Simplifying Complexity – Fitting the world into your hand

Aderant Think Tank

Simplifying Complexity – Fitting the world into your hand

We all know that mobile solutions are changing the way everyone looks at technology, but how big is the impact for a software vendor working with large and complex systems like Aderant Expert?

Mobile technology has certainly changed the way most of us work and our expectations on how software should behave. When was the last time you were at your computer—possibly even looking at your email—when you instinctively checked email on your phone? Hopefully that’s not just me! Even worse, when it comes to composing a reply, I sometimes find myself starting to respond on the phone even when I have a keyboard in front of me.

So why is this significant? Because smart phones are forcing us to rethink big problems into smaller spaces and deliver solutions on a broadening plethora of devices. In a 1998 interview with BusinessWeek, Steve Jobs stated that “Simple can be harder than complex.” This concept is quite nicely described by Tesler’s law of conservation of complexity that says, paraphrased, “if your problem is complex and I want to make it simple for you—then I need to do a lot of work.”

The expectation for mobile phones, and even tablets, is that you can do everything in one or two screens with a few taps of an uncoordinated forefinger and, possibly, a bit of frenzied fumbling with the onscreen keyboard. It’s clear that we love the convenience and portability of these devices, and understandably, then get hooked on interfaces that require a minimum of effort to use.

Obviously, the popular perception of law firms being slow technology adopters doesn’t apply in the mobility space, at least when it comes to the toys themselves—they have been leapt on with open hands, hearts and wallets. For example, the recent ABA Technology Survey found that 89% of lawyers use mobile to check email, 34% of lawyers use tablets in the court room, and 48% use a tablet at work. These devices represent an easier way to do things—they “feel” more productive and the convenience feels less disruptive.

Interestingly, recent statistics from the Mobile Data Management (MDM) company Good show that 81% of enterprise application access is from tablets, and an incredible 91% of that is for document content/editing. That said, phones also spend a significant 56% of their enterprise app time accessing non-document business applications. This indicates that, as an enterprise app provider, all mobile devices are windows to the content world, but phones play a key role in a wider range of business functions.

Two studies by an Israeli university team specifically explored the effectiveness of using mobile devices to review legal content, and found some predictable correlations between age, screen size and comprehension on paper versus digital media. They also discovered a key insight into work patterns by studying use of the knowledgebase across both fixed computers and mobile devices. As the graph below illustrates, there’s a fairly consistent use of the phone through all the waking hours for knowledgebase access, even when a computer was theoretically available. (As an aside, I hope this doesn’t mean that many lawyers get only five hours sleep!)


How is this relevant for enterprise applications? If lawyers use their phones much of the day for work, we (as technology providers) need to ensure they have the right tools and information while also having the functionality they need with minimum fuss.

When it comes to core business applications, you have to get it as right and complete as possible the first time. Bottle up the obvious customizations as configurations. Make complex customization as easy as possible, encourage simplicity and hide almost everything as soon as you put it on a phone. Finally, if you make it look good enough, the results are in the palm of your hands.

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