OK. I’ve had a couple of days to experiment with Google’s Glass technology. It’s still very early days, and I haven’t come to any firm conclusions yet, but I’m ready to give my first impressions.

First, the bad. Glass is definitely not yet ready for Prime Time. To be fair, Google has never claimed otherwise. I am pretty sure they are doing this ridiculous expensive and slow roll out, because they don’t want your average consumer to purchase a Glass thinking it should be something more than it actually is.  At $1500 only developers, or Google Fans, or die-hard geeks, will be likely to shell out the cash and each of those populations will be relatively understanding of the device’s limitations.

There is no Glass app store.  After you register your Glass with your Google account, you get access to the MyGlass site.  Most of the setup, including wifi setup and app installation, is done on this site or on an Android or iOS mobile app. There a few dozen Google sanctioned apps that can be sent to your Glass with a simple authorization from this site. The apps vary greatly in usability and utility and there really is no “killer app” as yet. In the last few days, Google has added several new apps to this list, so I’m hopeful that that trend continues and is not just Google throwing a bone to all of the suckers new Glass owners who purchased a Glass last week.

If you are a developer or a die-hard geek, then you are probably fairly comfortable with a unix command line. This is where the interesting stuff is happening with Glass. If you turn on Debugging, and plug your Glass into your computer, you suddenly have the ability to install non-Google sanctioned apps.  These can be found on a number of sites dedicated to cataloging new Glass apps.  There is some “danger” in this process. You may install something that causes problems with other apps and you may have difficulty uninstalling some apps.  In my experience a lot of available apps simply do not work at all. (I suspect that’s because Google updated the software version on Glass last week and a lot of apps have not yet been updated.) Thankfully, Google made it very simple to restore Glass to its factory settings.  I’ve already done this twice. This manual process reminds me very much of the early days of iPhone Jailbreaking.  It’s easy to forget now that Apple has more than a million apps on their app store, but for the first year if you wanted the device to run more than the few included apps allowed, you had to do a little simple hacking.

Second, the ugly. This was the most surprising thing for me. I don’t think they’re ugly at all. I kind of like the look of them. Granted, I’m not exactly a fashion plate and I normally wear glasses so they just looked like glasses with a chunky right temple piece. I didn’t get the day glow orange color, so I think my Charcoal Glass looks fairly classy (IMHO) and if I wear a ball cap, you can barely see it. I did wear it out for a walk on Saturday with my wife and she was only slightly embarrassed.  I went into a Starbucks and no one seemed to notice I had it on at all. Although, I live in Manhattan, and we tend to not look at each other much, so your mileage may vary. While I wasn’t accosted by angry anti-tech mobs, or feverish fan-boys, I found I was still quite self conscious while ordering my latte. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’m not a flashy, out-going, look-at-me type, so maybe I had a look on my face that said, “don’t you dare ask me about this stupid thing on my face!”

Finally, the good. I had a revelation on day two of playing with my Glass; my title from last week, Getting Google Glass All Wrong, was a little prophetic. I’m starting to think that everyone has Glass wrong. (Maybe someone else has said this, though I haven’t seen it, so if this is not an original thought, please feel free deride me in the comments and send me links showing how derivative I am.) Google Glass is not a wearable smartphone, or Personal Electronic Device (PED) at all.  And I don’t mean, it’s not there yet, I mean, I don’t think that’s what this will ever be, or even what it should be.  I think Glass is the world’s first Personal Internet Peripheral (PIP).

By internet peripheral, I mean, this device is a new method of interacting with the internet (obviously). But specifically, Google Glass has more in common with the computer mouse than it does with the smartphone. I don’t mean that as an insult, I think that is actually quite brilliant. While there is some storage and processing ability within Glass, the real brains of the device are in the cloud and Glass requires an internet connection to do much of anything useful. And while the camera and the display will get smaller, and the storage will get bigger, over time, I don’t see Google ever putting the brains in the device itself.  Why would they? They are an internet company and persistent connectivity will only become more common.

Most computer mice (mouses?) today use lasers to determine cursor coordinates, but they still work essentially the same as the old mice with two wheels turning at right angles to each other, to move a cursor on a screen in two dimensions. In the days of DOS, the mouse was of little use, but the Graphical User Interface quickly became the norm and computing changed forever.  In the same way that the mouse opened up new ways to interact with computers, I think Glass and its descendant technologies will create new ways to interact with the cloud.  Google Glass is an eleven dimensional mouse on the two dimensional web. It seems of little use now, but just you wait until the eleven dimensional online user interface becomes the norm. It’s definitely not what I thought it was, but I am much more impressed with Glass after two days than I expected to be.

More to come…

Apple gets a lot of flack for creating a closed platform that economically locks its users into their products.  After all, if you’ve already spent $200K on iOS apps, why would you switch to Android or Windows phones or tablets and have to repurchase all of that software?  It’s a reasonable argument, but it totally misses the point.

I told this story at ILTA last year, so if you are one of the ten people who attended, feel free to skip ahead.  It was March 2012 and I was at the first round of the NCAA tournament.  I attended 4 basketball games over the course of about 10 hours and it was the day my new iPad was supposed to arrive. During every time-out I would check the delivery status on my iPhone.  Somewhere in the second half of the second game, I got an email saying the iPad had arrived.  I was excited, but at the same time I had hours of basketball to sit through (good problem to have), knowing my brand new iPad was sitting on the kitchen counter, neatly packaged and waiting to be turned on.  The anticipation was excruciating.

I got home well after midnight and ripped open the packaging.  I entered my iCloud credentials and chose to restore the device from an iCloud backup. The process was going to take a few hours, so I plugged it in and went to bed. In the morning I awoke excited to try out my brand new device.  I unlocked the screen, flipped through the pages, clicked on the camera app to check out the new camera and… nothing.  I didn’t feel anything.  I was kind of already bored with the new device. I went down to breakfast thinking something must be wrong with me. After all, I love new gadgets and this was the greatest gadget of all.

I have plenty of old gadgets that don’t work anymore and I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, they are piled up in closets and drawers, but my old iPad I handed to my wife without a second thought. Maybe I was growing up?  Maybe the allure of the gadget culture had finally passed me by. But during breakfast I picked up my new iPad and launched a couple of news apps, just as I always do.  Everything was just as I left it the day before on the old iPad.  That’s when I realized, this new device was still MY iPad.  It was the exact same iPad in a new shell, with an upgraded processor and a newer camera.  I wasn’t bored with a new device, I was simply using the same device in the same way I had been using it for years.  It was a tool, a friend, a constant companion.  Apple hadn’t locked me in economically, they had locked me in emotionally.  They had given me the gadget that would never go to the gadget graveyard, because it would never die.  It will probably outlive me.

I thought about my ILTA talk again on Monday evening, when I got home from a trip and realized I had left my iPad on the plane.  I logged into iCloud and put my iPad in lost mode.  If it happens to be turned on and walks past a Starbucks it will phone home and tell me where it is. My phone number will pop up on the screen and it will beg it’s current holder to send it home to me. I filled out the airline forms, and went back to the lost and found at LaGuardia.  I even called Atlanta and Pensacola, the airports that my plane was heading to next.  As of this writing, no one has seen my beloved iPad and it’s likely that we will never be reunited.

I stopped by the Apple store on my way into the office yesterday and bought a newer iPad with a little more storage.  I plugged it in, entered my iCloud credentials, and chose to restore from an iCloud backup. By mid-afternoon my friend was back.  All of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that I have accumulated over 3 years of use were back exactly as they had been on Monday. As if I had never left it on the plane.

In similar situations in the past, with say a phone or blackberry, I may have considered the economic ramifications of purchasing another product.  Not this time.  I wasn’t purchasing another product, just a new portable vessel for the product I already have sitting out there in iCloud.

Several months ago I was asked by a partner to review the privacy policies and terms of service for a number of consumer cloud storage providers and to rank them according to how well they met his requirements based on firm policies, ABA missives, and a handful of other relevant opinions about client confidentiality and the cloud.  Long story short, they all failed miserably.  None of them came close to meeting the “requirements”.  

The partner was hoping to be able to tell his fellow attorneys that the firm doesn’t approve of consumer cloud storage for client related information, however, if you are going to use a consumer solution for “personal information” we recommend provider X.  My pessimistic report made even that a difficult statement.  Still hoping to salvage something from this conversation he asked a follow-up question. 

“Do any of these services provide anything close to the level of security we have in email?”

Had I sipped my coffee a second earlier I surely would have showered my office with stale joe.

“Excuse me”, I said, “Could you ask that again?”

“Attorneys send client confidential information all the time via email, so do any of these services come close to meeting the standards for email security?”

That’s what I thought he meant.  I broke the news to him slowly, explaining it this way. “I wouldn’t put anything in consumer cloud storage that I wouldn’t leave in a file folder on the front seat of my locked car.  But, I wouldn’t put anything in an email that I wouldn’t write on the back of a postcard and hand to a stranger on the street to mail for me.  The least secure of these consumer cloud storage solutions is many, many times more secure than a standard unencrypted email.  In fact, some of them have much better security protocols than your average law firm.”

The partner was flummoxed.  “Then what’s the big deal about this cloud thing?”

I was reminded of this incident when I attended the ILTA conference a couple of weeks ago.  In the vendor hall I saw a lot of vendors pushing their cloud-based SaaS solutions and a lot of firms saying, “Sorry, we have to host all of our own data.”  Typically the vendor went on to explain the value of allowing them to host the data. The product is constantly monitored, backed up, and securely encrypted in transit and at rest.  The product and mobile apps are updated multiple times a day. They simply can’t provide such a high level of service if you insist on hosting the product behind your firewall.  

These conversations went back and forth for a long while.  I never once heard a cloud vendor acquiesce and say, “Well, OK. We’ll let you host it yourself.”   Chances are good that if you host their service, you will have a less than ideal experience.  And if you have a less than ideal experience, they will have to spend a lot of time and money to make you happy, which will eat into their profits.  They would rather not have you as a customer at all, than to have you be a less-than-completely-satisfied customer.  It seems some vendors have learned a lesson that many law firm’s have not: not all revenue is profitable. 
Taken together I think these incidents are representative of a larger paradigm shift. Traditional IT services, even the big traditional Legal software vendors, are moving to the cloud.  Attorneys will eventually figure out how to work with the cloud and still meet their ethical obligations, or they will just get used to the risks and ignore them like they have with email in the last 20 years.  The ABA will eventually make some coherent and unambiguous statements about the acceptable use of cloud services. And all of these will come together at the same time that firms begin to realize the economic benefits of not supporting an entire service infrastructure in-house.

Once that happens law firms will look back on all of the sturm und drang surrounding the Cloud, Software as a Service, and the Consumerization of IT, and they’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.  They’ll probably also wonder what all those nice people who used to run their network are doing now.

My first few posts on this blog were about the coming end of Corporate Information Technology, or the CorpTechPocalypse as I coined it.  Nearly 18 months have passed.  The world around IT has changed substantially, but like the dinosaurs shortly after the meteor impact, IT itself is still desperately trying to understand its role in the “new normal”.  It’s too late. It’s over. I’m calling time of death: early second decade of the 21st century.

The last remaining hold-outs of the former IT department are the Medieval Plumber Dinosaur Zombies.   After all, information technologists were the plumbers of data, concerned with storage, distribution, manipulation, and security of information.  In their waning years, everything took a back seat to security and their mindset was strictly Medieval. Build a wall high enough and strong enough and you will keep the Barbarians at bay.  In certain circles, IT became known as the “Knights who say ‘No’”.  All technology requests were denied unless the requester could prove that the business need outweighed ITs security concerns, or more likely, could convince management to pull rank over IT.

The truth, though it’s particularly hard for Law Firms to appreciate, is that outside Cloud Service Providers are going to soon provide better, more flexible, and more secure services than in-house data centers with the best technicians at a fraction of the cost.

Many MPDZs will stumble on until management takes pity and puts them out of their misery, but just as a subset of the dinosaurs survived the K-T event and evolved into modern birds, I believe some Information Technologists will survive the CorpTechPocalypse and evolve into Innovation Technologists.

Innovation Technology is an enhanced business role for technologists.  Whereas the old IT was its own little fiefdom within the corporate structure, the new IT is deeply embedded in the fabric of the firm.  The new Innovation Technologists are trained in business processes and have a clear understanding of the work their firm is doing.  Having relegated the techno-plumbing to their Cloud Service Providers, the new IT are more concerned with case and deal schedules than server patches and software upgrades.  They follow technology trends and business trends with equal passion, and they use that knowledge to provide a technological edge to their firm.

They are proactive, anticipating the needs of the users and developing solutions to business problems before business leaders realize the problem exists.  With the proliferation of cloud services, the new IT can provide alternative solutions specific to the needs of the moment, rather than providing a single solution and trying to make it work for every situation.

Security is still a priority for IT, but the mindset has changed from Medieval to Metropolitan.  Just as cities eventually recognized that large walls provided security at the expense of growth and innovation, so too will businesses.  The new paradigm will be one of effective policing to stop cyber-baddies and a laissez-faire attitude toward all otherwise rule-abiding netizens.

Gone will be the ubiquitous IT “No”, replaced by the question, “What are you trying to do?”  Whereas, the old IT focused almost exclusively on the technology, the new IT is focused first on the business and the user’s needs.  Confronted with a user’s inability to send an email, old IT would spend an hour or more troubleshooting the client application, then the server, then user’s machine.  Innovation Technology will first focus on the business need, “What are you trying to do?”  The answer is not necessarily, “Send an email”, it’s actually “Get this information to my client.”  Innovation Technology knows of 5 other methods to get that information to your client.  They will seek to accomplish the underlying business task first, then attend to any problems with technology.

This new IT department will be much smaller, but more effective.  A source of innovation rather than aggravation.  But in order to truly be effective, Innovation Technology cannot be relegated to the second class citizen status that Information Technology formerly held.  The Chief Innovation Officer needs to have latitude to build what needs to be built, to purchase what needs to be bought, and to be present when and where the most important business decisions are made. Most corporations figured this out long ago and put the Chief Information Officer on the board.  Most law firm’s never did.  Even as law firms get out of the techno-plumbing business, technology will play an increasingly important role in the practice of law.  IT is evolving, but before Innovation Technology can truly take flight, law firm management structures will have to do the same.

Looking through the Microsoft survey on “The Future of Government Work,” [download PDF] it would seem that there is a bipolar view of what communication tools workers “prefer” to use versus what they would “like to use.” Take a look at the answers provided on questions 9 and 10 when it comes to “new” media such as Social Media, Online Collaboration tools, and even video conferencing:

Q9: How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues?

  • Videoconferencing = 3%
  • Social Media = 3%
  • Intranet page (w/shared documents) = 2%
Q10: Which collaboration tools would you like to use?
  • Videoconferencing = 29%
  • Social Media = N/A
  • Collaborative Doc Editing = 32%
  • Intranet = 12%
Granted, there is the difference in verbiage of “communicate/collaborate” but I think we are looking at two sides of the same coin here. How is it that the answers to these two question be so far apart? My guess (and that’s all it is), is that what we are looking at in question 9 is “how do you communicate/collaborate now” versus question 10’s “how would you like to communicate/collaborate if you could.” It would seem that there is a desire to use more videoconferencing, non-email electronic communications (aka chat), and collaborative document editing resources. The survey also points out that these resources are needed components of any telecommuting policies and procedures that an office may implement.
Now I should mention that the survey was conducted by Microsoft, and their MS Office 365, Cloud-Based platform solution, so the questions may be worded in such a way as to feed the answers into the “solution” they are providing. One of the glaring facts of this is that Q9 includes a social media answer, where it is completely missing from the Q10 responses. It could be that workers don’t like social media resources… but, it’s more likely from the fact that there isn’t a social media product included in the Office 365 platform (yeah, call me a cynic.) 

There are many ways you can read these survey results, but there is a theme here that we’ve all been seeing anecdotally for the past few years. Given the right tools, the location of your people shouldn’t matter in order for them to be successful. Not only that, but many workers have the desire to use these resources in order to make their work lives better… probably making their home lives better at the same time. It is no longer a requirement for companies to require their workforce be physically in a company office, sitting in a company seat, using a company PC, and working with company software. The time has come to start looking at the way we work through a different lens. 

[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.

It’s been over six months since I first warned of the coming Corporate Technology Apocalypse on this blog. In the last few weeks, I think corporate IT has gotten a couple of new nails in its coffin.
The first came in the form of a splashy infographic from Unisys called The Great IT Freezeout, which got some coverage from GigaOm last Monday and was brought to my attention by geek number 4 (and my boss), Scott Preston. In my original post on The End of Corporate IT, I touted the consumerization of IT as one of my three pillars of the coming apocalypse. The first point on The Great IT Freezeout is that the “Consumerization of IT is ACCELERATING”. (Their CAPS, not mine.) They show that 53% of workers who use PCs, smartphones and/or tablets for work, claim that mobile devices are their primary work tools, up from 44% in 2010 and that the percentage of the same workers who think that PCs are their most critical devices for work has fallen to 35% from 51% in 2010. That’s a huge change in just a year. I’m not going to list all of their numbers. Go check out the infographic for yourself, but I do want to point out a couple of other areas of interest.
  • IT’s awareness of personal devices used for work is about 50% of the levels that workers self report actually using personal devices.
  • IT rates their own ability to support these consumer devices as low
  • “70% of IT rate their organizations a late/last adopters of new tech”
As the Unisys graphic puts it, “IT risks IRRELEVANCE”.
The second nail was a little less obvious and came in the form of two announcements. One from Microsoft announcing availability of their License Mobility through Software Assurance plan and one from Amazon announcing that they were supporting the Microsoft License Mobility plan on their AWS EC2 hosting platform. This will let companies who have server application licenses like Exchange, Sharepoint and SQL, migrate their existing licenses to a cloud host, rather than forcing them to purchase additional licenses. I know, it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it removes one more barrier to moving IT infrastructure to the cloud. Corporations spend millions in supporting and maintaining a physical IT infrastructure in-house every year. The costs for servers, cooling, power management, and support staff are huge. A large chunk of that expense can now be easily transferred to a service provider. Maintaining hardware will go from being a semi-cyclical refresh expense, with periodic, unexpected, emergency expenses to being a fixed monthly cost that can be budgeted into the foreseeable future, with 99.9999% uptime and extreme flexibility. Management can increase or decrease capacity near instantaneously with a phone call. How can we justify maintaining a server farm in-house when such things are possible? The short term answer is security. But security concerns will not ultimately save IT. Security concerns have a tendency to be mitigated, especially when they stand in the way of profits.
Now, Corporate IT does a lot of things, I’m not saying that they will be replaced overnight, but two of the big things they do are maintain and support the technology infrastructure and maintain and support end-user technology. IT is currently being squeezed on both sides. Short of a brand new justification for their existence, I think you will eventually begin to see large corporate IT departments replaced with a handful of IT Integrators acting as liaisons between management and technology service providers. The fact is, most companies aren’t in the business of technology services and they’re about to realize it.

When Google announced it would be accepting requests for testers for its new cloud-based Music Beta platform, I immediately sent in my request. After a couple of weeks of waiting… and assuming that I wouldn’t be invited… I finally got my invite and jumped in with both feet. After a couple of days of testing it on a few computers, my Android phone, and even my iPad, I think there is a lot of potential here, and there’s also a lot that can be improved. I’ll be pointing out both in my review. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Music Beta project is the amount of space Google gives you for your music. I expected to see a limit of 2-10 Gb like you would see from services like Amazon’s Cloud Drive, or from services like Dropbox. Instead, Music Beta gives you the ability to upload up to 20,000 songs in either mp3 or AAC format. I did some quick calculations based on the size of my music collection on my iPad (@3200 songs = @12 Gb of space) and estimated that 20K of songs would end up being around 75 Gb of space. That’s a lot of space, and a lot of music.

Google Music Beta uploads your music using a PC or Mac based program called Music Manager. With the Music Manager, you can sync your music files from either your iTunes library, your Windows Media library, your My Music folders on your PC, or from any other folders you select (and you can select multiple folders if you have a unique way you store your music on your computer.) The upload speed will vary depending upon the speed of your Internet provider, but I was able to upload all of my music from my PC over one night. You can change some of the options on the uploading procedures and limit the uploads based upon if you want to do it all at once, or if you want to only upload a few at a time, or if you want to upload the songs manually. You can also set how you want the Music Manager to use your Bandwidth. You can also have Music Manager start when your computer is restarted, and it will upload any new music you add to your collection automatically. During the install of the Music Manager, you are also given an opportunity to select the type of music you like, and Google Music Beta will add some free songs to your collection based upon those preferences. I checked off a couple of music selections, and ended up having over 100 free songs added to my collection. Now, I have to say that some of those freebies were really good (a couple of Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan songs are awesome), and some were… well, I just got to say that I personally wouldn’t have picked David Cassidy’s cover of I Think I Love You as one of my choices. But, they were free, and as many of you know, I like free, so I’ll put up with a little Partridge Family to get to the Cheap Trick stuff. Once the music is uploaded, you can play it through just about any Internet connected device. I’ve tried it on my PCs, my laptops, my iPad, and multiple mobile devices that have Internet browsers. So far, the music service worked on everything I tried (with the exception of my Kindle, first-generation device.) The only real annoyance I discovered on any of the mobile devices is that on the iPad you have to use the two-finger scroll method to move the music lists up and down. But, considering I had access to my music collection from pretty much any device with an Internet connection, I could put up with a few individual device quirks.

Google’s Music Beta interface is similar to the iTunes, but not nearly as flexible as iTunes is with how the artists, albums and songs are displayed. Visually, iTunes is much better, especially with the way you can set up the Cover Flow visualization. With Google Music Beta, you can see the album covers, but only if they are embedded in the MP3 files. There is no “Get Album Cover Art” option on Google Music like there is on iTunes. If you want to add the missing album covers, you can do so manually through the edit options for each of the individual albums. I hope that Google works with someone on this to make it easier to get the album artwork automatically, rather than having to do so on a one-on-one basis.

Just like the iTunes “Genius” tool, Google Music Beta allows you to create Instant Mixes by selecting one song, and it will then find 25 similar songs based upon “a combination of metadata and audio analysis to create playlists that match the mood and style of your selection.” Just like the “Genius” mix, however, these Instant Mix lists can be hit-or-miss, but usually aren’t too bad on how they select other songs. My suggestion for both iTunes and Google Music is that they give the user the ability to help in the selection process. So, for example, let’s say I pick a song by the Hard-Rock, Girl vocals, Spain-based but sings in English band, named Dover, and want a mix. In iTunes, the Genius program selects all of my Spanish songs for the mix. Whereas Google Music selects a bunch of girl vocal, pop songs. Neither of those really fit what I’m looking for, so perhaps adding an option for me to exclude, or include certain categories would make it work better. A few other features of the Google Music Beta is the ability to rate songs with a simple ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘thumbs-down’ option. Of course, I immediately thought about why would you upload songs you would want to give a thumb-down to in the first place?? Other features include grouping songs by genre (based upon the metadata from the songs), sorting by the number of times the song has played, or sorting by the ratings you’ve assigned to the songs. Speaking of sorting, there is one major flaw in the sorting by Artists that would drive most librarians crazy. Artists with “The” as the first word in their names get sorted in the “T’s”. So, groups like The Decemberists, The Dollyrots, and The Donnas show up in the wrong place when you sort by artists. This is not the case in iTunes, and I’m hoping that Google fixes this during the beta phase. Perhaps the biggest short-fall of the Google Music Beta is the “Shop this Artist” option which simply links out to Google Shopping page for a hodge-podge of different places to buy additional material. Unlike the Amazon or iTunes Store, the shopping options are very disorganized and lack the integration that you get from the Amazon and iTunes services. Overall, the Google Music Beta is pretty good for Beta, but still needs a little improvement with its interface, its sorting and selection processes, and its integration with online services to purchase and download new music. All of these issues aside, the basic idea of being able to access your music on most Internet enabled devices, and to do so for free, is something that is worthwhile. If you want to test it out for yourself, Google is still accepting requests for the Music Beta.

[Guest Blogger Eric Hunter]

Why Google Apps? Why Not.
I know, it sounds a little nuts, but Google is going to take over the world, our collective consciousness and all of us in it, so we might as well just jump on board! Seriously though, from a strategic investment perspective, there’s a lot to Google Apps and competing collaborative cloud hosted applications that should catch the eye of firms of all sizes.
Consider my firm and our move (leap of faith?!) to the cloud as a decent starting point and case study in what collaborative cloud solutions, in our case Google Apps, can offer as well as what they can’t or shouldn’t provide (silver bullets are still tough to find!).
Technology Outsourcing 
All right, so what happens with your Technology? I was told by a good friend of mine recently, and recognized expert in her field, that “I don’t really do Knowledge Management, that my focus is purely on infrastructure.” I told her my choice is actually to outsource the infrastructure and solely focus on KM! Consider it fact, that the more collaborative cloud platforms like Google Apps evolve, the more technology will be outsourced. Both a portion of the humans in your tech departments, and the applications running wherever you currently have them, will be outsourced to Google in this model.
Behavioral Change? 
Yep. We chose to migrate to Google’s browser hosted web app. We wanted the most dramatic shift for our users possible to ensure they would begin altering their day to day behavior immediately. Google’s platform is built to tie in mail, documents, sites (their sharepoint/extranet equivalant), and messaging in ways completely outside the box from a traditional business perspective. Such a ‘shock and awe’ strategy helps users quickly get out of existing behavioral thinking patterns they take for granted, and to do something different, innovative, and evolve with both the business and consumer market. This is good, because when you move your firm to evolving cloud hosted collaboration, it’s going to change, all the time. Of course, the ability to implement such extreme change is dependent on a lot of factors, some behavioral, some business strategy focused. I firmly believe the concept that “law firms do not embrace change” is something that will change to “our law firm demands continual change to stay ahead of our competition and engage in the most strategic fashion possible with our clients.”
This may seem ludicrous to some, but consider the consumer market, primarily social media. How many of your users use Facebook? How many user Twitter? How often do those platforms change, and how much training do your users need in their personal lives to navigate changes with these evolving platforms? These collaborative cloud hosted solutions, both consumer and business, are built to be intuitive and designed to connect people with people and link information among users, including third parties. The platforms that do it the best, thrive. The ones that do not, fall away. In my opinion, the collaboration features in these knowledge sharing social media markets is merging within cloud hosted applications within the business market. These applications drive behavioral change in the consumer. Why not leverage this?
So how do you stay on top of this evolving platform? 
Training and professional development. Senior Management must embrace this behavioral shift to their business, and stay unified. Ensure your committees, practice groups and mid level managers are all part of continual training sessions on the evolving platform and the new ways your firm is utilizing these features. Some of these training sessions will be ‘target specific’ within your firm, and some of these sessions will target all. Granted, most firms have similar training procedures in place. But with a model like Google, the decentralized nature of the system and the continually evolving product demand these sessions to be consistent and innovative. We’ve found our relative knowledge level has risen across all departments, departments are better connected, we connect more effectively with our clients, and our end users are demanding change, faster than Google’s product is developing.
Speaking of that, is Google as a collaborative cloud provider ready for global law firms heavily invested in alternative systems and third party leveraged integration? No, not yet. But Google’s investment path shows they’re well on their way and will most likely move faster than many think. Third party players may be well advised to adapt their systems to offer integration options, and quickly before new players arrive in town.
What about Microsoft? 
Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite is a great product with considerable cost savings in licensing, and is a collaborative cloud option that competes directly with Google. It’s because of Microsoft’s investment path with this product I think Google is going to continue to innovate in this market. It’s because Microsoft has come out so publicly with their “cloud” offerings, that I think Google will continue to emerge as a player, and Microsoft will continue to refine and offer a better competing product. Bottom line, licensing drops across the industry, cloud hosted collaboration products continually improve, and it’s a win for legal and their clients.
Are law firms defined by the vendors they use?
Ultimately as law firms, it isn’t the name of the vendor we choose that makes the difference, nor even the technology, but the business drivers, behavioral change, and competitive intelligence that benefits our firms, our practice groups and our clients. So much focus is on the ‘Cloud’! When considering cloud hosted collaboration systems, I suggest taking away that ‘cloud’ focus from the analysis for a short time. Focus then on the immediate cost savings in licensing. Focus on the benefits of a hosted collaboration system that evolves and is integrating with consumer driven social media applications and enterprise level applications. Focus on the benefits of an emerging Knowledge Sharing platform, collaboration platform, and unified communications platform, and which existing and emerging third party vendors could best integrate with this platform. Consider how your staffing options will shift, how your client correspondence and extranets will shift, how many alternative staffing models become possible, and how your attorneys will rethink how they think! How will your business model shift in this environment, and how will your firm’s culture evolve? Then put the ‘cloud’ back into play and consider your options.
How will it all play out?
Google is still an emerging player, but they are highly innovative, and we are experiencing daily innovation within our line of business and our forward thinking investment strategy. We’re trusting that Google’s continual investments in improving their search and collaboration features and bridging them across all applications and to as many devices and mediums as possible will not only bring them obscene amounts of ad revenue, but will benefit their clients, like my firm, in a cloud hosted relationship. I’m trusting Microsoft will continue to compete in the business arena to protect their licensing revenue in Office, Sharepoint, and related applications. I’m trusting there is too much of a financial and market incentive for Legal’s third party players in business, financial and competitive intelligence to sit on the sidelines and not integrate in this medium. As you can see, I am very trustworthy (or is it trusting) … Stay tuned to see how it plays out.
About the author: Eric Hunter is the Director of Knowledge Management and Technology at Bradford & Barthel, LLP, where he is currently integrating a cloud-hosted collaboration platform within the firm’s 12 office environment. Eric has spoken on collaborative cloud solutions at ILTA’s Insight in the UK, ILTA’s 2010 Strategic Unity conference, and the Chilli IQ Conference in Australia. He is the recipient of ILTA’s 2010 Knowledge Management Champion Distinguished Peer Award. Eric can be reached at ehunter@bradfordbarthel.com.

[Guest Blogger Ryan McClead brings us part II of the End of Corporate IT]

Despite what may have been a slightly overstated prognosis of doom and gloom, no one has (as of this writing) stepped up to refute my scenario.  We may quibble about the details of the CorpTech-pocalypse (CTP) , but no one has suggested that it won’t happen at all.   So…where do we go from here?

Well, we have two options:

Option 1:  Ignore it, maintain the status quo, stick your fingers in your ears and la la la la…

IT departments that maintain the status quo will be the first to collapse under the weight of the CTP.   Chances are good that a favorite topic of conversation for your CEO is currently “my IT department doesn’t understand what we do.”  I am friends with educators, doctors, accountants, business people, and even a few lawyers, and they have all at one time or another expressed to me their displeasure with their own IT department using a variation on that phrase. It’s probably the most common IT related phrase ever spoken by professionals, with the possible exception of “why do I have to reboot again?”.  Eventually your CEO will be lamenting your general un-helpfulness while seated across the table from a salesperson for a major technology services provider who will helpfully explain that they can offer all of the services that you currently provide for a quarter of the cost.  At that point it’s too late to change.  So, ultimately, option 1 isn’t really an option.

Option 2:  Change the way you operate now, learn the business your company is actually in, prepare your company to transition into the post-IT environment, and develop the skills that will be useful in your next career.

Change the way you operate now.

This is less a practical suggestion, than an exhortation that you need to change sooner rather than later.  Change is never easy, but it’s not going to magically be easier in a few years.  In fact, it’s never going to be easier than it is right now.

Learn the business your company is actually in.  (Hint: it’s probably not IT services.).

IT departments were created because management recognized the need for someone with special knowledge to maintain and support the technology needs of their business.  As technology needs have exploded, IT has too.  IT policies originally set in place to make it easier for IT to provide services, have evolved into de facto Company Policies with IT as the enforcer.  This has created an antagonistic relationship between the IT department and the company at large.  When someone finds a new or better way of using technology to do their job, the last people they want to tell is IT because IT will shut it down. We’ve become obstructionists standing in the way of innovation.  A company within the company, but fundamentally disconnected from the primary business.

Your value as a technologist isn’t in your general understanding of technology, but in your understanding of how technology can improve business practices.  If you don’t understand those business practices, you are providing minimal value to your company.

Prepare your company to transition into the Post-IT environment

First and foremost, stop habitually saying “No” to non-standard technology requests.  If you don’t know about a particular technology that is being requested, ask the user to explain it to you.  How do they want to use it?  What service will it provide them that they don’t currently have?  You may already have a system in place to provide the service the user is looking for and if you don’t it might be a valuable addition to your network.  If you’ve already reviewed, evaluated and rejected the technology, give the user an explanation for why it was rejected in language that they can understand.  Rattling off a string of techno-babble is tantamount to just saying “no”.

Develop processes to quickly review, evaluate and adopt (when possible) popular consumer technologies and services. You should have a small group whose job it is to review new technologies, see how they work in your environment, discuss the value of the service with business management and present a report with risks and benefits clearly defined so that management can weigh the options and make decisions about technologies that will be allowed.

Develop an End Point Agnostic network. Once upon a time, mobile computing devices were the province of corporate IT.  That ship has sailed.  Mobile computing is a wing of the fashion industry, and people are passionate about their fashion accessories.  Let them use whatever device they want.  Blackberries, iPhones, Androids are all capable machines and there are ways to connect them to your network safely.  Experiment and document acceptable usage of all devices,  If you provide an acceptable way to use the devices people want to use, they will most likely use them correctly.  Most people understand the issues of security and compliance.  They will try to comply right up until you tell them they can’t use their pretty pink phone, then they will figure out how to connect said pink phone to your network in a way that isn’t secure.

End Point Agnosticism is a first step toward Cloud Computing, Telecommuting and SaaS adoption.  Each of these become easier if your network is already EPA.

Develop the skills that will be useful in your next career.

This is not to say that your next career will not be in technology, just that it probably won’t be in a non-tech corporation, unless you are consulting on using technology to enhance business practices.  Step 2 above, learn the business your company is actually in, will help your company now and enhance your personal value in the future.

Most of us originally got into corporate IT because we had a deep interest in technology.  Redevelop, or in some cases develop, that interest!  Don’t just know how you do things in your company, study how other companies accomplish the same tasks, learn new technologies, and explore new solutions.  We are living in the most exciting technological period in history, revel in it.

Lastly, throw out old biases.  PC vs. Mac vs. Linux, Blackberry vs. iPhone, Google vs. Yahoo. It doesn’t matter anymore.  You need to know them all.  Embrace it.  The more you know, the more valuable you are.  The more focused you are on a single technology, the more easily you are replaced.

The CorpTechPocalypse is going to happen, but it doesn’t need to be painful for you or for your company.  In the end, you might both be better off going your separate ways and seeing other people, having grown for the experience.  And if you do it right, you can still be friends.