Monthly Archives: November 2005

Tasks From E-mails

Tasks From E-mails.

I’m surprised at how useful I’m finding the new “create task from e-mail” feature in the upcoming release of Tasks Pro™ and Tasks. This was a frequently requested feature, but not one that I thought I’d use that much myself. Turns out, I was wrong. :)

I
haven’t yet set up any automatic task creation from my various support
forms (like I know some of my customers do), but I do use it quite a
bit in two situations:

  • Although there is a pretty
    full-featured mobile interface for Tasks Pro™ and Tasks, when I’m on my
    Treo I’ve found that it’s much faster for me to whip out an e-mail in
    Snappermail than it is to launch the web browser, wait for the page to
    load, etc… Perhaps when I have a faster wireless connection to my
    phone, this will change, but for now the email option is faster. Of
    course, I’ve got a couple of mailboxes with different default task
    properties to keep things nice and organized.
  • I get e-mail
    notifications for posts in my forums. Although I have bookmarklets set
    up to create tasks from web pages, it’s faster for me to simply forward
    the e-mail with the bug report, request, etc. to one of the mailboxes
    I’ve set up and have tasks created that way.

It’s always nice to get little surprises like this.  

[alexking.org: Blog]

Authority Control in Library Thing

Authority Control in Library Thing.

I love this.  Library Thing is offering authority control
at the user level–users can combine multiple listings for the same
author, basically putting this aspect of cataloging into the users'
hands. 

In
fact, the computer guesses pretty well, presenting a list of likely
aliases for in the “Also known as…” section. You can check these
authors out by clicking on their names. If they're really the same, and
you're feeling generous, go ahead and click “combine.” The authors will
be smoothed together, with the more common name winning. I've gone
through some of the better-known authors—the rest are up to you.

Be bold! The system is
self-correcting. If you screw up and combine two authors who aren't
really the same—eg., Thomas Wolfe and Tom Wolfe—someone will notice.
Clicking “separate” will break them apart again.

See? 
Users care about authority control.  Why?  Because it's a pain in the
butt to have to click on 7 slightly differing entries for Gabriel
Garcia Marquez to find all the relevant items in the catalog.  The same
thing happens with title authority control.  I can't wait for FRBR to
take hold in our catalogs…either that, or this user-level authority
control.  Anything would be better than the messes we have to deal with
now. 
  [LibrarianInBlack]

How many IT staff does your library need?

How many IT staff does your library need?.

Do you feel like your library is under-IT-staffed?  Probably.  Most
of the rest of us do too, so you're not alone.  If you're writing a
technology plan or want to advocate for more IT staff, check out Lori
Bowen Ayre's IT Staff Calculator
It considers factors like public computer use, IT help provided by
other entities, printers, different ILS modules, and the numbers of
servers, LANs, branches, and more.

One important note: it doesn't include webmasters (like me).  I
tried it for our library, and it worked pretty accurately, recommending
3 IT staff (which we'll have sometime next month).  Of course I'd like
5, but I think 3 is probably about right 
[LibrarianInBlack]

Using BI to Improve Leverage

Using BI to Improve Leverage.

Yesterday I suggested that improving the process of assigning associates could improve partner profits. In fact, Bryan Cave, with its deep commitment to business intelligence, appears to have done so.

I asked John Alber, the firm’s technology partner and author of several recent excellent articles on BI, to comment on my prior blog post. John wrote:

At
Bryan Cave, we’ve developed an ‘availability’ application that helps
lawyers who are staffing a new matter find available associates and
counsel. Every Monday, an automated form goes out to associates and
counsel, who use it to declare their availability as none, limited, or
general. They can also add comments to qualify their declarations.

Lawyers
who need to staff engagements use a Google-like advanced search feature
to find available lawyers. They can sort results by various criteria
and view individual comments about availability.

After more
than a year of use, our leverage is up markedly. Certainly the business
climate contributes to that, but our increase outstrips anything we’ve
seen during prior upturns. I think the availability application and our
new Financial Dashboard (which reveals the benefits of leverage to
responsible lawyers) have contributed. We are now doing regression
analyses [a statistical method for confirming relationships] to confirm
this finding.

[Strategic Legal Technology]

Easily Increase PPP by $27k?

Easily Increase PPP by $27k?.

Is there an easy way to increase per partner profits by $27,000?

I previously reported that IBM’s global consulting business built a system to match consultants with the right job.
Business Week (11/21/05) reports that using it, IBM “with 36,000
consultants in its system… saved $500 million in the first year alone,
cutting the time needed to assign the employee by as much as two
weeks.” That works out to almost $14,000 per consultant.

Let’s
play with some numbers: Assume in BigLaw a blended associate billing
rate of $300/hour. If each associate billed 30 more hours per year,
that would generate an additional $9,000 in profit (assuming no
increase in costs). If leverage is 3 associates for each partner, that
would increase per partner profit by $27,000.

Possible?
Maybe. Clearly, associates are, on average working very long hours
already. But not all meet billing targets. More importantly,
opportunities may exist to convert some non-billable time to billable
hours via more effective workforce utilization. This is no sure thing
but IBM’s win should tempt law firms to think about more effective ways
of assigning lawyers to matters.  
[Strategic Legal Technology]

Practice and Process Improvement in Law Firms

Practice and Process Improvement in Law Firms.

US corporations invest a lot in process improvements. And now law firms show signs of doing the same.

Two recent ILTA white paper
excellent articles (Don’t Support the Practice of Law – Support the
Business of Practicing Law and The Value Proposition of the Business
Analyst Role) describe large law firm staff positions that focus on
supporting law practice and business analysis.

Last year I completed a 15-firm benchmarking study for Hunton & Williams
CIO Jamie Booth on the role we called “practice support consultants.”
We wanted to learn firms’ views of practice improvement initiatives and
compare how they staff and organize to support this goal.

In
our hand-selected sample, most firms aspired to improve law practice
and had at least some dedicated staff working on process improvement.
Among the findings: (1) Though firms wanted staff in this role to
initiate improvements, many pressures kept them more reactive; (2) The
person in the role does not have to be a lawyer but must be familiar
with law practice.; and (3) Organization and ownership of the role vary
widely.

That law firm CIOs focus on business and practice
process improvement might be surprising. Yet it’s not obvious who else
in a firm would take on this mission. The Custodian Of Business Processes in the June issue of Optimize Magazine explains why CIOs in many companies own process improvement, even outside of IT.

Separately, a November LegalIT article, Taking charge of strategy,
notes the new, strategic role of the CIO: “Responsibility for
technology costs, support and development at the firm is no longer
enough…. An understanding and adoption of the firm’s business culture
and external market positioning is also essential.”

Jamie
and I spoke after we both noticed the ILTA articles. We share the view
that there are great opportunities to continue improving law practice.
Jamie summed up his current thinking: “Our four practice support
consultants keep working closely with our practices. They respond to
demands and uncover hidden needs but as you found, there is tension
between the two and also between operations and innovation. But as
competition in the legal market heats up, I think more lawyers and
firms will see the need for and value of this position and a focus on
practice and process improvement.”  
[Strategic Legal Technology]

Susskind on Lack of Innovation in US Law Firms

Susskind on Lack of Innovation in US Law Firms.

Are you an innovation proponent in a large law firm? Ever wonder why life is hard?

Richard Susskind, a leading legal technology thinker and consultant, writes an excellent article in the Financial Times Online: Backroom boys lead ‘positive disruption’ (free registration required; spotted on DennisKennedy.blog).

Susskind
writes that innovation is hard because it “is not easy to convince a
group of millionaires within clear sight of retirement that their
business model is wrong and that they should change direction and
embrace new technologies.” This is a must read for anyone who’s
proposed innovative ideas in a law firm, technology or otherwise.  
[Strategic Legal Technology]

Buying a license

Buying a license.

I have a box of Windows XP in my office. It's a retail blue box. And if [heaven forbid] the office burns down, I've lost that license. I have to rebuy it.

The other day for our Business Insurance
renewal I was asked to write down all the software licenses that I
could not replace, that we'd have to rebuy all over again, and we were
surprised that there's a lot of software that I have that I don't have
to worry about scrambling to rebuy.

My office is by the airport and lets
just pretend that the biggest jet airliner that goes out of the Fresno
Airport [which is the UPS plane by the way] dropped on my office.

What software could I easily replace?

  • My server software including the media. I log into the Eopen  web site with my Microsoft passport and I look up the contract number and immediately replace it. 
  • My Windows XP licenses – that also gives me the right to the next version – better known as Vista that includes additional features .
  • My Office software including the media. Again, I log into the Eopen web site.

Next to my desk is a test Dell OEM
server. There's a server license on that box. If the box dies, the
server license dies with it. It's not transferable. But add software
assurance within 90 days and I can move that software anywhere I want
to.

If you are buying OEM or retail software boxes for your clients.

Stop.

OEM may be cheaper in the short term,
but it's not cheaper in the long run. Retail boxes means that you or
your clients have to track those licenses and worst still, you lose
those licenses if a disaster occurs.

Your small business clients need to
ensure you have built in the flexibility they need, business continuity
plans built in from the get go.

Check this site out:  http://www.noretailbox.com/ [E-Bitz – SBS MVP the Official Blog of the SBS “Diva”]

Ev Williams: Achieving balance with GTD

Ev Williams: Achieving balance with GTD.

evhead: Ten Rules for Web Startups

Ev’s ten rules for a startup are all strong, but #10 particularly caught my eye:

#10: Be Balanced
What is a
startup without bleary-eyed, junk-food-fueled, balls-to-the-wall days
and sleepless, caffeine-fueled, relationship-stressing nights? Answer?:
A lot more enjoyable place to work. Yes, high levels of commitment are
crucial. And yes, crunch times come and sometimes require an
inordinate, painful, apologies-to-the-SO amounts of work. But it can’t
be all the time. Nature requires balance for health — as do the bodies
and minds who work for you and, without which, your company will be
worthless. There is no better way to maintain balance and lower your
stress that I’ve found than David Allen’s GTD process. Learn it. Live
it. Make it a part of your company, and you’ll have a secret weapon.

Right on.


Slightly off-topic, but on my mind…as I commented earlier today, I’m finding myself increasingly uncomfortable framing techniques like GTD strictly in terms of “productivity” (although the ability to be more efficient and productive is definitely a nice perk).

GTD fights stress not by transforming you into a drone or a
brainless corporate cog, but by affording a framework for recovering
and maintaining smart focus. What you do with that focus is entirely your affair — clearly people will use it for everything from building a very swell startup to managing their music career
and beyond. Gratefully, nowhere does The David say you have to turn
into an enormous-toothed White Guy running sales seminars at the La
Quinta Inn. In any case, when we’re doing GTD right, Ev is right on the
money: balance is sewn into every stitch of your week.

Even two years into using GTD,
I have to say I’m still pleased — and sometimes even surprised — at how
well it still works for me. Whenever I fall off the horse, I’m usually
just a mini-review away from feeling retuned to my priorities and commitments. I agree with Ev; it’s powerful stuff.

I do wonder if there’s a better term for GTD’s goals and methods than simply “productivity” or even “time management” What do you think? Does it matter?  [43 Folders]