spadina and stumbled happily upon Forest Hill Village. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_Hill,_Toronto
This village is tiny and oh so charming. The pic here doesn't do it justice as I did not use my camera.
I stored it away in my mind for breakfast at some future date.

Being near St Clair, I walked down to the streetcar line and waited for the streetcar to take me to the subway station. There I found Ms Recently Divorced and got into a conversation with her. (That's how I know she was recently divorced). I used to think it is unusual for Canadians to strike up conversations with strangers, but more and more I am finding this is not true. Some people are quite willing to talk, if given a chance, though it is evident that the older folk are somewhat more delighted to of share themselves.
Ms R.D. was probably in her 50's and was starting life over after 17  years of marriage in a city she had returned to after spending most of her life away. That's tough and she said as much.
I rather enjoyed listening to her and offered moral support.
Then the streetcar came along and we separated.
I got on the train to take me downtown to the St Lawrence Market where I would normally drive to pick up veggies for the week. But not this morning...I had other things on my mind.
Breakfast in the market, yummmm!
But there was one sour note though. I discovered that a $20 bill had fallen out of my unzipped pocket somewhere on my way. I had stuffed a couple bills there as I could not take anything else during a morning jog. I was truly miffed at my loss. Anyway I had a $10 left and that was more than enough for a market breakfast. So I chose to get something from Mustachio's , the Italian place which had a Saturday special for under $4, excluding coffee.It was really not the best choice. I had the western omelette without the ham and absolutely did not enjoy it!. Eggs were overcooked and there was nothing in it but cheese...Aren't there supposed to be some onions and green peppers in there too?
But nothing was going to spoil my Saturday city jaunt, no sirreeee.
I wandered about the south market which is an inside market on two levels.
Website is here
It was really lovely. So many people to bump into, families, screaming kids...ok, maybe they weren't all screaming , but i did hear a baby...
The shops are sooooo enticing. I spent more than half an hour in the kitchenware shop. They have everything there! There's been so much stuff invented for needs you did not even know you had in the kitchen.
 Get this, tiny plastic 'pinch' bowls to elegantly dispense your spices and herbs into your cooking pot. The inventory of gadgets would have driven my dad into ecstasy. Dad so loved to buy useless kitchen stuff which my mom would store in a cupboard somewhere, as dad never did cook. I even saw my briki (at a much higher price than I paid), and the most darling little ceramic kitsch to hold your olives, sugar cubes, berries and heaven knows what else.
There's a bakery, several cheese shops, a mustard shop, olive oil shop and so much more.
Here's an (admittedly bad) pic of the mustard shop with some olive oil over top.

And a group of musicians who were playing classical music at the entrance door.











And I saw the oddest dog outside the market. Let's just call her "Mop the Dog" because that 's exactly what she looks like!:
After the market I went across the street to the gardens on King Street. This little park is even more beautiful now, late in summer.
Here's what the flower garden looks like:

      
And I saw these pigeons taking a bath in the fountain...lots of pigeons:

      

Later in the afternoon I went to the hall on Bloor and Spadina and danced salsa to my heart's content.
Maybe not totally though. I can never get enough salsa and this evening I'll be going for more at Dovercourt House.

I so enjoy living in this city!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How Corporate Counsel Challenged Law Firms

I just joined JD Supra on LinkedIn and my profile page is here .
So I posted up an article concerning recent trends in the legal industry and hope to continue doing this on a regular basis. It's part of what I do at my new position in the management consultancy.
I am reproducing the article here so you can see the professional work I do in addition to my other personal postings here!


How Corporate Counsel Challenged Law Firms

2009 was reputed to be the worst for budget-slashing and layoffs in recent memory in the legal
industry. As companies struggled to keep afloat while the markets were crashing, clients’ legal
budgets were slashed by any figure from 5 to 20%, with increasing pressures to reduce legal
spend. Corporate counsels’ response through the ACC Value Challenge to law firms was:
“Show me the value”.
Towards the end of 2008, the ACC Value Challenge had been launched to address the
concerns that in- house counsel had with the traditional business model long held dear by their
counterpart external counsel.
For many years previously, there had been much chatter in the corporate fraternity about
bringing costs in line with value as regards services rendered by external counsel.
However although ‘value’ remained a hot topic in corporate circles, it was not until the recession
kicked in by 2009 that corporate counsel really got down to business, seriously challenging the
billing model, and experimenting with creative alternatives to re-align costs with value.
Since a legal department’s success in the eyes of its CEO is measured by the value it adds to the company, it is no surprise that ‘value’ is the major driver in the call for change. Providing
value, value added, value add-ons are now standard vocabulary in the negotiating arsenal of
corporate counsel in the new client driven marketplace.
For the first time, the value propositions of law firms were held up to public scrutiny in the
technologically-enabled medium of the ACC Value Index and external counsel were alerted that
they might not be driving that bus (er, BMW) any more.
The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) describes itself as “the world’s largest
organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the
legal departments of corporations, associations and other private-sector organizations around
the globe”. Credited with “25,000 members employed by over 10,000 organizations in more than
70 countries”, when those members decide to speak up and deliver a common message, the
law firm community would be wise to start paying attention.
The Value Challenge is an initiative to ‘’revolutionize the legal services marketplace by
promoting dialogue among corporate counsel, law firms, law schools and others’’ interested in
driving the alignment between cost and value. One objective is to develop metrics for corporate
counsel to assess their legal service providers and to create tools to share those findings within
the client community. Coupled with training exercises to hone management and business skills,
it would send the message to the C-suite that legal departments are fully on board with the
corporate vision for driving profitability by improving business efficiencies.

The most significant tool to emerge out of the Value Challenge is the ACC Value Index. It is an
online forum where corporate counsel get to rate external counsel in six categories and the
ratings are shared by members. Analogous to “product review” websites, it could provide a
useful reference for the selection of external counsel as members are encouraged to provide
explanatory comments for their ratings. It is also a good place for law firms to find out how they
are perceived by clients.
More than law firm-bashing, the ACC cautiously points out that content has been fairly balanced
so far in that it reveals those firms which apparently “get it”, with respect to the value that clients
expect to receive.
What better and freer advertising than peer reviewed commentary (when it’s good). Of course it
works the other way around too...
While participation appears sparse so far (2783 evaluations of 855 firms as at August, 2010,
remembering that the ACC’s 25,000 members come from 70 countries), the statistics point to an
interesting observation. While the rating criteria of “expertise”, “understanding of objectives”,
and even”communication”, got decent scores of 4.4 + out of 5, “predictability of cost” and
“efficiency/process management” lagged behind at 3.9 and 4.1 respectively.
It is therefore no surprise to find out that corporate counsel are concerned not merely with price,
but with the predictability of cost.
This was one of several issues addressed at the Law Firm Evolution Conference concluded in
March, 2010 at the Georgetown University Law Center.
The conference was sub-titled “Brave New World, or Business as Usual”, and considered
adjustments by Big Law to prevailing market conditions. Speakers and panelists drew on new
trends happening globally in the legal industry and wondered whether the new “ efficiency”
business practices by law firms herald a wind of change which would benefit corporate law
departments or whether it’s only a temporary disruption to the traditional law firm business
model.
What emerged out of the conference was that external market forces have catalyzed the recent
commoditization of certain types of legal services. While the bespoke nature of legal services
will always ( in the foreseeable future) be the core business of the law firm, the rise of
outsourcing services over the last year has had a disruptive (good disruptive) effect on business
strategy.
The increasing pressure brought to bear by general counsel upon law firms for transparency in
billing and more value for cost has led some of the major law firms in the UK and US to rethink
their value proposition. At least one US law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, created for the first time
the position of Chief Value Officer as a direct result of the firm’s buy-in to the Value Challenge.
The intent is to institute business efficiencies to create more value and predictability for clients.
A few corporations took the unprecedented step of reviewing and reducing their panels of law
firms in an effort to clean up and streamline the complex assortment of external counsel for
various legal needs. Perhaps the most quoted example is in 2006 when Tyco in the UK reduced
its panel of 250 law firms to just one - Eversheds. The arrangement must be saving Tyco a
bundle since the agreement with Eversheds was recently renewed for a third time.
It was these kinds of shifting attitudes that spawned the development of the outsourcing market.
Some of the issues which forced law firms to reconsider the way they do business happened
when general counsel started questioning the composition of fees. One sore point is not just the
number of hours billed, but the fact that junior associates are often billed out at rates anywhere
from $300 plus, per hour for low level work that could equally be done by a non-lawyer at a
lower charge out rate. Conversely, partners and senior associates bill at costly rates for lowerend
work that could be handled by a junior associate.
This was the scenario in 2009 which provided a fertile breeding ground for the growth of the
legal process outsourcing industry. Firms were under pressure from corporate clients to find
ways to compete on price and value and legal outsourcers had the means to provide those
ways.
Perhaps the most significant trend was the rise of off-shore outsourcing in India where new
outsourcing firms, staffed with lawyers and support staff began to offer the lower end repeatable
legal work at far cheaper rates than in North America and the UK.
Right on cue in 2010, a sprinkling of onshore outsourcing companies in both North America and
the UK are beginning to enter the market with a variety of offerings designed to take over the
grunt work in high volume processes such as document review and assembly, legal
transcription, legal research, e-discovery and other aspects of litigation support and readiness.
2009 to 2010 has also seen a rise in the number of legal management consultancies offering
higher end strategic and risk management services aimed at the managing partners and CEO’s
of law firms, and general counsel as well.
The message to Big Law is becoming clear. Profitability rests not only upon the rainmaking
capabilities of counsel, but upon a revision of business processes for maximizing of efficiencies
and delivering more value for cost.