posted 2 Jul 2009 in Volume 3 Issue 5 http://www.kmlegalmag.comJoining It All UpExploiting information and knowledge at the centre of our firms to improvebusiness performanceCapitalising on your firmʼs unique information and knowledge is one of theremaining untapped opportunities left for businesses to remain competitive in thisclimate. Understanding how your knowledge can be used as a critical asset toimprove business performance relies on confidence in the underlying data andmay require a new information culture at the firm1. The firm that kicks off with thisfocus on information really can deliver the long-term benefits in search,automated personalisation and more powerful business intelligence.There is always a broad range of demands made of our firms information andknowledge investments, but at a basic level the business has these three needsin common.Information Retrieval: making the information and knowledge captured andcodified in our systems findable (and re-findable).Fundamentally, there seems little point spending a lot of time producing the verybest client document, piece of knowhow or research for a pitch presentation if itends up only ever being used just the once or read by just one other person. Thereal value of the knowledge captured must be that it can be found and re-usedagain; that it can continue to add value to the firm and its clients long after it hasbeen produced.Automated Push: being presented with the information we need at exactly thetime we need it.Whereas search technologies to date have primarily focused on the ʻpullmechanismʼ that enable lawyers to go out and find the information in the contextof an explicit need, the ʻpush mechanismʼ enables the information and knowledgeto be presented to the lawyer in the context of their work. This might be in theform of personalising each lawyerʼs intranet homepage so that the knowhow,current awareness, industry and firm news is displayed in the context of thematter they are working on, or by delivering relevant and related knowhow withinthe specific document they are drafting.1 The 2008 Cap Gemini publication: ʻThe Information Opportunity Reportʼ may be a usefulresource for firms wanting to find out more and is freely available (requires registration) from:http://www.harnessinginformation.com/
Aggregation: bringing information and data together in a structured way thatmoves beyond the traditional financial reporting to see new trends andopportunities.We need to be able to slice-and-dice a lot more of our data and information fromacross more of our systems to see the possibilities for new markets and theprovision of new legal services. From its very simplest we need to know howmany clients we have worked for in a particular jurisdiction and sector for a pitchor legal directory listing. But increasingly we need to bring similar matter typestogether to build more strategic and client-focused packages of legal solutions.We need to start seeing the similarities between what we think are lots ofbespoke and customised types of work being done across the firm and turn theminto discrete billable components that can be handled by the right people todeliver more efficient fee structures and higher quality work for the client.These three drivers are behind some of the most expensive investments ourfirms are making in information solutions: enterprise search, businessintelligence, content management systems and new ways of presenting thatinformation, on new platforms, with the latest new tools and within intranets andportals.So why is there a feeling that some of these investments arenʼt quite deliveringon their promises? Or that things are certainly better than they were, but at thesame time not quite as good as we think they could be? Or that other firms seemto have had more success with their systems?The problems weʼre having now are fundamentally with the information and theway we describe that information (the metadata); not necessarily just with thesystems or technology weʼve recently purchased. Tools, by themselves, deliverlittle real value.The underlying firmwide schema or centralised vocabulary of terms used to labeland describe your most valuable asset – the firmʼs collective knowledge –requires some closer attention.Good search and browse experiences for information and knowledge retrievaldemands reliable (and light-weight) taxonomies in the form of facets and filters.Your information needs to be tagged with these useful labels to help describe,find and contextualise a piece of content and connect it with related documentsfor a more successful search journey.Personalising and automating the delivery of content requires your systems tounderstand who you are and what you are interested in and then connect thatunderstanding with your information and knowledge documents. This is bestdone using a mixture of the agreed terms that are used by all your systems,
along with some of the more social networking and creativity tools that canbubble up the most relevant content based on the hidden connections betweenpeople and their information and knowledge.Connecting similar and related data and information to look for different andpreviously unseen relationships and patterns within your content requires the useof standard, re-usable and accurate labels.The following steps outline the broad scope for creating that centralised schemaof terms and labels within the firm (usually as part of a strategic information orknowledge architecture initiative). 1. Quality & Value. Not every email and document needs to be sharable or re-findable. Understand where to focus the information improvement efforts to ensure that the most business-critical content is retrieved, automatically pushed to the right people, and aggregated for profitable horizon scanning. 2. Structure. Look at the full lifecycle of documents, clients and matters to make sure only the most essential of metadata is being captured and that there is a clear and beneficial business or staff need behind it (the three outlined above are a good start). Whilst the standard lists of ʻPractice Groupʼ, ʻLegal Subjectʼ, ʻDocument Typeʼ (etc) are all very well to support knowledge findability, it is necessary to map in more of the contextual business development, people-focused and financial lists to create a true information architecture that will support the firmʼs wider investments in information systems. 3. Labels (ie. metadata and taxonomies). Focusing on the classifications that you use to describe your people, your content and your firm: a. Coverage – have you got the right coverage for your classifications? A simple lack of mandatory fields when profiling matters and documents can be the real obstacle for re-findability and reliable reporting. b. Consistency – are you using the same labels in your classification of content across systems? By not being consistent in your labelling or mapping effectively to hide the differences across multiple information systems means you will always see a slightly incomplete and unreliable picture of your firm and its information and knowledge.
c. Accuracy – how accurate are the labels that you are using? Are they up to date and still relevant to the firm and its practices? And are they being accurately applied to the content itself? Keeping information relevant, accurate and pivotal to your firm requires ongoing governance and management by everyone involved.Many of our firms have what look like technology problems, but that are reallyabout the underlying information. And since those information problems tend toaffect multiple systems across the business, itʼs worth taking a holistic approachto address them. By fully exploiting your information through a strategicknowledge architecture initiative that creates more effective informationfindability, sharing and re-use you can deliver improvements that can benefitwhere you are now as well as where you want to be.Kate Simpson is a freelance consultant (http://www.tangledom.com/) aiming to create the mostcompelling user experiences, improve employee productivity and communications and, with herspecialist focus on findability, helping organisations uncover and untangle their paths toknowledge. Kates industry expertise lies in helping legal and publishing organisations with theirtangled landscapes, from Lawtel and Centaur Media to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer andSimmons & Simmons.