I have just started a new strategic review project with a medium sized partnership (around 25 partners) in an international market aligned to the legal sector. As I will be working – for the next few months – from their offices in London, from their offices around the regions and from my office at home, they have set up me as a client on their extranet providing a collaborative workspace.
Now over the years I have interviewed many of my clients’ clients about their views on the potential value of extranets but generally found that they had some difficulty getting their heads around the concept. I recently worked with a web development company who loaded all the site maps, proposed designs and project timetables onto their extranet for the entire project team to see and comment upon. But I was really wowed today when the real potential finally hit home…(am I a bit slow on the technological revolution)?
It means, of course, that I can work closely with their people without having access to their internal systems thus not compromising security and without needing to go through lengthy training on their document management protocols and other systems. Yet they can upload the numerous files and reports that I need to see into the workspace into areas that are just for me to see, just for my core project team or for anyone else they want to give access to for administrative support or for just part of the project.
Then I can happily upload files from wherever I happen to be and can take copies of – and work on – those documents as and when I please and upload the updated versions. No more boring old version control to worry about – and I don’t even need to worry about keeping the memory stick from getting lost at the bottom of my handbag.
There is a calendar where assistants can schedule all my meetings – showing everyone where I will be, what I will be doing and who I will be with – without having to worry about synchronising Outlook calendars. And anyone in the project team can schedule time, and file associated agendas and minutes with ease.
There is also an integral message system – that alerts your nominated email address when new documents are uploaded or new messages or discussions started. And it keeps track of all the threads. Awesome! If this is what cloud computing has in store, it sure does have a silver lining!
Now the global firms and their institutional clients have long used collaborative workspaces – for knowledge sharing and precedents in the legal world, for accessing deeds or property terriers in the property market and even for showing work-in-progress and audit status in the accountancy world. And I remember all those years ago getting excited when they first talked about electronic deal rooms for big corporate transactions. At the estate agency end of the market, it has long been possible to have a look to see how your house sale or purchase transaction was progressing (back in the olden days when there was an active residential property market) and even organise to get SMS alerts on your mobile phone. But this is a relatively modest partnership and some of its commercial clients are really quite small. As more clients catch on to the wonders of this technology, surely the whole world of professional services delivery will be turned on its head.