Here's a quick round-up on the ILTA Insight that took place in London yesterday (Tuesday 31st March). The event was probably a little quieter than the organisers had hoped, nevertheless there were around about 100 delegates there, most of who stayed through till the end – and, as ever, the organisers laid on a cracking networking reception.
The thumb's up award for the best session went to Sarah Mumford of Bevan Brittan for her talk Walking with Partners (Dinosaurs) – A Guide to the Species and, there was also a lot of interest in the Sharing Product Prices – its not just suppliers that can go to jail session. This was a LITIG session looking at the legality of an IT director from one firm asking a director at another firm how much they paid for a particular piece of software. In particular, does this have competition law consequences if a group of directors get together to try to influence supplier prices? The answer, apparently, is yes – do not pass go, go straight to jail. Although a cynic present suggested the way to circumvent this was to leak the price anonymously on the Orange Rag blog! Thanks guys.
As you will see from our Twitter reports, the Insider also attended the open source and green IT sessions.
This was an interesting session and Mark Manoukian's comprehensive run-thru of the truly enormous range of products available had the entire audience scribbling down notes – and in fact one IT director email her team there and then to check out a couple of products. There should be a copy of the presentation available on the ILTA website shortly, in the meantime check out Wikipedia and www.osalt.com
So, is open source a good idea? There were some interesting ideas thrown up by the panel session, including the fact that its cheap – either being sold on a try-before-you-buy basis or else, in some instances being totally Freeware. (The Firefox browser is probably the best known example of this.) There was also praise for the fact that open source utilities were often out into the marketplace before the 'official' proprietary versions were available.
But, there were downsides. For example, all the speakers agreed that while open source was a great source for utility and internet/communications/web 2.0 applications, it was never going to take over the desktop or being an alternative to traditional legal market applications. Similarly there were warnings about R&D support and the fact some products had such small communities behind them that users were pretty much on their own if they encountered technical problems. And, all speakers were at pains to point out the importance of ensuring your open source product also supported open data standards, so you retained the option of being able to move to another platform if the product didn't work out.
Lee Bryant of Headshift, who is a great advocate of open source for Web 2.0b projects, probably summed it up best when he said the open source versus closed debate should not be an ideological battle but should instead be all about what works. He also quoted Gerard Neiditsch of Mallesons who commented that if you try a project with open source and it fails, at least it is not such an expensive failure as if you'd done it with proprietary software.
Perhaps the most telling sign was when Bryant asked the audience how many were working on Web 2.0 type projects – and about half put their hands up. He then asked how many were using open source for these projects – and nobody put their hands up.
The situation appears to be that everyone thinks open source is a great idea but most are not brave enough to try it. A case of nobody ever got sacked for buying Microsoft but it may not be a career enhancing move to back Ubuntu.
So what about going green – is this still on the agenda in a recession – or is it a case of 'sod the pandas, we're saving our jobs'.
All the speakers were adamant that among those firms that were committed at a corporate cultural level to sustainability and maintaining their green credentials, the green message was not dead. However Tim Hyman of Taylor Wessing accepted that in the current recessional environment, longer term projects – involving an initial capital outlay before the any green savings might be realised – were on hold and shorter term projects that could realise cost as well as green savings were now a priority.
There was also an interesting debate about the need to do your homework to ensure that, for example, paper recycling did not create more problems than it solved as the actual process of recycling paper is frequently an energy and chemical intensive business that would have Friends of the Earth spinning in their eco-friendly boots. And, if a law firm then doesn't buy recycled paper, the whole process is totally wasteful.
Other issues that came up in the course of the session included the fact the current economic climate did make it easier to enforce what otherwise would be unpopular and strongly resisted measures – such as double-sided copying. If secretaries are seeing their colleagues being layed-off, they can also see the benefits of double-sided copying. Similarly with travel curbs – several firms now have a policy that lawyers must have a good reason for and be able to justify physically travelling to a branch office when there are video conferencing etc facilities available.
Four other points that came out of the discussion were:
* The existence of green credentials made law firms more attractive to graduates altho this is not such a pressing issue at the moment – and one of the speakers did have the decency to admit that such idealism was soon squeezed out of trainees.
* E-filing type initiatives had a tremendous green potential, not least in cutting back the need for offsite document storage facilities and the amount of travel taking files to and from such facilities.
* If you were in the market to move office, now was a good time to do it as there were a lot of bargains to be had in terms of the reduced rent, recently constructed/refurbished, energy efficient vacant office space now available.
* Finally, we were all urged to remember that you don't need to buy expensive energy management systems for desktop PCs and we should all check out the perfectly adequate power management tools that come with Windows and set them to meet our requirements. You can find a handy guide to this at www.computersoff.org