InsideLegal attended ILTA's INSIGHT London event last week and was particularly impressed with the session focused on the future (or end of) the traditional desktop. This panel discussion was moderated by Joy Heath Rush of Sidley Austin and included Tim Warburton of Linklaters; Eric Hunter of Bradford & Barthel; and David Hamilton of Davies Arnold Cooper. Most notably, we (and the rest of the INSIGHT crowd) took notice of one of the first 'real world' legal examples (as far as we can tell) of cloud computing and what is possible when law firms visualize and eventually realize the opportunities made available by cloud-based platforms and true collaboration suites. With that said, we recently had a one-on-one with Eric Hunter, Director of Knowledge Management for California-based Bradford & Barthel LLP, a 73 attorney (207 employee) firm, which has embraced Google Apps.
IL: Welcome Eric. Thanks for taking time to chat with us about how Bradford & Brathel is computing "in the cloud" and why, after a few short days at ILTA's INSIGHT London conference, you have earned the new nickname "Google Apps Eric". For starters, give us a bit of background on your firm, role and job duties.
B&B: Founded in 1997 by Thomas Bradford and Donald Barthel, Bradford & Barthel, LLP (B&B) is the industry leader in the aggressive defense of Workers' Compensation, Subrogation, and Employment, and Labor matters. B&B's 73 attorneys (on a growth path to 85 by the end of 2010) are spread throughout its 12 California offices. I have been with the firm since 2005 and prior to my current position as KM Director have been involved in project management and as developer/administrator for the firm's ADERANT Expert financial management solution. It is also worth noting that my current role is a hybrid of IT and KM and that all 6 of our IT/KM group members led by firm management see the value of integrating technology and KM via our Google Apps strategy. I am also a big ILTA supporter and currently serve as track chair on the annual conference planning committee.
IL: What was the business case for moving B&B to the cloud?
B&B: The firm had a real need to find more cost effective, collaborative, flexible and efficient options for communicating and sharing files and information trapped in disparate systems, in documents on desktops, and in a multitude of electronic communications. We looked at the risk management aspects of going to a software-as-as-service model versus the additional infrastructure (servers and the like) and licensing considerations if we went the standard MS Office upgrade route. Upon review of various collaboration suites including Google Apps and the associated real-world benefits (vs. the risks), the senior management team gave us the green light to move forward with a cloud strategy.
IL: Can you detail your Google Apps roadmap?
B&B: Sure. B&B's cloud roadmap is based on a 24 month execution plan touching our users' critical applications and workflows including email, calendaring, intranet, extranet, video, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and document management system. Phase 1 which has been LIVE since April 16th included hosted exchange, intranet and calendaring and, after some pilot testing in February, was rolled out firm-wide within 30 days in March. Phase 2 includes our documentation solution (Google Docs) and will involve a complete switch from MS Office to web-based, collaborative documents, spreadsheets and presentations. This will be complete by fall (end of Q3, beginning of Q4). The 3rd and final phase involves the creation of a cloud based document management system leveraging the entire Google Apps Collaboration Suite and will commence in Q1 2011 and should take 12 months to complete.
IL: How did you create buy-in for your Google Apps strategy across the firm and the 200+ user base?
B&B: We wasted no time communicating this to all users and went office-to-office talking about the roadmap and introducing the overall concept. We also established weekly webinars to ease the transition and learning curve. By getting support and buy-in from management and department heads early, we had the leverage necessary to implement change. As an aside, since our Phase 1 roll-out, we have gotten exclusively positive feedback and comments from our users.
IL: Can you list the biggest benefits you have already realized since the initial Google Apps roll-out and cite any specific ROI/cost savings?
B&B: Substantial benefits include user collaboration; licensing and hardware-related cost savings; IT resource savings; B&B's ability to build-out a true KM solution based on technology (Google Apps); user access and mobility; and 99.9% uptime reliability (a Google Apps guarantee). Also, in terms of ROI, we determined that the annual subscription model - $50 per collaboration suite user and $13 per email archiving user - is projected to provide a cost savings of 10:1 versus our previous solution. In terms of the aforementioned user collaboration, we currently (as part of Phase 1) use the video and voice chat feature combined with document sharing for video, training and web meetings, both internally and with our clients.
IL: What words of wisdom do you have for your law firm peers looking to deploy a collaboration suite such as Google Apps?
B&B: Fortunately there are a lot of cloud computing resources, but I advise to focus on these five points in particular:
- Look at the available collaboration suites to see what best suits the firm. Also, take Google Apps and the others for a test drive. At $50 per user it won't break the bank to set up a testing environment and see if a cloud setup would work firm-wide.
- Analyze exisiting infrastructure and determine a realistic migration time table.
- Look at the firm's current business model: How do you currently communciate with users and clients? How can you re-distribute and share info to maximize collaboration and how will this change the firm's business process.
- Take a hard look at how data is stored and how this will effect the firm. For example, UK/European firms need to know where data is stored based on their clients' regional regulations. Also, clients need to be educated on how data is stored and secured.
- Assuming cloud data security is accounted for with heavy hitter vendors such as Google and Microsoft, firms should focus on application integration and how cloud offerings can integrate with bread and butter systems such as time & billing and accounting software.
Thanks Eric! InsideLegal looks forward to following Bradford & Barthel's progress and learning about more firms that are embracing the cloud.
- Google Apps for messaging savings calculator
- Law2020™: An ILTA multi-year, multi-platform educational programming initiative focusing on the ways in which law firms will have to adapt in order to thrive over the next decade. June kicks-off Law2020 with a themed issue of Peer to Peer including an article by Eric Hunter: "Collaboration in the Cloud - The Paradigm Shift and Staggering Cost Reduction".
- Bradford & Barthel Blog: Technology Forecast: Clouds Ahead. This firm blog post details B&B's cloud strategy and associated user and client benefits.