Understanding Telepresence

In our article discussing the Technology Trends that are likely to be important for the legal market (see Technology Trends Introduction) we predicted that Telepresence will gain widespread use.

Phil WinfieldTo explore this more closely we discussed the opportunities that Telepresence offers with Phil Winfield, a technology consultant who has implemented the solution globally within a global law firm.

“It’s important to understand that this is quite different to the kind of video conferencing that most people are familiar with”, explains Phil.

“Telepresence aims to provide a fully immersive video conferencing experience which makes you feel as if you are in the same room as the other meeting participants, even though they may be on the other side of the world. This is achieved by providing consistent furniture and room décor in all locations, life size images of meeting participants on large, high quality screens, high speed network connectivity for high quality/low latency audio and video and a call set-up and management service to provide a seamless user experience.“

“Volcanic ash, additional security, transport strikes and increased taxes are all adding to the time and cost of travel. With greater pressure on time, a need for global collaboration and a desire to reduce CO2 emissions, Telepresence can really provide a viable, cost effective alternative to meeting in person. Few business leaders are yet aware of the capabilities and confuse this with videoconferencing but many Telco’s are building managed service offerings that make the improved quality of Telepresence a highly attractive solution at comparatively low cost.”

“Numerous Telepresence solutions are available, catering for a range of meeting room styles and seating arrangements. Placing the screens in the middle of the meeting room table adds to the impression of sitting around the same table, whilst having an island table gives more flexibility in the usage of the room. LCD screens give a sharper, brighter, more modern feel, while back projection systems provide a more comfortable ambiance, provide a seamless image between screens and give better eye contact between meeting participants. Monitors are built into the desks, enabling presentations to be displayed without interrupting the meeting on the main screens. White boards can be included, as can overhead document cameras to enable collaboration on hardcopy documents.”

“Implementation is broken down into three main phases; the preparation of the room in which the Telepresence system is to be located, the installation and commissioning of the Telepresence equipment and furniture and then the implementation of the services to support room booking and meeting management. The dimensions of the room have to meet strict parameters, depending upon the equipment to be installed, but power and cabling requirements are minimal, save for a cable route through the building for the delivery of the Wide Area Network (WAN) circuit. A separate room is required to store the Telepresence equipment and furniture following delivery, but installation by the supplier’s technical team will only take between 4 and 8 days, depending upon the system purchased.“

“The room refurbishment costs can be significant, especially if air conditioning and other ceiling based services have to be rerouted in order to provide the required ceiling heights, but these costs can often be depreciated over the life of the building lease, reducing the P&L impact. Similarly the equipment and installation costs can also be depreciated over three to five years. The other main costs include equipment maintenance, the annual rental of the WAN links and the provision of the managed service. This service includes the room booking system, the set up and monitoring of each meeting to ensure the highest possible quality and the provision of conference bridge facilities to enable audio dial-in for non-video participants.”

“While these costs may initially seem substantial, in my experience they equate to only a small fraction of the annual travel budget.”

“Existing investment in traditional ISDN video conferencing systems can also be leveraged by upgrading to IP based networks and including them within the managed service, providing a fully integrated range of high performance virtual meeting systems. As well as providing a step change in video meeting quality, this eradicates many of the traditional video conferencing problems and significantly reduces the management and support overhead. Multiple systems can be connected into a single meeting, including Telepresence, traditional video conference systems, desktop units and audio participants, including third party systems.”

“As the flagship of an integrated video conferencing suite, Telepresence can provide a highly effective meeting tool that delivers much more effective, interactive meetings than are possible over the telephone, significantly improving the focus and quality of interaction among meeting participants, increasing collaboration and building relationships.“

“Technology is maturing rapidly to expand the offering from made to measure meeting rooms to desktop and even mobile delivery. This maturation of Telepresence as a full service makes video conferencing a highly attractive solution for global meetings, conferences and client events where travel costs are becoming increasingly prohibitive as upfront investment will be low and on-going costs will tend to track adoption.”

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The Age of the Client

Josh Bernhoff of Forrester has written a very interesting article entitled ‘Welcome to the Age of the Customer. Invest accordingly.’

In this he states that “Disruption is rampant, it’s hitting every single industry, caused by customers with powerful technology on their side. The question is not whether your industry will be disrupted. The question is when.”

Forresters argument is that as customers gain access to more real time information about pricing, product features and competitors they become more empowered and in effect hold all the advantages. Forresters conclusion therefore is that we are now entering the age of the customer where “The only sustainable source of competitive advantage, the only defensible position, is to concentrate on knowledge of and engagement with customers”

Forrester curve

With this in mind, organisations that will thrive will be those that display the following characteristics:

A customer obsessed company focuses its strategy, its energy, and its budget on processes that enhance knowledge of an engagement with customers, and prioritizes these over maintaining traditional competitive barriers.

This hypothesis can be applied to the legal industry – a market that is experiencing structural change and an environment that will not return to pre-recession conditions:

  • Client expectations about the way legal services should be delivered and managed have matured and will continue to do so
  • New entrants to the legal market will be able to offer legal services in new, more efficient ways without the legacy and baggage of the accepted norms
  • New sources of investment will be available to legal service providers but will demand the effective and efficient management of operations
  • Technology will continue to accelerate the ability of consumers and suppliers to make more informed decisions, react to changing conditions more rapidly, share information and collaborate more closely.

The reality is that the traditional areas that law firms would emphasise to their clients – technical expertise, international capability, specialist knowledge and so on may no longer be enough on their own to differentiate themselves from their competitors and that traditional approaches and methods of serving clients is not sustainable. In the long term the law firm that is internally focussed, has rigid practice structures and focuses on a purely technical product will have a very small market to operate in.

Those firms that will develop in the new environment will:

  • Orientate their operations around the clients they serve
  • Have the agility to adapt and develop to support deeper relationships with their clients in real time
  • Be able to tailor their products and services to meet specific need
  • Have the flexibility to manage and deliver legal services and advice from multiple sources

No firm will claim not to orientate themselves around their clients but saying it is not the same as doing it.

It will be those firms that recognise that deep client engagement is the only path that will make corporate-wide shifts in thinking and behaviour.

The firms that master this will thrive in a world of constant disruption, because their clients know and trust them, and they make investments in those customers. Those that keep riding their current model and attempt to lock in customers will plateau and eventually wither.

Technology Trends For the Legal Sector

This article introduces the technology trends we predict will most impact the legal sector in the next 3-5 years. I  have grouped trends that are likely to impact or contribute to the strategic needs of the industry over this period into three main themes which I will explore in more detail in subsequent articles

These predictions are based on:

  • Technology trends that are predicted to impact business in general
  • Trends that are observed in the legal industry

Theme One:  As Fee earners become more technologically aware, the delivery of functionality will be more aligned to the way lawyers work and will empower them to be more innovative and entrepreneurial in the way they deliver legal advice.

1.1         Collaboration platforms will become social and be based around people rather than documents

  • Web 2.0 features will shift the emphasis from documents collaboration to facilitating interactions with people.  These platforms will make it easier for people to connect based on expertise and areas of interest as well as availability
  • This technology will build social networks that will help the organisation to be more agile and responsive to business changes

1.2         Client facing systems and tools will become integrated with internal systems and tools

  • Information and content that is shared with external parties will be integrated with systems that are used internally.
  • This capability will allow us to manage end to end legal and business processes in a streamlined and efficient manner

1.3         Applications and business processes will go mobile

  • More powerful devices and faster networks will enable more applications content, features and process to be delivered to multiple devices including home machines, smart-phones, and tablets.
  • This capability will empower fee earners to be more mobile, use appropriate devices for particular purposes and will support more geographic flexibility for the firm

1.4         Telepresence will gain widespread use

  • Telcos are building managed service offerings that make the improved quality of telepresence a highly attractive solution at comparatively low cost.  Technology is maturing rapidly to expand the offering from made to measure meeting rooms to desktop and even mobile delivery
  • The maturation of telepresence as a full service makes video conferencing a highly attractive solution for global meetings, conferences and client events where travel costs are becoming increasingly prohibitive.

Theme Two:  Business Intelligence will be embedded into key processes and will be ubiquitous

2.1         Tools and techniques will emerge to model and manage legal processes

  • Tools and techniques that are more adaptive and flexible than current workflow technology will emerge that will be used to model and manage legal processes.  These tools will enable legal experts to build models (rather than require IT intervention.
  • These tools will be critical to allow the effective disaggregation of legal processes which is vital to facilitate effective sourcing planning and decision making for legal work.   Modelling processes globally  will also provide a map of our legal capabilities which is critical to effective strategic planning

2.2         Business Intelligence tools will encompass all measures and will be available in real time

  • BI tools will mature to cater for both qualitative and quantitative measures and will be available to be integrated into key business applications in real time
  • Having analytical tools embedded in business applications will improve the relationship between strategic targets and transactional decision making.

2.3         Analytics will target social networks

  • Increasing amounts of valuable information and content is stored in unstructured systems (blogs, email, meeting notes etc).  Tools are maturing that allow analysis of this content to understand trends, patterns, networks and relationships.
  • Reporting this tacit intelligence will be extremely valuable for knowledge bases organisations such as law firms.  When these systems are integrated with transactional tools that are used to execute work this information will become more powerful still be allowing intelligence to be acted upon.

2.4         Industry wide Master Data Management will mature

  • As processes are shared between law firms, clients and service providers, key standards and approaches will emerge to describe and share information
  • Systems to manage shared taxonomies between organisations will be vital to facilitate new sourcing approaches and relationships management between clients and their panel firms.

Theme Three: Applications and Infrastructure will be managed in an agile and fit for purpose manner

3.1         Systems will continue to be virtualised and globalised

  • Systems will need to be global and efficient to support global consistent business and legal processes.  This consistency is vital to facilitate flexibility in sourcing and allocating work

3.2         Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud based platforms will become the norm

  • Cloud based provision of services, infrastructure and information will become ubiquitous to allow flexibility and reduce the time taken to bring new products and services to market.  The increasing need for business flexibility and agility will mean that legal and procedural risks of cloud provision will need to be overcome to allow technology provision to be sufficiently responsive to business change.

3.3         Business and Technology strategic planning will become more flexible and integrated

  • IT planning will need to become more flexible and agile to cater for the increased rate of business and technology change.  For this reason Business and IT Strategy roles will begin to merge and planning cycles will become shorter and more agile.

Change Harbour Launches

Change Harbour Ltd has been formed  by its co-directors Simon Thompson and Tim Hanson to deliver services and solutions that will help legal departments and providers of legal services adapt to, and benefit from, the lasting structural change that we believe the legal market is experiencing.

Our aim is to contribute positively to the maturing of the legal support industry by delivering innovative strategic, technology, process, sourcing and organisational design solutions.  Importantly we plan to achieve this by taking new approaches – we will learn from commercial best practice, monitor developments from other industries and challenge the perceived norms within the sector.

For our clients we aim to design the most appropriate solution for their needs and will then engage with the relevant technology, business process or sourcing providers to manage the implementation of that solution.

In doing this we will champion the use of certain technologies, approaches and methodologies to deliver change to the legal industry.