[Guest Blogger Eric Hunter]

As part of the next phase in our ongoing Google evolution revolution at Bradford & Barthel, I have it on good authority that Google is currently researching an inter dimensional time portal. This allows attorneys to work their product through the space time continuum enabling clients to receive product at a fraction of our current AFA’s, while also ensuring that attorneys employed through this space time continuum are immune from international law. The result, of course is they can be employed at slave wages ensuring maximum profitability for the firm! (Enter Dr. Evil chuckle).
Well, okay so I’ve just been told that’s a ways off yet, but how about the Evolution Revolution potential in social media driven technology and how it can potentially integrate within our industry? Take Google+ now as a tangible example. The integration potential within our industry is compelling indeed. But before we get there, let’s get back to Google Apps and why we should still be talking about it, and dare I say rather loudly.
It’s really all about Business Solutions and Law2020
I think of Google Apps not as an ‘apps’ interface but as a business solutions driven interface. In legal, we look to future-focused initiatives like Law2020 and are continually struck with the reality that law firms must change the way they run their business. At Bradford & Barthel, as at other firms, an evolutionary restructuring is already taking place … alternative fee arrangements for firm clients, alternative staffing arrangements, project management, our take on six sigma, and a shift to a culture that integrates rather than interacts with clients.
As part of our competitive strategy moving forward at B&B, our goal is to integrate components of the platform – video, voice, unified messaging with social media(the usual external kind), business and competitive intelligence. But that’s the easy stuff (not really, but relatively speaking). The challenge lies in continual behavioral change and re-shaping the business to expand in multiple markets and move past law2020 before we get to 2020. Hopefully we’ll achieve it by 2014 instead (remember the space time continuum), but I digress.
Actually, it’s really all about Integration and 2020
Keep in mind Google’s consumer line tends to be integrated in one way or another with their Apps platform over time. In addition to a business solutions platform, think of Google as an integration platform. The platform is built to integrate and evolve with the organization and competitive industries at large. In legal, we integrate areas of practice, client/matter integration, project management, business case, the list goes on. The platform is not only built to be intuitive, flexible and adaptable to third party platforms and vendor integration, but to anticipate where these industries are moving and innovate appropriately. Why? Remember, by choosing a hosted platform, you’re choosing to integrate a portion of your business model with your hosted platform, and Google in it’s current form continually innovates. 
But how can large complex third party applications specific and essential to law firms hope to successfully interface (timely) with an organization like Google that is continually innovating? As a firm, we’re currently working on a portion of this concept through Doc Automation/Assembly. The larger and more applicable answer to that question though, is through the marketplace.
The Marketplace
Vendors looking for seamless interfacing capabilities interface through the Google Apps Marketplace. Part of their model is enhancing the products to seamlessly integrate within the platform. It’s a business model shift for vendors, with impacts on licensing, development and integration. In essence though, is it truly any different than developing apps interfaces for mobile? How fast do mobile apps evolve? As we move towards law2020 legal vendors will also need to evolve and innovate their path forward… or go the way of the newspaper industry.  When attending conferences like ILTA in Nashville this year, walk through vendor hall, check out all of the legal vertical specific vendors that benefit our industry. Then think of those that will need to transform their business models to successfully integrate within a model that integrates monthly, that no longer demands license upgrades, but instead provides annual license fees while continually innovating. The sooner our vendor partners rethink their integration business models, the more they’ll be able to shape the game.
I believe success in this rapidly evolving realm is based on flexibility and intuition. Could Facebook have permeated cultures across the globe through social media in any other way? Consequently, law firms have to find ways to channel this social media driven intuition as everyone is using it, in fact for younger generations it’s simply already there. Be it Twitter, Search, Maps, mobile apps… we’re already channeling the consumer flow through business. This concept begins to challenge our traditional concepts of identity. The identity of the individual(consumer) and the business is truly merging. Now let’s bring Google+ back in.
Google+ and the Evolution Revolution
Google+ as an alternative to Facebook or Twitter is not a case I’m going to make here. But I am going to make the case for Google+ integrated through Google’s business solutions platform. This is where the concept of the merging of identity becomes quite literal. One of the biggest challenges my organization faces is not the third party application integration described above. That will happen; it takes development, vendor cooperation, coordination development, and will. What about Google+ integrated throughout every aspect of daily business?
That’s a game changer… where do the circles stop? Where does the individual begin and the business end? How is a business re-organized using a social media technology that re-organizes the individuals’ sharing preferences on a continually evolving basis? How do we re-organize our AFA arrangements with the time saving potential both the firm and the clients have within this new medium? When extranets are shared with clients through circles, or email correspondence as announcements through limited circles, and video chats within our project teams handled in chat forums; do we care where our offices are spread, which countries we live in, how large we consider our organizations?
Social media is built to reach and bridge together millions and millions, Google’s platform is designed to support organizations in the 10s of thousands to 100 thousand plus; global, local, whatever. In legal, from strictly a size standpoint we’re mostly small to mid-market in comparison. Multiple cultures, countries, global offices are a given in this day in age; and certainly within our client’s organizations. If the world is getting smaller through social media, what about our industry, and what are the ramifications? There is no reason this type of business evolution could not, and should not permeate our industry. In my opinion, the potential of Google+ integrated within the business has the potential for an evolution in the way we approach business, connectivity and touch within our industry.
So what’s actually going to happen though, really…
Now, is Google going to integrate any of the above? I have no idea, but I certainly hope so, and if Google does not, I hope emerging competitors will. To reach 2020, our industry needs a kick in the pants to re-shape our vendors to meet our competitive strategy needs. As the next few years go by I would love to see vendors begin to integrate this kind of technology within their platforms, and seamlessly integrate with others that do. I’d love to see competitors to Google with this model, as the competition would only benefit our industry. [2] Behavioral and organizational change are tied to these emerging technologies, but so is change management, project workflow and the merging workplace and consumer identities.
Search, advertising revenue and innovations in knowledge sharing, behavioral change and connectivity seem to be at the heart of Google’s, Facebook’s and Microsoft’s vision moving forward. We call it the ‘cloud’, but it’s truly hosted integration with the innovations and movements of the marketplace. Bottom line, the competition between all three is good for business.
I write a lot about Google, but my main focus in doing so is to hopefully communicate and debate emerging concepts that may resonate regardless of vendor. As an industry, emerging concepts will drive us towards law2020, whether we’re on board or not. We will argue over the legality of hosted systems, where data resides, what is appropriate to outsource or share, and what is not. But these conversations truly miss the mark of how we can integrate business, workflow, emerging social media technologies, organizational management, knowledge sharing, merging identity and competitive strategy. Either we move first, or our clients will. These trends will affect our industry, but they are not industry specific.
If you’re nervous about any of the potential trends discussed here, just remember: “Don’t Panic!” – Some friendly advice from the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 🙂
About the author: Eric Hunter is the Director of Knowledge Management and Technology at Bradford & Barthel, LLP, where he is currently integrating a Google driven collaboration platform within the firm’s 12 office environment. Eric speaks and writes on competitive strategy and collaborative cloud solutions globally. He is the recipient of ILTA’s 2010 Knowledge Management Champion Distinguished Peer Award. Eric can be reached at ehunter@bradfordbarthel.com.