InsideLegal posted an interview conducted by our Head of Content, Jobst Elster, with Eric Hunter, Director of Knowledge Management for California-based Bradford & Barthel LLP (B&B), a 75 attorney (211 employee) firm, which has embraced Google Apps. In that original post, Eric explained the strategy of taking his firm completely to the cloud. This was the first time we had heard of a firm this size making that move - not just for file storage, etc., but having Google Apps replace Microsoft Office as well and thought it was intriguing. Well, our readers agreed and we received many questions from the industry - consultants, technologists, law firm CIOs, etc. We selected a few to be answered directly by Eric Hunter.
Question submitted by Tom Mighell of The Kennedy-Mighell Report "Does the relative lack of features in Google Docs pose any issues for the firm? Many law firms need to be able to create Tables of Authority, end notes, citations, captions – Google Docs does not currently have any of these features. Further, users currently cannot use columns or add watermarks. Some of the features Google Docs and Word do have in common are very rudimentary (at least for now) in Google Docs – how will firm lawyers adjust to this?"
Hunter: Google Docs is an evolving product, as is the entire Google Apps suite. That's why it's paramount for law firms to involve both their Technology and Knowledge Management departments in investigating Google Apps. As the suite evolves, so will their knowledge sharing processes. We're slating our rollout with Google Docs to match our estimate of the product's projected functionality upgrades to match Microsoft's Suite. Google has stated publicly that Docs will continue to evolve, but in the interim, businesses should keep their current solution. I recommend the same for law firms. B&B is in a position where we are ready to invest and upgrade our infrastructure in multiple points, and at multiple junctures. We're confident our return on investment is worth timing our rollout as the Google Apps solution evolves. We also understand it is in Google's interest to continue to upgrade their suite to compete with Microsoft as quickly as possible, especially with Microsoft rolling out their 2010 suite and Windows 7 for businesses. Law firms should definitely investigate, but maintain a critical eye on product evolution and progress.
Mighell: "One other feature where Word is superior (in my opinion) is in Track Changes – in Google Docs you can review the revision history and add Comments, but you cannot manage changes in a collaborative way – is this a concern to the firm?"
Hunter: The collaborative feature our firm currently utilizes most in Google Docs is the ability for Docs to integrate seamlessly with Google Sites. We're leveraging this functionality towards how we see our document management solution evolving. Though Word is still superior in many respects in functionality, we see this functionality matched by Docs as the product evolves. It's in Google's strategic interest to do so, and we're confident they have the financial resources and incentive to make it happen quickly. From an investment perspective, we're consistently thinking 18 months ahead. We're offering a training session on the Google Apps Collaboration Suite, and it's integration from a strategic perspective for law firms and their clients this August, at ILTA 2010 in Las Vegas.
Question submitted by JoAnna Forshee, CEO – InsideLegal "We received a lot of questions/comments on this topic-What other vendors did you consider?"
Hunter: We looked closely at Cypress and Microsoft. Microsoft's cloud hosted collaboration suite is extremely impressive, and I'm managing a session on how their 2010 suite integrates with Windows 7 at ILTA 2010 in Las Vegas this August. I will continue to watch Microsoft's product, and how they evolve.
Ultimately though, we chose Google. Google demonstrates an incredibly innovative out-of-the box approach to their business model and evolving collaborative product model. We see this consistent forward thinking approach to their Apps platform strategically integrating within our line of business and best supporting our long term strategy in Knowledge Management and Technology.
Question submitted by Scott Johnston, CIO - Harrison Pensa LLP "This line from the terms on Google Apps is the one that would concern me: “1.7. Data Transfer. As part of providing the Service, Google may store and process Customer Data in the United States or any other country in which Google or its agents maintain facilities. By using the Services, Customer consents to this transfer, processing and storage of Customer Data.“ My fear is that Google decides to subcontract to another company who then subcontracts to a fourth party (against the original agreement of course) and the potential for privacy and security could begin to break down. Could it be the equivalent of the "data in the dumpster" scenario when data shows up randomly on someone’s desktop somewhere in the world?"
Hunter: An excellent point, and a question best placed to Google directly by every law firm and business investigating. Though I can't speak for Google on their general policy for privacy and security, I will say, that it is in each cloud hosted vendor's strategic interest to negotiate with any client regarding their data privacy and security policy. Each relationship is unique, and specific to the line of business in question. I will say that Google has shown a willingness to work with B&B with our multiple concerns related to our line of business. Our client's data privacy and security is of the upmost importance to us, and we wouldn't have made this transition if we weren't confident their privacy and security would be more secure with Google, than with our previous solution.Johnston: "Aside from that, kudos to B&B for trying it. Someone has to of course. I also wonder what the exit cost/strategy is should the cloud solution fail. Let's say you are on the cloud for a couple of years and then one finds the solution to not be suitable. Now you have to put your infrastructure back in place - licensing, hardware etc. and at a minimum 10 to 1 cost which could be $500+ per user plus the cost to try to get all of your data out of the cloud and back into your DM. Of course, on a licensing perspective you would be looking at about a 4 to 1 cost just to repurchase compared to software assurance which you undoubtedly gave up after two years."
Hunter: Our exit strategy is to choose another cloud hosted vendor. I don't see the per user per year evolving SaaS cloud hosted product model changing; the cost savings are too great. I see it becoming a standard, and the products for that standard improving. How can a three year traditional licensing product upgrade model compete with an evolving collaborative product that upgrades every few days, few weeks, few months for the same cost every year? I see both Google and Microsoft moving in this direction. With Google and Microsoft competing in this arena, law firms not only have an immediate choice to choose from, but a projected choice. The competition between Google and Microsoft will only improve their respective product suites over time, from a security, functionality, and usability perspective. As both vendors are competing heavily, it is in both of their strategic interests to make an exit from one platform and transition to another as seamless as possible.
Question submitted by Jorge Colón, Founder – The Online Bar Association "How do you handle help desk or service issues with Google Apps. I understand that for $50 per year it’s up to the buyer to resolve not Google."
Hunter: Google offers both telephone and email support. I've found both the telephone and email support to be immediate and responsive. This was a huge test for us during our product testing phase. The amount of help from general forums, online tutorials, online videos and third party vendors offering support is also extremely impressive. Using 'Groups' and 'Sites', is actually improving our internal helpdesk and user support model, as we expected during testing and investigation. We're restructuring our user support model and streamlining our processes based off the collaborative nature of the suite.
Colón: "Was the decision also based upon an assessment of Google Apps being adopted globally like MS was in the last 20 years, or is this irrelevant?"
Hunter: Studying Google's business model, and how they're competing with Microsoft past, present and future on a global scale was key to our senior management's decision in moving to Google Apps, and is something we continue to analyze daily. Where does Google make it's profit, what's driving their model? Where does Microsoft make it's profit, what's driving their model? How are they currently positioned, and where are they moving strategically? How do Google and Microsoft continue to enhance handling of their client's data, privacy and security? The more Microsoft and Google compete head to head in search, cloud hosted collaboration suites, video, voice, the drive towards unified messaging and mobile integration; the better it is for business and law firms investigating and using their products. It is in both companies' strategic interest to develop their respective suites to meet their client's needs, including lower cost, evolving collaborative functionality, and enhanced data security/privacy with the same expectation for global integration.
Question submitted by Jobst Elster, Head of Content – InsideLegal "It’s well known that Google promotes '99.9% uptime'. How do you handle/plan for that other .1%?"
Hunter: The other .1% is both planned and unplanned down time. Based off our projected analysis comparing that .1% to our now previous solution, it amounts to far less downtime than we experienced in our previous solution. We've already experienced a portion of this .1%, and it's been a seamless experience. This is another area we see only improving with Google, Microsoft, and other cloud hosted vendors as they continue to compete.
InsideLegal: We'd like to again thank Bradford & Barthel and Eric Hunter for telling their story and for answering the questions that popped up from the original post. We will be continuing this series with our next post coming from an extensive interview we recently had with Norm Thomas, Industry Market Development Director for Microsoft's Legal & Professional Services, highlighting Microsoft's cloud strategy and current offerings. Stay tuned to InsideLegal.com...