Volume 2, Number 2
(Technology from Harrod's Creek.)
Volume 2, Number 2
Practice Innovator Profile: Stephen E. Arnold, Arnold
By William P. Scarbrough and Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold is president of Arnold Information
Technology, a consulting firm he founded in 1991. He provides
a broad range of services in electronic publishing, system
design, development and testing, strategic and tactical
information planning, and database design.
Scarbrough: Many of our readers are involved in web portal
development for large law firms. We are challenged by the
technical and cost aspects of these projects, but the cultural and
political issues tend to be the most challenging. How do you
help your clients deal with these issues?
Arnold: We are now working currently with the National
Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute to create
single point, public access to 170 sources of cancer information.
There is modest coordination among the various agencies and
institutes collecting and disseminating this information. There is
no single screen from which most data are accessible. Each
source is managed by experts, often widely recognized experts
In a situation like this, a top-down approach to creating a
database or portal system is hard to make work. Instead, it is
critical to create an environment where access to all of the
information makes life easier for each participant.
Scarbrough: What are your objectives for the project?
Arnold: The objective is to establish a single point of access to
information on cancer and to create a manageable, easy way for
people to do their jobs and the public to access this important
information. Many portal projects focus on the features of a
particular software product rather than on the information users
need and how they work. If a doctor tells a patient he has
cancer, how would the patient look for information? If a
researcher has a research grant to investigate a particular idea,
how would she begin the research process? A portal must
conform to user preferences, not attempt to change those
preferences. User preferences and patterns also evolve quickly.
Two years ago 90% of web users accessed information and sites
through 50, maybe 100, major portals such as Yahoo!,
America Online, Excite, and others. Today only about 44% of
Web users "click through" the top 100 portal sites. New users
come to a portal because it makes them feel comfortable. Once
saturation occurs (and this can happen quickly), more than half
of users do not find a single point of access necessary. Lawyers
will behave this same way. Portals in law firms will have very
high usage at first and with saturation, usage will decline. A
portal is the first step toward slipstreaming information into a
user's workflow. A portal is not a final step. It is an early
Scarbrough: What types of services does Arnold Information
Arnold: I am the reality guy. I help clients assess the risks and
costs associated with particular technology paths. I focus on
business processes as well as information access. I help the
starry eyed twenty-year-old put a great idea into context for its
best application. I work at most on two or three projects at once.
We have a very diverse client base and offer different pricing
for different types of clients. We have done work for the
government, for investment banks and for Indian tribes. I am
not Zorro. I am Zorro's, stable hand. I do not sell
comprehensive turnkey solutions for huge problems. I bring
reality to bear on targeted IT problems.
Scarbrough: I first met you at the Information Innovators
Institute in Florida this spring. You were the keynote speaker
and, in my mind, raised some very interesting and provocative
ideas. I sensed that some participants in the Institute might not
have responded to your views the same way I did. You
mentioned afterwards that you felt like you failed to get your
ideas across effectively during your address. Things actually got
a bit tense when you described portal technology as "yesterday."
Can you elaborate on what you meant by that statement?
Arnold: A portal is one step down the path to an information
access solution, it is not the solution. Software and a service
contract do not constitute an information access solution. The
mental process that sees an intranet or portal as the next best
thing or an overall solution is flawed. Do not talk in terms of
knowledge management. Talk in terms of what we want to
accomplish with a return on investment or specific business-
critical information. Identify key sources of content and create
conduits for moving that content to solve specific problems.
Lotus Notes and the Domino server, for example, gives you
virtually nothing without figuring out what you want to do with
it. With focus, Notes and their partner Research in Motion's
wireless server is a killer product. Law firm partners see
outlays for software primarily as money out of their pockets.
Scarbrough: Another highlight of your III presentation for me
was your discussion of portable and personal computing. You
brought an array of gadgets with you to the Institute such as the
latest Palm, a Blackberry, a fold-out keyboard about the size of a
wallet, and a tri-band, worldwide mobile phone. Can you talk
about how you see these types of devices changing the way
professionals access and use information?
Arnold: Seasoned professionals and young kids want one small
device which is persistently connected and provides access to
what I call just in time information. It is often people in the
middle (e.g., IT people, librarians, technology committees) who
are Luddites on this issue. My view is that they are not always
focused on meeting the needs of their most valued professionals.
A silent, wireless messaging device may be much better in a
courtroom than a slow to boot up, bulky, noisy laptop.
Scarbrough: How will lawyers in large law firms use these
Arnold: Where does the lawyer work? How does the lawyer
work? What does the lawyer need? For lawyers who need to
work in the office, a personal computer will be a base device. If
the lawyer is mobile, and I would argue that more and more
lawyers are, handheld devices, not just notebook PCs, will be
increasingly critical. The Blackberry is prime example of such a
device. Solving information problems for clients and
constituents is the key to success, not chasing fuzzy
buzzwords around a conference table.