The 13th annual technology survey of AM Law 200 firms makes for a disappointing read from a social software/organisational change perspective. The report suggests that firms are grappling with issues like “what emerging technologies are worth investing in – and which aren’t ready for prime time”. However, in respect of ‘collaborative’ technologies respondees were asked only whether their firms use web conference software, blogs or wikis. What! No mention of RSS, feed readers or aggregators, let alone micro-blogging, friendfeeds, personalised pages, social tagging or content filtering.
The report blandly states that:
“While some firms have dipped their toes in the water — 43 percent run one or more blogs; 24 percent use intranet wikis (Web pages that let users contribute or modify content) — it’s been fairly ho-hum stuff by Internet standards. Blogs with lawyer posts on happenings in a practice area and wikis to collaborate on interoffice documents are the norm. It’s still unclear what sort of future these technologies have in a law office. But seemingly everyone is thinking about it.”
Of course firms are thinking about it! Else they will find themselves sitting on the wrong end of the technology commoditisation process which turns yesterday’s shiny innovation (*email*) into today’s ubiquitous baseline or even legacy tool. Not only do such tools offer no competitive advantage, they also trigger negative consequences, like information overload and silos of out-of-date content.
And the examples in the report of how blogs, wikis and social networking tools are being used in firms certainly are ‘ho-hum’. From adoption and knowledge sharing perspectives, the Allen & Overy use of group blogs (integrated into wiki spaces) for knowledge networking is far more instructive. As for wikis, they can be used to capture ideas, questions and comments in respect of groups or projects, and then to aggregate all interactions with content, so as to highlight recent activities, popular and/or salient items (from an individual or group perspective). All these collaboration activities are quite distinctive, yet supplementary to, document management activities supported by other systems, as these articles illustrate:
Those are just a few examples of how firms are endeavouring to adapt and apply new techologies to help people work in smarter more social ways. And there are even greater opportunities for the ‘re-engineering’ of knowledge intensive processes in business through technology. As Simon Wardley has emphasised, unlike previous generations of technology, which essentially offered the opportunity of ‘substitution innovation’ (doing what had always been done a little better), new technologies like RSS, micro-blogging, social tagging and networking tools, offer possibilities for radical change in the way in which things are done.
These are some changes we are seeing or expect to see very shortly through the use of integrated platforms incorporating a range of social tools:
- Reducing information retrieval costs by encouraging users to employ monitoring and delivery modes of information retrieval rather than searching for information or navigating to static destinations (like external sites). The former modes rely on RSS feeds delivered to feed readers, blackberries or mail accounts.
- Helping people to get out of their inboxes by offering alternatives to email.
- Using micro-blogging to spark quick reaction to breaking news, increase awareness of on-going work and to strengthen social ties across the firm
- Eradicating the static expertise directory and instead pulling information from the user’s activities, including blog posts, comments, tags, feeds and favourites into a dynamic ‘public’ profile which provides a rich picture of the user’s status, work, professional network, expertise and interests.
- Providing personal dashboards to allow people to design and control his/her interactions and information flows to best suit their changing needs. That means allowing people to easily add, organise and view activities, discussions, news, feeds, communities, colleagues, etc,
- Delivering more targeted relevant information by recommending and filtering information based on the individual’s tags, subscriptions, or activity with content, communities, projects or individuals.
All examples of how firms need to continuously adapt just to stand still.