You’ve all read/heard my take on aggregators here at 3 Geeks, and how there was a time when having access to information was in and of itself a competitive advantage. Simply knowing what your competitors or market were doing was currency. We all have more access to information today than any of us dreamed was possible even 15 or 20 years ago. Much of that information is readily available and free. In fact, information or data is so accessible that crowd sourcing and gathering of it online in places like Wikipedia is common place, even cited with growing integrity in university term papers and the like (ethics of which is not my topic, though I am sure many of you have ideas on that….feel free to guest post about it!)

I have suggested in previous posts that how we sort or filter the raw data is how we keep from contributing to information overload. Key to this process is determining what is good to know versus need to know versus interesting but maybe I don’t need to know that right now. Even when we’ve filtered that down, we still need to aggregate the relevant information by having Library or Intelligence teams sort and collate it into newsletters, alerts, RSS feeds or other helpful, readable tools. Finally, I’ve suggested that, depending up your resources, the process can be done manually or with any one of the commercially available tools available for purchase that can help us aggregate. You’ve read previous posts (hopefully), where I’ve asked, How Do We Make Them Read, and reviewed a series of aggregators a list that continues to grow and improve and then several months later, I suggested we are Almost There with a new series of product offering.

A recent exercise in my own firm has lead to me understand that aggregating with the help of technology is not enough! I now understand that friends don’t let friends aggregate alone.
Borne out of necessity and fiscal responsibility, when three departments at my firm all asked for budget for an aggregator in 2013, it was suggested that we work together to find one that suits all of our needs rather than to aggregate content – possibly the same content – three times, in three different ways.
On the surface, it seems like an easy and smart solution. But when you start to get down to the specific needs of each department (in my case, Intelligence/Business Development, Knowledge Management and Library & Information Resources), it seemed an insurmountable ask. How each department engages with internal and external information and brokers that information, turning it into intelligence, practice efficiency, current awareness or a business development opportunity and combine those different points of view with the need for Systems and IT compatibility and you start to think that maybe this seemingly obvious task is actually impossible. The sheer volume of information alone is one problem. The rest of the problem is in acknowledging the mandates of the different departments will cause each one to consume and reuse the information in different ways.
Therefore each department needs its own set of tools and distribution methods. Right? Hence the three requests for three different products? Right? Once up on a time the answer would have been yes, but if the last three months has taught me anything, it is the fact that all law firm administration departments really all want the same thing.
We all want our lawyers to be smarter, better, and more efficient at delivering client service and value and for our own departments to be seen as contributing to the bottom line rather than being dreaded cost centres especially since 2008. How we each achieve this goal will be executionally unique, but asking for three sets of tools would be akin to a carpenter, a cabinet maker and mechanic suggesting that what they each describe as a hammer is specific and unique to their line of work. Not true. How they each use the hammer might differ and which type of hammer they use might differ from time to time but at the end of the day, a hammer is a hammer.
So can we find an aggregator that suits all of our needs? I believe the answer, despite our different methodologies and interactions, is yes. That answer does come with some challenges, however, the biggest of which is being open to learning and understanding of what each department needs, wants and is willing to let go. The discovery process will not be easy, nor will building a set of criteria for the “right” tool, but if you are willing to have the conversation, open yourself and your department up to scrutiny among friends, you will find that friends don’t let friends aggregate alone and you may find (as I did) that you can even learn a very useful thing or two about how the different departments think about and use information, which you can leverage toward successfully meeting your department’s goals. By sharing in the in discussions and finding one solution to work for all information providers, you can actually help move the agenda of smarter, better, more client focused lawyers along.