The Future of Work and the New Client Has Arrived – Emerges Alongside the New Professional

There is no denying it for the hundreds of thousands of professionals who first set out from college and law school back in the mid 1990’s or earlier – our work and clients today are vastly different than the work and the clients that first greeted us. Remember? There was actually a time before email. A time before your pocket buzzed every 16 seconds with another message, alert, ping, or phone call. A time when leaving work actually meant leaving work.

Over the last two decades, the complexity of delivering great professional services has been increasing, while the demands of clients and professionals for productivity have been accelerating – creating two competing forces. Law, accounting and financial services have always faced urgent pressure to meet client demands for responsiveness, productivity and security. When iManage entered the market in 1998, there were just documents. Documents arrived via express courier, regular mail and fax machines, to be printed or copied and placed into in-boxes, to be reviewed and marked-up and placed into out-boxes, to then be dutifully collated into appropriate matter files by assistants who doted on one or two professionals. The world was simple, and the overarching demand was for a place to store documents, in electronic form, such that they could be versioned with proper security. In other words, document management.

The New Work: Complexity and Chaos

Flash forward to today. As I mentioned in my previous post “The Rise of the New Professional,” mobility, security and consumerization are reshaping not only the new professional but also the new work as well. Today, in many firms, communications constitutes more than 70 percent of the volume of items stored in our work product management systems, so the notion of “document management” is irrelevant – it should really be called “communications management.” The multitude of always-on, comingled personal/professional communications channels, and proliferation of new information types change the very nature of what professionals work on and with. The workday never ends, and the expectation is that the professional will have access to all information anywhere 24 x 7. Responses are expected in minutes as clients themselves come under pressure to continue to do more with less by automating and simplifying key processes for greater control and predictability. And all this occurs against a backdrop of the ever-increasing need for security and control of valuable work product and client communications. This world bears little resemblance to the “document management era” in which many of us started working.

Twelve years ago this month, we introduced the capability of managing integrated, matter-centric workspaces that combined email and documents. Reaction was immediate and strong, and this approach has become the best practice across the industry. Today, however, the volume of data is not the only issue. The types of communications and content are multiplying, creating complexity and chaos. A snapshot of the types of communication channels and content includes:

Microsoft Lync:
Creates messaging chains that may include the client communication.
Text messages:
You may be surprised by how often texting is used both internally and externally to collaborate or communicate on engagement-specific issues.
Microsoft OneNote:
Being used by more and more firms for group collaboration and engagement management.
Unified communications:
Voicemail is now delivered in email. If the voicemail is instruction from the client, it should be considered work product.
Images and videos:
Can be captured from any mobile device. Professionals often snap pictures of whiteboards summarizing notes in a meeting, or they may take video as part of data gathering for audits, inspections, etc.

The boundary between communications of all forms is blurring, affecting your professionals’ ability to see the entire engagement “picture.” Work product and communications are atomized and stored on myriad platforms and devices. All of this makes your knowledge assets more valuable but harder to access and secure.

Technology is Creating New Clients

Technology is also creating a very different client than existed in the 1990s. For example, corporate legal departments are bigger and insource more basic work, placing pressure on firms to deliver higher value. They demand greater responsiveness, delivery of greater knowledge and access to firm resources to augment their own knowledge. They expect attorneys to be always available: day, night or weekend. However at the same time, clients are imposing escalating security and governance on firms to both lockdown information and secure how it is being shared and stored, and for how long.

Work Product Management Must Evolve

So what does this mean for professional services firms? We think it means that the systems they invest in to support the delivery of great client work for the next 10 years must be:

Comprehensive.They must capture and make available the information embedded in communication streams as well as static documents. They must integrate diverse information into easy-to-understand analytics and measures to provide insight to professionals rather than just informationIntegrated.They must work the way professionals, staff and clients work, so that there is no reason to turn to easier-to-use unsanctioned products. Higher-level professional workflows need to be streamlined by integrating multiple products to deliver better productivity, as time pressures on professionals continue to increase.Ready to go.They must be available on all technology platforms, at all times, in all places. They must have mission-critical functionality in high-bandwidth, low bandwidth and zero bandwidth environments.Governed.They must govern valuable client and firm knowledge assets that live in communication streams and on devices across the globe, protecting them from internal and external security threats. They must provide for defensible disposition of client information in compliance with client policy.Trusted.They must be delivered in a demonstrably secure and robust manner, by a provider with a deep understanding of the needs of professional services firms and their unique requirements.

As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so here is your picture. What you can see here is the evolution of work product management, starting from the bottom left corner when content was simple – only documents – and client expectations were more modest, through matter-centric collaboration where email enters the picture so expectations of clients for responsiveness increases. Continuing to the right, what we see emerging is work product management – a hybrid-cloud application designed to enhance professional productivity by managing all information in engagement-centric workspaces accessible from any device, anywhere with analytics, process automation, security and other advanced capabilities.

Evolution of work product management

As always, we would love to hear your feedback. What are you seeing in terms of new work and the new clients? How is it impacting your business?