I was one of the early Apple fanboys, long before it became trendy to be one and even longer before it became derisory to be one. I remember the Classic Mac OS, my first use of a strange new pointing device called a mouse to navigate a GUI and playing one of my first computer games in the form of Mahjong.

It is perhaps no surprise therefore that my entire technology platform is built around Apple. I am typing this now on a desktop Mac. My travelling system is a MacBook Pro. I listen to music at home through iTunes and on the road via Apple’s Music app on my iPhone. My precious family photos are entrusted to Photos on the desktop, synched to my iPhone. My address book—personal and business—and my calendar leverage Apple’s integration with MS Exchange. Whether I look on my phone, my laptop or my desktop I am current and in sync.

My seamless technology life has never been simpler. (Readers of my vintage may well remember the ‘fun’ of integrating the early PDAs with any number of different PIMs, copying files around machines and hoping it was done in the right direction, and devoting huge amounts of time reversing bad synchronisations and re-doing them, building contact libraries afresh, wondering how a SIM with its own contacts fitted into the whole equation…).

My technology life is perfect. except it isn’t. I am totally trapped.

Trapped by technology

I’ve been coveting a switch to an Android phone. Partly because I just fancy a change, but partly because there are some Android apps that I just can’t get on iOS.

But now I am on a single Apple platform of both underlying OSs and apps, I am petrified about breaking that seamless environment. I don’t want to worry about how I continue to use Apple computers, and Apple apps, and get them to work seamlessly with an Android phone, exchanging data as they need. I don’t want to risk losing my iTunes or photo libraries, or getting them out of sync. I don’t want to return to the 90’s and have to figure it all out for myself, and fix it when it goes wrong.

My use of a platform has made my life simple, but it’s trapped me. I have no idea if this is what Apple intended. It doesn’t really matter, the end result is the same. I can’t easily mix and match technology and/or apps to suit my preferences.

And this ‘platform entrapment’ is not limited to Apple. Some years ago I decided to exchange my sedentary nicotine fuelled life to that of a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra). My running watch of choice was a Garmin. And then when daily fitness/step trackers became mainstream I bought a Garmin device for that. And I then invested in Garmin’s bathroom scales. All of these devices synchronise to Garmin’s back-end ‘Connect’ web service that consolidates the data and dishes it back to me via a rich web experience and the inevitable complementary iPhone app.

My fitness life is perfect.

Fitness applicationsExcept it isn’t. I am totally trapped.

Following a number of increasingly rubbish firmware updates, the fitness tracker is nonsense. It thinks I am asleep during the middle of the day (if Ben, my boss, is reading this, honestly, I’m not!). It registers car and train journeys as steps. It thinks I am ascending stairs when I am on the flat and when I am lying in bed it congratulates me for climbing flights of stairs. I would love to replace it with a competitor’s model. But if I do that I have to accept that it will operate as a stand-alone device, no longer synching up with my scales and running GPS.

Now at this point you are probably thinking this is a blog deriding the notion of a technology platform. It’s not. I think they are brilliant. Apple has made my life much simpler. Garmin has allowed me to combine different devices and see a myriad of consolidated health stats.

The issue is that their platforms have tied me in too deeply; integration and simplification is good. Removal of choice and freedom is bad.

A much better (fitness) platform example is Strava. This too is an aggregator of health data that it analyses and presents back to the user via web portals and apps. The difference is that Strava is fitness device independent. It allows users to mix and match any number of devices and it collects data from them all. It does this by having a published set of APIs that it encourages device makers to use. And almost all of them do.

So a platform that allows multiple devices/applications to work together is a good thing. It provides choice whilst still delivering the single platform benefits of consolidation and a single place to view the truth.

When the platform debate is had within law firms it tends to be very polarised. Vendors will talk about a stark choice between ‘best of breed’ or ‘a single integrated platform’. Best of breed is portrayed as a series of disparate applications, uncontrollably duplicating data and causing IT departments and end users countless lost hours with their basic maintenance. The integrated platform is held out as one that removes that headache and provides one seamless technology environment together with the common law firm ‘behemoth’ line of business applications (e.g. finance, document management, marketing, BI and matter management). You are asked to choose between the personal technology equivalent of the multi-device 80s, versus the simplicity of the Apple ecosystem.

Arguably this choice is more important today than it has ever been. The legal market is changing. Firms need to be nimble. They need IT to help them. They don’t want to spend finite IT budgets on IT ‘plumbing’, i.e. just integrating best of breed applications. On the other hand, if they are to be nimble they need to be able to change applications as and when they require for a competitive advantage. If a better case management system becomes available, that would better serve their needs, they don’t want to find they can’t replace the integrated platform one. The same is true of their finance or document management solutions. They don’t want to be trapped in their platform’s applications in the way I am with my Apple ones.

There is a choice, a third way, the Strava equivalent. That choice is to install an API rich technology platform, one that is designed from the ground up to integrate with all common law firm applications; one that makes it easy to avoid duplicate data; one that leaves the firm in control of the applications it uses to give it the best competitive edge; and one that doesn’t have the potential to leave its users stranded if it suddenly has a complete change of direction.

That platform is sharedo. Not only is sharedo a best of breed case and matter management system, it is a technology platform that can underpin all of the firm’s operations. It is designed to be open, it integrates with all major law firm systems and it confers competitive edge to the firms that use it. But if, one day, it stops being leading edge its users can replace it with another system of their choice without having to replace every piece of technology they currently use.

I wonder what new (non-Garmin) fitness tracker I should use next alongside my Strava account?