Bill Gates Sends Me an Email That Pulls Together Some Ideas I’ve Been Thinking About Recently

I received an email from Bill Gates today. Well, so did thousands of others, I’m sure, but I’ve always wanted to start a blog post off like that. Unlike many who received it, I would bet, I read it from beginning to end. I encourage you to do the same.
The email is called “Beyond Business Intelligence: Delivering a Comprehensive Approach to Enterprise Information Management” (note: URL for this email will likely change in the future, so check the archive of emails at that link) and, in it, Gates offers some thoughts about the next ten years.
I like the email because I noticed that Bill and I are thinking along the same lines. For example, he ends the piece with:

“As we look ahead to the next 10 years and the promise of the New World of Work, I believe we are on the verge of an idea that is even more powerful: the age of friction-free innovation.”

Friction-free innovation. Matt Homann and I have been talking about and working on improving innovation in professional services for the last year-and-a-half through LexThink. It’s nice to be on the same page with the richest guy in the world.
That aside, however, I recommend that you read this email. It’s not too long, and I’m intrigued by the vision of the future of technology sketched out there.
There are a number of ideas that caught my attention.
1. The yin/yang notion of information overload (which we all know) and information underload, a way of looking at the other half of the equation of how technology seems to leave us so unsettled these days. He says: “The other problem is something I call information underload. We’re flooded with information, but that doesn’t mean we have tools that let us use the information effectively.”
He goes on to sketch out those tools and the business priorities they must address: Productivity; Collaboration; Business intelligence; Workflow optimization.
People who talk to me these days about where legal software needs to go have certainly heard these four topics from me a lot lately, especially the fourth one.
2. Gates, in some comments that I’m not necessarily sure are directed at Google (although I’m sure that’s the way some will take them), mentions “enterprise-enabled search” as one direction we must go. If you’ve talked to people facing the gargantuan issues involved in records management, compliance, information governance and electronic discovery, you will know that “enterprise-enabled search” is not a buzzword du jour. It focuses on some real issues that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
3. Gates also mentions, almost in passing, knowledge management in the context of “enterprise-enabled search.” This goes back to business priorities. Are we managing information just for litigation purposes (e-discovery) or just for regulatory purposes (compliance) or should we take the opportunity to extend and close the circle and use that information in creative, positive and broader ways? Again, this is a theme that has been filtering into my presentations on electronic discovery and information lifecycle management.
4. Sharepoint Server as a platform. I’ve given two presentations in recent weeks on legal technology trends in which I highlight ten trends. One of them is the growing interest and likely uses of Sharepoint Server in law firms. Gates, in his email, sketches out the role Sharepoint Services may play and points to something new called Knowledge Network for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. He says, “Another new technology aimed at streamlining information access that should be available in the near future is an enhanced search tool called Knowledge Network for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. This add-on will track expertise and relationships in an organization so information workers can quickly connect to people with the right skills and knowledge.”
5. At TECHSHOW 2005, Marc Lauritsen was reviewing the histroy of legal technology and made a comment about tasks that it made sense for computers to do and tasks that it made sense for humans to do. It struck me then, and does even more so today, that part of the reason we see dissatisfaction and burnout in the legal profession is that, arguably in many cases, lawyers are still doing work as humans that should at this point be done by computers, freeing them up to do more of the creative things that play such a big part in being a lawyer. Properly understood, we should be trying to use technology to enable us to move in that direction.
In his email, Gates says: “In this New World of Work, repetitive, uninteresting tasks like moving data from one system to another will be automated and employees will focus much more of their time and creative energy on work that generates real value and growth.”
And that should be the money quote for this email.
My point here is not to say, “hey, Bill Gates and I are thinking a lot alike these days,” but to say that there are some trends, forces, needs and tools that are starting to come together. Some of these I had noticed; some I hadn’t. But the email frm Bill Gates helped pull together a lot of different pieces in a very helpful way for me. Some may say that nothing in here is all that original, but it is the synthesis of these ideas and the vision and direction that is revealed in the email that is original and. to me, quite exciting, even if it might be ten years away.
I invite you to read the email and see what impact it has on you.You can subscribe to these emails from Gates from the page you will find the email.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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Comments

  1. says

    Excellent post Dennis. As a product manager at the top of the dot com boom (Compaq) during the late 90s, we stratified the “business priorities” as:
    1) Connecting
    2) Communicating
    3) Collaborating
    4) Commerce – ing
    And used the following categories to “bucketize” our software solutions offerings:
    1) Protection
    2) Productivity
    3) Performance
    Thanks for the post – and having just implemented a hosted sharepoint solution – I certainly can see the interest in using it as a “platform”,

  2. says

    Enterprise-enabled search leads into enterprise-enabled collaboration. I’m looking for who can pick up on the primacy of search and the URL a la web 2.0, but keep the data secured and sharable.

  3. says

    Great observations Dennis — I think you and Bill Gates have captured both the essence of the legal profession’s future as well as the fundamental stumbling block to getting there. I wholeheartedly agree that a source of fundamental dissatisfaction is the use of humans (although some might challenge that characterization of lawyers) to do what computers can and should do. The problem, of course, is that the structure of most law firms and the archaic and guild-like addiction to the billable hour results in a focus on inefficiency. We need to use technology to free lawyers from being purveyors of hours clients neither need nor want and return to being providers of valuable counsel.