What Elite did next: How will law firm users feel the changes that have created the new Thomson Reuters Elite brand?
Mention to anyone (as I have) that you’re going to Las Vegas for a business trip and the inevitable raised eyebrow is often followed by a ‘yeah yeah’ and that knowing look that a disbeliever offers up at the sound of a cover story.
But last week I found myself in the middle of the Nevada desert in 40-degree heat, surrounded by rooms with fake skies, a fake Eifel Tower, a fake pyramid, quite a few fake body parts and within the positively awe-inspiring and very real confines of the Aria resort, on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Aria is big; as Douglas Adams might say, not Ritz big, but really big. It has 4,000 guest rooms, eight restaurants, several pools, a spa, two nightclubs… and a pleasantly enormous convention centre. And it was in the convention centre that was being held the Thomson Reuters Elite User Conference 2012.
We all know what happens at these conferences right? There's some big announcement in the keynote, followed by lots of other announcements, some conversation, some learning, a bit of networking and each evening you get to let your hair down. If you’re sensible, you’ll make the early session the next day, and if you’re not, maybe you still will make it, but you just won’t really be ‘in the room’. But this one genuinely did have something different to say about itself.
What's in a name?
On the corporate messaging front, Cary Burch, Elite's COO, told a select group of people (including me, thanks) that “the one thing you should take away from this conference is Elite’s ‘focus on the customer'”. I suspect everyone would agree that that’s a good starting point, particularly the customer, new or prospect.
The name change is a highlight. Did you notice it? Until only a week or so ago the company was ‘Elite, a Thomson Reuters business’ - one week later, it's ‘Thomson Reuters Elite’.
Not a game-changer on the face of it, but the sentiment behind that change suggests that Thomson Reuters sees Elite as a huge strategic asset. It has now become the eighth 'flagship brand' (don’t ask me what the others are) of Thomson Reuters.
It’s clearly a statement of intent to the legal market - and the reality of it lies in the fact that Thomson Reuters has decided, it seems, to create a route into the legal sector for all its knowledge products through its main brand - Elite.
No doubt the name change also radiates confidence to an existing client base, both in terms of how much money Thomson Reuters will be able to put into Elite's future and the quality and quantity of people it can devote to customer service and longer-term innovation.
Turning acquisitions into strategy
Elite's acquisition strategy is one of the most interesting things to come out of my visit. We’ve seen a lot of companies take this route to market dominance, but have we ever seen it done well? Only time will tell, but for the most part, the Elite strategy appears to be a good one.
With Elite acquisitions ranging from MatterSphere (an FWBS solution for case/matter management solution), to Lawsoft (a Pilgrim Systems product – practice management system for mid-tier firms), to eBillingHub (does what is says on the tin), to Engage (a matter planning solution), Thomson Reuters is building an interesting stable of legal solutions under the Elite banner.
Elite is aware that its customers will want to understand what all these acquisitions (FWBS, LawSoft, eBillingHub, Hubbard One etc) really mean for them and to the existing solutions, and Elite people present appeared happy to address these questions. The answer was – an integrated solution strategy.
Myth or reality?
One customer-centric initiative included something called the Elite underground - a social network for customers to share and engage with each other. Steve Goldman, VP global services and support, also talked about the Educational Services Hub, a learning platform for customers.
The proof of this pudding will be in the eating, and how tasty this pudding really is will be down to delivery and execution.
But there are some strong messages around the acquisition strategy. To bind a few of the ‘watchwords’ from the conference together - integration, user experience, mobility - there’s a strong chance that Thomson Reuters Elite has made some very canny acquisitions.
One of the stars of the conference was undoubtedly Mike Walker, now chief software architect, who came across with the acquisition of FWBS. Mike's vision of how Elite will combine all the information from all those acquisitions into one 'view', and take it to any device, was captivating.
Alongside Justin Farmer, director of product management, Mike delivered a crash-free live demo of Elite's prototype Workspace environment, an interface where you can visualise workflow and view multiple solutions through one window using a tablet computer. The session was so popular, they ran it twice.
Building a partner ecosystem
An indication of the value that Thomson Reuters Elite is trying to place on its partner network, or partner ecosystem as it's fondly referred to, was clearly demonstrated in an exhibition hall teeming with partner companies.
As the Elite stable grows, there will naturally be some partners that feel the pinch. Looking out to the horizon, you don't need a weatherman to work out which business is or will be on the acquisition roadmap, and why.
But partners, such as IntApp if you needed an example of what 'partners' means in this context, can extend the value of any business's offering, and many of them will benefit from Elite's strategy in the end. My own acid test is from the partners themselves - nearly every partner I asked was positive about the conference, and especially of their exhibition hall experience.
Clearly buoyed by the fact that law firms are prepared to have a conversation again about investing in technology, and happy to ride the wave of enthusiasm around the conference, I found it hard to find anyone with a gripe.
It’s not just about finance
Thomson Reuters Elite is all about financial management, right? You might think that, but the truth is Elite will be knocking on more doors than just that of FD from now on.
If you’re working in marketing, business development, risk and compliance or technology you can expect a tap-tap as well. With Elite's product range broadening, I expect it won’t stop there as the train keeps rolling forward.
Takeaways (and I don't mean a curry)
Once all the dust has settled, I expect all you all really want is to know is: will it work for us, ie your law firm?
Like I say, only time will tell - but look at some of the more salient points above and I think the vessel that is Thomson Reuters Elite is being steered in the right direction.
The leadership team is a fresh face for the business, and they all seem to be on the same wavelength in terms of the overall business strategy.
The commitment from Thomson Reuters to the Elite stable will clearly resonate with existing and new clients in terms of stability, and innovation in the technology will come from the well-made acquisitions.
As one person put it to me, ‘as law firms get more professional, so should their suppliers’, it makes perfect sense.
Temper all this enthusiasm with a dose of ‘all these promises have to be executed and delivered on’, and you’ll make your own assessment as to the how bright the future is for Thomson Reuters Elite and indeed if they’re a partner for your firm.
(By the way - that photo is of Elite's Justin Farmer, left, and Patrick Hurley, right, and me in the middle. Two of us are in fancy dress. Can you tell which?)