Howard Russell, President & CEO

Does anyone remember their days in elementary or high school when they were instructed to work in ‘groups’ to complete an assignment? Do you recall the furtive glances and the mad scurry to ensure you secured membership in a ‘winning’ group? Possibly you were a member of ‘that group’—the one that never really finished assignments; the group with the uncooperative or lazy members? It was a sure path to a poor mark. Half completed assignments are rarely rewarded.

Maybe you remember being part of the group that was loaded with all the ‘type-A’ personalities. You know, the one filled with people who ‘ran’ things; who could do a great job without anyone else contributing. Yet, they were all surprised when their marks (although better than the lazy team’s) came back as less than stellar. They were each fully convinced of their own capabilities, but the work they produced was an array of excellence that was nevertheless uncoordinated and unintelligible as a cohesive package.

It seems that many of the applications that we use fall into one of these two categories. Either the application is unfinished and doesn’t rise to the occasion, or the application has great capabilities but fails to work well in the ‘community of applications’ to deliver the broader value that users expect.

There aren’t too many applications on the market today that deliver ‘complete’ value. The ones that purport to solve all the users’ problems are generally missing some key feature that must then be sourced through another application. Of course, this leads to a need to provide integration between the two applications, a feat rendered extremely difficult because one or the other of the two apps were created without the foresight or the humility that would predicate a strong API (application programing interface). No API means no way of connecting the two solutions together to deliver the much-craved value to their users.

During a recent conversation with the Director of Knowledge Management from an AMLAW top 20 firm (size) had this to say: “Whenever we discover a new solution to a problem, everyone wants it to be accessible from one place. They don’t want to have to launch yet another app.” The good news is that there are plenty of vendors in the market today who are committed to building solid, problem-solving applications. However, there’s a catch! Users are no longer satisfied with sub-par terms of performance, experience or functionality. At the same time, they demonstrate less and less tolerance for disconnected solutions that erode their own value through the complex interactions that the apps demand alongside their ‘siloed’ functionality.

Many applications have APIs. Some do not. Even the ones with APIs often implement their solutions with limited capabilities to share knowledge and functionality with other applications. Users who count clicks are forced to add the ‘transitionary’ clicks as they navigate between applications to complete tasks which they are convinced should be—and could be—much more streamlined. My team, and others like us, spends a significant amount of time transitioning data and plugging functional holes for applications which failed to deliver and failed to make room for others at considerable expense to our clients.

The landscape is already changing. End-users are increasingly savvy about what technology allows us to do. Whether your firm is implementing document management, practice management, CRM, mobile apps or a myriad of other things, the word ‘seamless’ is becoming more and more important. CIOs and firm technology strategists are becoming warier of apps that are difficult to effectively adopt.

We’re going to have to work harder at building stronger solutions and we’re going to have to stuff our pride in a box. In the future, the most valuable business applications will be those created by companies who are confident enough to make space in their offerings for others to complement the value they provide. These providers will develop applications that can seamlessly contribute key points of functionality in tandem with other products via the ‘community of applications’.

CIOs, business users, we hear your message loud and clear: Offer what you have, create a bridge to the rest and share your strengths with others. Our clients get the most value when industry solutions work seamlessly together.

We’re working on it. The market is our professor… we’re hoping for good grades!