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The BT Laboratories at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk are recognised as one of Europe's leading telecommunications research and develop- ment centres, costing around 2 per cent of BT's annual turnover to run.
Every three years its doors are opened to allow BT customers to see what is coming next down the line. This year's exhibition was called "Innovation 97 - Relating the Future to Business".
Despite the emphasis on innovation the exhibition was entered through a 'time tunnel', proving that there is nothing new under the sun.
In this area there were photos of early telephone equipment and fax machines, mobile phones and TV detector vans from the 1950s.
The exhibition was divided into seven zones. Zone One looked at a variety of trading and information interfaces providing new routes to the customer. Zone Two concentrated on technology that improves client service - call-centre management, and advertising and selling goods and services on the web, including an Internet call-me-back service. This allows a potential client to click on a freephone 0800 number displayed on your web site and be automatically connected to one of your staff.
Zone Three considered ways of making telecomms more secure. Zone Four looked at maintaining order in the growing communications infrastructures needed to deliver the services of the future. Zone Five was all about reliability, resilience and the future - why we should trust BT and its alliance partners to deliver.
Zone Six focused on technology that allows us to do more things in less time. It included BT's Adept project which explores how software "agents" can automate many routine negotiations and transactions - a concept many users of case management systems will appreciate.
Zone Seven looked at the ways in which technological change will affect the way we work ranging from advanced teleconferencing to a range of "virtual new worlds".
Such applications could prove particularly useful for construction and property lawyers who could get inside and walk around a building with clients without actually being there.
Innovation 97 certainly provided food for thought. There were many useful new applications for the legal office provided by extensions of existing technologies.
Those of us who already use IT and telecommunications were offered a realistic glimpse of what we could be using tomorrow.
The opportunities to improve our lawyering were clear and cannot be ignored. Not everything was relevant to professional practices but much of it was and will, no doubt, be commercially available sooner rather than later. As someone there said, "If you don't do it, someone else will and your business may suffer as a result."
To see some of the presentations, or to get more information, point your web browser at: http://i97.labs. bt.com and, in response to question 5, enter the access code: ideas4u.