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Comment: Fool Me Twice, Won’t Be Fooled Again

Added on the 15th Aug 2013 at 3:21 pm
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by Greg Coticchia

I read with great interest the recent Legal IT Insider/Orange Rag (266) July & August 2013 report about ADERANT’s new strategy entitled Aderant move away from point solutions. In the article, its states that feedback from ADERANT customers to them is as follow: ‘One issue that keeps cropping up is where firms have bought multiple third-party solutions and then have to maintain the integrations.’ And ADERANT’s response – ‘to become the source for more and more already integrated applications, so firms don’t need to use third-party point solutions;  Aderant will either develop the solutions inhouse or acquire other existing businesses and add their products to the Aderant portfolio.’

Stunning.

The response, and the strategy, is wrong on so many levels.

First some background from which I speak. I have been in the software business since 1985, when both mainframes and dinosaurs roamed the earth. Many of the so called ‘new ideas’ or ‘new strategies’ have been tried in the market over nad over again. Time sharing services look a lot like ‘Software as a a Service’ (SaaS) and Cloud solutions; VM was the name of an IBM operating system that allowed for multiple operating system images to run under one OS on one server. History does repeat itself. And so do vendor mistakes.

I was a cofounder and the CEO of eBillingHub from 2007 to 2010 when it was sold to Thomson Reuters. And in my 30 years of software I have been in every segment of software: embedded systems, application development tools, network security, system and network management, CAD/CAM/CAE, business applications, mobile apps and, of course, legal software.

The ADERANT response sounds eerily familiar. Wasn’t this the reason we were told, that Thomson Elite built 3E? Customers were tired of integrating these third party tools.  3E , introduced in in May 2006, was poorly accepted by the Elite install base. It took years for Thomson gain even a handful of 3E migrations. Most of its early customers were ‘greenfield’ , totally new customers. But the key thing I remember about 3E was the similar stance it had about third party tools. They weren’t welcome. Now, it wasn’t because Thomson didn’t want too – oh no they weren’t they bad guys – they were simply listening to their customers. And now, seven years after the 3E debacle, a system that made Apple look non-proprietary, we have the #2 in the market using the same listening techniques and taking the same strategy to market.

Well it’s just wrong.

The reaction to ‘we want all these integrations to work’ isn’t ‘then we will build it all ourselves to make sure of that’. That’s a technologists reaction to a customers need. But its not a business persons reaction.

How about building a partner and alliance program that actually works? That’s what every other major software segment does for their customers. It is such a part of the fabric of the geneal software and computing market place, that in 2002, Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, wrote a book on the subject entitled Platform Leadership: How Intel, Microsoft, and Cisco Drive Industry Innovation. The basic premise of this book is a review (as in looking back over the previous 30 years since the Department of Justice ruling in 1970 that IBM had to stop giving away software for free with its mainframes, therefore creating what we see as the modern software marketplace) of the importance of creating a Platform and NOT building everything yourself.

It is shocking that in 2013 a software and services company as large and successful as ADERANT would take this strategy, especially in light of 3E in the same market. Open systems, with participating third party vendors, is the proven way to gain market share and success, even in smaller, nichy markets like the legal space. Again the examples abound in the larger computing space.

In the hottest market today, mobile platforms, it isn’t Apple that is winning, even with its ‘semi propeitary operating system’ of iOS. No, it is Google’s Android. Is it as tightly integrated? No. As easy to use? No. As simple and elegant as Apple’s? No. But it’s winning in the market. Why? Despite what customers say, they want choice more than anything else. They don’t want to be locked into any one vendors system.  The vendor does of course. And even when the vendor has lcoked in the customer, when the customer is offered choice, they will run to that choice.

My experience I the legal space is none of the vendors take their partner strategies seriously.

They don’t have real partner programs that offer the complete range of tested, standardized and documented application programming interfaces (APIs). They don’t offer programs that encourage the participating of third parties to work with the vendor when the platform vendor is enhancing their product. They don’t work with the third party on the go to market so that the customer can benefit from the choices the market can offer.

Third party solutions in the legal market are looked at as necessary evils or intrusions on the business of the platform vendor. That’s a shame. No single vendor can have all the innovation and best products. Yet it’s clear that the platform time and billing vendors in the legal space believe they can do everything – they can write a better reporting system than a pure play reporting company; they can write a better business intelligence tool than a pure play BI tool; they can write a better eBilling  solution than a pure play eBilling vendor – well that last one wasn’t true which is why they ended up acquiring my company. But I can tell you with certainty, without a market based system, innovation in the  market will die. And ‘Not Invented Here’ or NIH mentality as its often referred to will reign.

In another market place I was in for many years, the network security space, and specifically the firewall market, there is a legendary example of a amazing partner program. A company called Checkpoint started a partner program called OPSEC. OPSEC (Open Platform for Security) is an open, multi-vendor security framework with over 350 partners since the inception of the program in 1997. OPSEC guarantees customers the broadest choice of best-of-breed integrated applications and deployment platforms.

Can you imagine competing security vendors feel compelled to spend money and provide adherence to another vendors security standard? Why? Because customers want choice. And how does that benefit Checkpoint? They look like the good guys and win more business. And can stay focused at what they are good at instead of trying to be ‘everything to everyone’ – which would be nothing to no one if they didn’t have this program. I wish I could tell you that this is a unique program. But these types of partner programs exist everywhere in the business – except the legal space. SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and thousands of software companies offer partner programs that actually encourage third party solutions and ensure compatibility and continued market innovation. It not only is possible – it happens everyday.

The ‘we can build it all’ mentality went out with disco. I suggest the platform players in the legal software market wake up and act like leaders.  The law firms that use their software as a platform will benefit from the choice, and so will they as the platform vendor.

Won’t be fooled again.

* Greg Coticchia is now with the Office of Technology Management, University of Pittsburgh

5 Comments

  1. Andy Newland says:

    Brilliant article. Could not agree more.

  2. Arlene Adams says:

    Greg is spot on. The breadth, depth and speed of technology advancement mean vendors must make use of industry Platforms or they will be left way behind. That’s the basis for the Peppermint Technology strategy and customers get it. My white paper on this very subject can be found at http://ow.ly/o2YuD. Interesting that today Elite have launched have announced a MSDynamics CRM product which suggests more vendors are starting to follow.

  3. Andy Stokes says:

    Nice one Greg …
    I’ve always beleived that large scale PM (or as they now want to be, ERP) systems should include a set of APIs in order to make the products more interoperable. And that such APIs should be part of core product rather than add-ons that the client has to pay for.
    It’s all very well wanting to increase revenues by ‘owning more of the desktop’, but at the end of the day it is the client who makes the choices and the client who has the integration requirements.
    And in truth, when you look under the bonnet the vast majority of the systems in question already have such integration in place, which is how they bolt the stuff together in the first place.

  4. Tom Hervey says:

    From the perspective of a person who has been providing case management solutions since the mid-80s, I too am in total agreement with the sentiments expressed in this note. For years I assumed that the accounts houses (as I think of them) would eventually build perfectly integrated case management systems to sit alongside their accounts packages (and drive me out of business); but this never happened. Part of the reason might be resources: if you have a choice between spending money on your cash cow finance system or your bolt-on case management system, the former is always going to win. And the types of resources you need to build a product that does ‘law jobs’ are very different from the resources that you need to build bean counters. [One of the fun things about trying to sell case management systems is to see which audience you are going to have to please – is it the IT guys or the Finance guys or the law guys – each of whom has a totally different set of priorities and skills and a totally different checklist of questions.]

    As near as I can tell, the best companies like Elite or Aderant have been able to do is to provide a toolkit for their customers to use to create their own specific law job implementations. Most of them rely on a workflow philosophy, which is appropriate for bog standard work like collecting unpaid invoices, but totally wrong for work that requires a bit more flexibility (like moving backwards and forwards between steps in the process). If the toolkit is too restrictive, the users might be able to understand the tools but not be able achieve the results they want; if it is more flexible, it approaches being a general programming language and the users might be better off building a product with a genuine programming language. Either way, the users have to buy or develop their own expertise to achieve the desired results, which sort of defeats the purpose of going to an outside supplier.

    In theory, a single integrated all-singing, all-dancing solution has to be everyone’s first choice; in practice, no one has come anywhere near providing one.

  5. Charles Christian says:

    Thanks Tom for your very considered comment – CC

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