With collaboration more important than ever, it’s time to think bigger than Microsoft Office
About four weeks ago, I started writing this piece. It was about how Microsoft Office, as the default generalist software package for pretty much every business, is frequently finding itself out of its depth when it comes to functionality. Modern tech-driven businesses live in dynamic, digital environments, and their processes require dynamic, digital documents. Static files like Word docs, PDFs and Excel spreadsheets fundamentally aren’t collaborative, because they were never designed to be.
Three weeks ago now seems like six months ago. As I write this on 31 March, it’s technically true that it was only last month that Bong Joon-Ho was upsetting the odds at the Oscars. But while the entire world seems to have turned upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, strangely enough the issue about legacy document formats being uncollaborative seems more pressing than ever.
Juro is a contract collaboration platform, and in the past few weeks we’ve seen unprecedented demand from businesses and organizations suddenly needing to reckon with the fact that they can’t sign deals face to face. They can’t get in a room together to negotiate those deals or interview prospective employees. They really don’t want to be printing documents and popping out to post them. An ability to collaborate on and agree terms remotely is now, in many cases, absolutely critical to your business continuing. (That’s why we made basic Juro plans free – try it here.)
The reason that this shift seems so dramatic is that for the longest time, documents haven’t strayed too far, in terms of collaboration, from where they were decades ago. To work on a Word document that somebody else has already worked on, you still have to pass the individual discrete file to that other person, so they can work on it separately. This is slightly better than physically handing them the original piece of paper, but not much.
Google Docs take this functionality a step further, enabling real-time collaboration on the same document, and tools like Simul Docs make it easier to collaborate on Word Docs, but it’s a small step: the specialist functionality required by any number of the thousands of different use cases of a document are unlikely to be met by a Google Docs or Word.
For example, if your document is a sales proposal, can you seamlessly embed a product demo video in the document flow, the way you can in a specialist tool like Qwilr? If your document is a legal contract, can you segregate your internal and external comments, so that counterparty lawyers can’t see the thinking behind your negotiation position, the way you can in Juro? Can readers securely eSign the document on any device?
It feels like every week we run into collaborative obstacles that have at their root cause the world of static files, instead of dynamic data models that enable collaboration. The first great leap in ‘legal tech’ that heralded a rush of press coverage and venture capital was the first wave of pioneers who used AI to read PDF and Word contracts, sitting in hard drives by the thousands, and then told the law firms or companies who owned them what was actually in them. Some of the machine learning advances that enabled this were tremendous, and developed by superb companies; but they offered a solution to a problem that users were still creating for themselves. Instead of creating unreadable, untrackable PDFs, then paying someone to use AI to read them for you, why don’t you just stop creating unreadable PDFs and instead create contracts from structured data you can read?
The vast gulf between what’s required of a specific use case – like contract management – and what’s actually possible in Word, or an even less flexible format like PDF, is why so many extraordinary tools are developing for those specialised applications, beyond Juro and Qwilr. With collaboration now more important than ever, superb solutions like Notion, Coda, Figma and Miro have become essential elements of our tech stack, and those of our customers. They make collaboration that would be impossible with static Word files not just possible but frictionless.
The upside of embracing these specialist tools is twofold. Firstly, dynamic, well-designed, intuitive tools should be more efficient and get things done faster. We see customers report an end-to-end time for a non-disclosure agreement in Juro of 90 seconds; this is unimaginable with a Word-based process.
But the second upside is just as important – with tools like Juro and Qwilr, we should be able to deliver not just a faster experience, but a better experience. Processes like receiving a sales proposal, or negotiating a contract, don’t need to be scary and bureaucratic. They should be intuitive and delightful. Only be being brave enough to break from Word can we deliver the experiences that our partners and customers really deserve.
Richard Mabey is the CEO of Juro.
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