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Steve Jobs and the business case for quality

Steve Job's passing was very sad; not because it was unexpected, as he was obviously ill, but because maybe we've lost his values.  Jobs really believed in delivering quality; he wanted to make great products and did.  Apple products typically cost more, but the extra cost was reflected in the quality of manufacturing and the quality and simplicity of the controls.

It is interesting to recall that Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985, and returned around 1996.  I seem to recall reading articles in the financial press around that time that Apple was finished.   I purchased an Apple computer for home use in the early 1990's, from Apple without Steve Jobs; I still have it in the basement.  It was a PowerPC, and while it was good, it was not great.  In fact, when it had a problem, it took a lot of time and trouble to fix the problem.  I recall some long sessions on weekends doing this.  A couple of times, I could only get it working again by upgrading the operating system.  I remember having to buy a special utility program that would sort out conflicts among program extensions.

When Jobs returned, it wasn't long before he ditched that operating system, and had a new OS built on Linux. That was a gutsy move, as it risked alienating their user base.  At about that point, I myself switched to Windows computers for home use, for compatibility with the Windows software I used at the office.  But I had found the Mac OS troublesome, the software for Macs was way more expensive than Windows versions, and I was unwilling to pay the premium to follow the Mac upgrade path.

The success of Apple since Jobs returned speaks for itself.  That's what delivering quality can do. Quality of course includes a simple and intuitive interface, to reduce time needed for learning and relearning the system.  Quality includes reliability.

In the legal field, it comes down to the fact that the main expense of office computing is not the cost of the hardware, or the cost of the software; it's the cost of training and retraining your people, plus the cost of fixing problems - whatever they are.

I can draw on the example of Ubuntu to illustrate this.  I like Ubuntu.  Ubuntu is one of the free versions of Linux, and it comes with a free office suite called Libre office, which is a variant of Openoffice.  So you can do pretty much everything on Libre office that you can do on Miscrosoft Office.  Ubuntu also is reliable and stable, and is not targeted as much by malware as Windows.  Ubuntu will run fine on older machines.  Ubuntu can run a number of the major web browsers, including Firefox and Chrome.  So for a firm doing cloud computing, you could run Ubuntu on your office machine and use Google Apps ($60 per seat per year) or (presumably) use Microsoft's web-based product.   Likewise for cloud-based practice management software.  Ubuntu has a fairly simple graphical interface, just like Windows.  I even felt comfortable installing Ubuntu on my 93 year old mother's home computer, when her Windows system became hopelessly corrupted.

If you were starting a law firm from scratch you might use Ubuntu for all these reasons.  For an established practice, most still wouldn't switch to Ubuntu despite all these advantages, because all personnel are trained and comfortable with Windows and Microsoft Office.  Partners are not going to want to learn Ubuntu, or want to force all their secretaries to learn it, to save a couple hundred bucks per machine.  (OK, a thousand bucks per machine, but don't tell them!)  And who would know how to solve any problems with Ubuntu?

On the other hand, Macs -- which share many of the advantages of Ubuntu except for low cost, but which have a far more refined and elegant user interface -- are winning over increasing numbers of law offices, even with a cost disadvantage compared to Windows.

That's the business case for quality, right there.