Oct 21 2014

Matter Centre – aka Microsoft’s legal DMS in the cloud

Jason

I know, I know this post is late. Very late. I posted my last bulletin from ILTA back at the beginning of September and now we’re a few days from the clocks going back at the end of October! Yes, back at ILTA Microsoft launched their legal DMS (Document Management System) entitled “Matter Centre”. Developed for their in house legal team (not an insubstantial team, 1100 employees across 55 countries), they have decided to open it up to the legal world in general. The press release can be found here with details of what’s on offer, basically it offers the functionality of a DMS as you’d expect.

Two areas were of interest to me:

1) It’s built on Office365. So for a small to medium firm you can now have email (via Exchange), instant messaging and telephony (lync), your intranet (sharepoint) and your DMS (matter centre) all in the cloud. All secured by Microsoft. All monitored, managed, backed up by Microsoft. All the business continuity and future proofing you could want from a top class infrastructure team managed and all delivered for you by Microsoft. What’s more you can access at the office, on the move or at home with ease. It’s a compelling case for a firm that hasn’t the IT resources to manage a bespoke on site set up.

Now the downside for me is the DMS is effectively SharePoint at its core. I’m still not 100% convinced on SharePoint, however the potential manageability and scalability issues are taken away from being your problem, so maybe it’s not a big deal?

2) Now although I’m wavering on the first point with it being SharePoint underneath, this second point for me is the killer. Apps for Office, the method of integration for Matter Centre isn’t the old plug in method but the newer Apps for Office developed for Office 2013 and Office 365. This brings much slicker integration, the look and feel just works with Office. So no additional toolbars that look out of place or dialogue boxes designed for Office 2 or 3 versions back, it looks slick.

Matter Centre 2So as you can see from the photo above with Outlook, the Matter Centre “dialogue” just appears in the email body. Now I have to say the system looked very much beta 1 and some of the apps need a bit of polish. But, this has to be the way to integrate a DMS in future! With a bit of thought and design you could craft an interface that just feels as though its the norm for office. In fact think how OneDrive is now integrated as the default over the C: drive.

The same integration is available in all the Office products, so below is the integration into Word:

Matter Centre 1Again instant access to the Matter Centre system integrated into Word. And installing them is simple, just go to the appstore and install!

AppStore for Office

For the IT dept. Microsoft has released a product called Telemetry Dashboard which will allow monitoring of all the apps installed across the user base. As the Microsoft blurb says, you can “monitor loads and load failures for apps for Office in Word, Excel, and Outlook. This information will tell you which apps for Office are frequently used in your organization and which apps for Office are experiencing errors”.

This for me is the key feature of Matter Centre, the use of apps could potentially allow me to install the DMS on my home version of Office365 and get seamless access to the DMS. It’s a feature I hope the current DMS vendors will take a look at and maybe design and build a user interface from scratch for Office 2013 onwards, maybe also throw in a nice “DeskSite” Metro app in Windows 10 and we’ll have a DMS for the future!

 


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Nov 25 2013

Microsoft Project Gemini

Jason

Gemini3The name of Microsoft’s latest internal project name made me smile as this was used as an internal IT project name early in my career at our firm. The project was our first look at matter centric document management, some years I’d like to add before the big two legal DMS providers were moving this way! Four years after we implemented that system we launched a “Project Apollo” which brought a matter centric iManage WorkSite 8.x into the firm.

So what are the Microsoft “Gemini” apps? These are Microsoft’s touch optimised Windows 8 Office applications. They are rebuilding the user interface (UI) of office from the ground up to ensure it works extremely well with touch devices as well as with a traditional keyboard/mouse combo. Beyond the “Touch friendly” Office 2013, think the interface of the OneNote app in Windows 8 over OneNote bundled with Office 2013.

Now I know there are many that think Office is dead, but in my opinion these people out there with those that insisted that the Y2K bug was going to be then end of the world!  Also after a good few months running a Surface after a year or more with an iPad, I think the dual touch & keyboard/mouse approach is the way forward. The iPad is excellent for annotation or a bit of editing and there are some fantastic apps in the iOS world to help this, but it just isn’t suited for heavy duty document editing, spreadsheet work or presentation creation. This is the beauty of a Windows 8 tablet and what will be the core of “Gemini”. It still looks as though Office will also appear for the iPad at some point and for the editing use cases it will be a fine addition.

So with “Gemini” on the horizon, which legal IT providers are going to take up the baton for us and allow us to launch a “Shuttle Program” within our firm? If you’re interested here are my requirements basic requirements:

  • A touch friendly DMS (document management system) app, that works with the “Gemini” UI design and has the ability to launch into Gemini Office
  • Full integration into “Gemini Office” with the simplicity of the SkyDrive integration in Office 2013
  • A well designed user interface for email filing in “Gemini Outlook”, something like simple swipe gestures to file or a OneNote like rotary menu to access actions for filing
  • A well designed reader app (like Pocket) for the DMS to allow me to build a simple offline reading file that I can swipe to turn pages

The Microsoft “Gemini” Office apps are earmarked for summer of 2014 for Windows 8, I really hope we see some innovation from legal IT in this area next year also.

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Aug 7 2013

Digital drafting and DMS users looking for change

Jason

Reading through the latest Legal IT Insider this evening a couple of articles caught my eye. The first was an opinion piece by Charles on document automation, or digital drafting as he suggests. This area of technology has always struggled to get off the ground in law firms, I know I first looked at it over 10 years ago. I guess in the boom years the thought of spending time and effort in creating something that meant you actually billed the client less seemed a little bit of an eccentric thing to do? Also I think the technology was cumbersome and beyond the Word skills of the lawyer of yesteryear.

But there does seem to be a renewed appetite for it now, the reasons are clear to see in the drive to keep costs low for clients yet maintain profitability within the firm. But I do like the term digital drafting, it does describe what it actually is much better. A fast way to a draft rather than a fully automated process. Technology rarely replaces, but it often makes time consuming jobs easier.

The second was an article on Worldox, a tweet I saw that quoted Ray Zwiefelhofer stood out this afternoon, “DMS (document management system) users are looking for change. We will be their next choice”. I’ve been pondering this for some time as you know if you’ve followed this blog, DMS hasn’t really changed much since the Hummingbird v iManage battle at the turn of the century. I’ve not seen the latest from Worlddox nor have I seen the other DMS that Charles says “could be the SharePoint DMS to finally break into the major league”, Go Legal. But I know what I would like a DMS to be, it would:

  • have a highly scalable, low maintenance (that rules out SharePoint then 😉 ) server infrastructure that could be hosted in the cloud, on premise or as a hybrid model
  • it would provide the core DMS and Email Management filing capabilities expected
  • it would have some basic integration to MS Office shipped with the product
  • but key to it would be a modern comprehensive, yet simple API
    • my thinking on this came about due to two apps, on the Windows Phone platform there is no official Instagram app but a developer has used their API to create 6gram which from early reviews looks even better than the real thing. The other app is on the iPhone and is the mailbox app, it hooks into GMail and provides a simple way to file and deal with email. Just think a feature rich, modern, open API to a DMS could lead to an explosion of different interfaces on a multitude of platforms! Each serving difference needs of the end users in simple intuitive ways.

That’s my dream for DMS!

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Jan 15 2013

MCC : No not Marylebone Cricket Club, Matter Centric Collaboration!

Jason

A Matter Centric Document Management System or MCC (apparently the other ‘C’ is for collaboration, who knew!) isn’t it all a bit old hat? I see the ILTA competitions still and wonder who isn’t doing MCC now?

I think maybe this is a US v UK thing? Maybe having using Legal IT for longer and in particular Document Management Systems (DMS) the US have lived in a profile driven DMS world for a long time and thus “searching” is more the norm, whereas in the UK we came to the DMS party late and are more tuned to browsing through folders. Therefore maybe for this side of the pond the concept of MCC made sense and we adopted it like ducks to water?

Either way though a few conversations and emails recently made me think that maybe some best practice is worth revisiting as the volumes of documents on matters increase.

To start with its worth stating something I’ve said before, Simplicity Rules! If you’re moving to MCC then I strongly suggest you start simple, there will be enough challenges to get lawyers to file documents and emails without making a hugely complex structure for them (nor is it worth getting bogged down in endless meetings to try and reach a decision on such a complex structure! What will suit Litigation will annoy Corporate etc)

But, it is worth planning in a degree of flexibility. We started with 4 or 5 “top level folders” and restricted the creation of additional top level folders to “Matter Administrators”, these were a small number of admins within the business who could control the folder structures for their depts. matters. Thus we aimed to keep a level of control and consistency. Other approaches I have seen have been to allow a specific set of additional folders to be added to matters, ie to open up the creation process to a wider audience but restrict what can be created.

When coming up with your short list think retrieval, make it obvious where things are. Correspondence, Bills etc. These can each be tagged with meta data in most DMS and so the documents placed in them will inherit this information making searching easier. The tricky issue is the Miscellaneous folder or Other documents, there are pros and cons to this which I’ll leave to you all to discuss in the comments!

To me though, documents is easy. We’ve tied a lot of our filing into the template system now. So if you create a letter it will automatically try and file this to the Correspondence folder for you. The tricky part is email!

How do you file these? Technically they are correspondence, but combining into a single document/email folder will unleash a whole heap of trouble. Just don’t! So a separate email folder is the best option, but then some matters can have thousands of emails and if you’re a “browser” this can be a nightmare. This is where you probably want to think about some best practice rather than create a default structure. You could get people to create sub folders by date, fee earner etc

Overall though MCC is not just about the folder design, care needs to be taken in training and instilling best practice. Also you won’t get it right first time, you’ll look back a few years later and wish you’d done things differently. But then it’s worth diving in as you’ll only learn this through observing and getting feedback from real world use!

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Oct 22 2012

Document Management article written for Managing Partner magazine

Jason

Back in April I wrote an article for Managing Partner magazine. I was asked to hold back on publishing myself for a few months, but now you can read the post in full here.

This isn’t an article evangelising SharePoint as the next Legal Document Management System (DMS). Nor is it an article focussing on which DMS you should choose (be it HP Autonomy’s WorkSite, NetDocuments or OpenText)

No, the intention here is to look at the operational issues and challenges in running a DMS in Legal. It is written from experience of HP Autonomy’s WorkSite product, but don’t let that put you off if you use another DMS. A lot of the experiences, lessons and benefits could apply to any of the four listed above.

Key challenges to address in the DMS world

The challenges found when using a WorkSite DMS can be broadly placed into two categories. Those that are purely technical in nature and those that are related to end user usage.

The WorkSite application servers are the “hub” of the DMS and are fairly simple to maintain and monitor. From the technical view we have rarely experienced issues with these. We’ve switched from physical to virtual servers without difficulty and because more can be added as the business grows, they have proved fairly trouble free.

Sizing the other parts of the system for your firm is one of the biggest challenges. Examples of the issues we’ve encountered are problems because our database was not sufficiently powerful and in later years because our index servers were not sized correctly. The WorkSite application utilises SQL queries to work out and display your workspaces, folder structures and document content. This can be quite “chatty”, and ensuring your SQL Server can handle the transaction volumes for the size of firm and size of document database is key to a performant system. Processor power and RAM are the key variables here and if possible size the latter to be big enough to keep your databases in memory, this saves having to keep those database indexes constantly “tuned” to maintain a consistent performance. The indexer has become more an integral part of WorkSite with the IDOL engine from Autonomy integrated. As early adopters we found setting this environment up quite a challenge. Now Autonomy support provide recommendations based on specific details of your proposed platform and usage. However time taken with design of the IDOL environment will pay dividends over time.

Another challenge we have had as a firm is distance. One limitation of WorkSite is the distance of your end user to your WorkSite infrastructure, the further you (the end user) are from the servers the slower WorkSite will perform. Latency at work! (to be fair to HP Autonomy this is the case for most software!). There are a couple of technologies that can help here. Firstly HP Autonomy provide their own product to help in the “WorkSite cache server”: this is pretty much a WorkSite application server located nearer the end-user that caches documents locally; it takes away some of the “traffic” from the end-user PC to WorkSite servers, thus improving performance. The other option is to use network optimisers (or WAN accelerators). In our experience the later simplify your WorkSite environment and work very well, but this may not be the case in every environment.

Aside from the technical there are the challenges of the end user. Introducing a DMS is a big business change and this shouldn’t be underestimated. A DMS is a very structured way of filing electronic information and is never going to be as quick and easy as saving to the hard drive of a laptop. Managing this change is one of the key ingredients to success of the system.

Also once you introduce a DMS, from a lawyer’s point of view the whole of their Microsoft Office environment becomes the DMS. And from an IT point of view this can be problematic: there can be many pieces of software that all interact with Word and Outlook and getting them all to work correctly is one of the biggest challenges when upgrading.

Any tips for how to meet some of these challenges?

So what advice would I suggest to a firm embarking on introducing a DMS? And how can you address some of the challenges? I’ve broken this down into four sections:

1. Don’t skimp on the hardware!

This was alluded to when discussing the SQL Server and Index servers. Within WorkSite these are the key components to giving good performance, the rest you can scale out later e.g. by adding another application server. So take your time, work with an IT partner who can help with the sizing (or get access to Autonomy’s support site and take some time to read their guides on sizing).

Understand your likely growth, both in terms of year on year document growth and how you expect to grow as a firm. Project this information forward a number of years to get the storage size you will need, then add a bit! Also ensure you understand limitations in your hardware. You don’t want to fill that 1Tb disk only to find you can only increase the capacity by replacing hardware because the server you bought can’t handle larger drives.

What do you need in terms of resilience for the firm? Is redundancy in one environment acceptable? Do you want a hot standby disaster recovery site or do you want a full duplicate business continuity site? Each costs more than the previous, but build the best you can for what you need for your firm (talk to the lawyers to understand how the firm would cope without the DMS for periods of time).

2.Expect a trough of disillusionment after the business change

based on Gartner’s hype cycle concept

I find that Gartner’s hype cycle diagram is a great representation of the peaks and troughs of user experience when introducing a DMS. It helps to understand that you will hit a “trough of disillusionment” and prepares you to set off with the expectation that end users won’t understand or accept it immediately. This isn’t a smartphone app that is intuitive and can be picked up in no time without any training. Not only is there a big technical change, there is often a shift in how the business manages files, documents and emails. Plan for as much training is realistic; add earlier sessions a few weeks before with more of a presentation style in order to set the scene, and then do follow up training a few weeks after go-live. Effectively communicate and train the key objectives and the change as much as possible.

3. Understand your environment

Plan for the full lifecycle of your documents: understand how you’ll age your files, how you’ll retire them from your DMS to an archive, how you’ll delete files. This will usually be done in conjunction with infrastructure capacity management, but what we’re talking about here is the business view of archiving and storage not the technical. So think at what point a matter workspace will go from your live library to an archive; what will happen to it then etc?

Unicode:  if you have overseas offices (particularly in places where the Latin character set isn’t the norm e.g. Russia, China) then you’ll want to watch for “Unicode”. It’s a bit complicated to go into the technical detail of ascii, Unicode, codepages etc here, but in terms of WorkSite just remember you WILL need to consider character sets if you plan to use version 8.x.

Business first: finally when planning your environment, firstly look at what you want from your business before considering the technical limitations. This will avoid setting up libraries for individual offices/countries because of latency issues when the business requirement is for the DMS to bring sharing of documents across all offices.

4. Get a partner

I’ve mentioned IT partners briefly already, but they are worth mentioning in their own right. It really is a benefit to work with a partner when implementing and running a DMS. Firms like Tikit and Phoenix will ensure you get what you need from the DMS. But as well as thinking about the implementation also think about the on-going support relationship; understand how knowledgeable their support team is as well as their pre-sales team and maybe even get them involved in the implementation project if possible.

What’s the impact and what ROI could you expect when using a DMS?

Our objectives in implementing WorkSite to replace an existing DMS were to gain:

–          Full version control

–          Email management/filing capabilities

–          Storage of documents other than Word, Excel

–          Integration with other legal applications (e.g. document comparison)

–          Allow expansion (global)

It is easy to see that WorkSite (or any of the other DMS listed at the start of this article) fulfilled our objectives. However as the business changes so do the requirements and we’ve had a number of additional objectives to address based on the requirements of the business. The biggest has been dealing with the explosion of email. To illustrate this here are some rough stats on document numbers in just one of our libraries: in 2004 we had approximately two million documents with a negligible amount of email on the electronic matter files. We now have approximately twenty million “documents” in that library and over 80% of these are email.

The ability to serve a global firm is now taken for granted; the thought that 6 years ago lawyers in each office had great difficulty sharing a matter file with each other without having to email documents back and forth is a little hard to believe now.

These all are obvious benefits realised, however it is hard to measure a return on investment in terms of £’s. A lot of what a DMS brings is allowing end users to manage a good e-file. However if this is achieved, then cost savings can be made in the saving of paper and printing costs incurred in maintaining paper files (plus the subsequent storage of those files). Of course the truly paperless office is a bit of a myth, but a serious reduction can be achieved. And most people would be staggered by the costs incurred in this area alone in law firms!

Future challenges

So what are the key challenges for a mature DMS implementation? These will always change, but right now there are three looming large.

ILM (information life cycle management): how to control and manage the growing volume of documents/emails from creation to destruction. Planning this from day one would be a huge benefit (and a lesson learnt from hindsight!). Control can be achieved though, through use of tools like HP Autonomy’s workspace archive manager (WAM) which can move complete matter files from one library (database) to another (e.g. from a live library to an archive), maintaining meta data (like document number or document history). These archive libraries can then be moved to cheaper storage, separate archive DMS’s (which can have less resilience than the live environment where close to 100% up time is essential), backups and eventually retired completely if required.

Email: the growth is staggering and although the rate of this growth may be plateauing, even at the current rate it creates a very large volume of data to handle. Add to this the increasing number of devices emails can be created and consumed on and control can be a nightmare. I’ve seen lawyers with inboxes of 50,000 items: how on earth do you start to sort that into organised matter files? HP Autonomy have introduced the WorkSite Communications Server in recent releases that links the email and the DMS together at a server level. This allows a better experience to the user through functions like “filing folders” and “send & file”. But I can’t help think though that further work needs to be done by all DMS vendors in this area and leverage the storage that email systems are already using.

Consumerisation of IT: as the smartphone and tablet take off, then the demand for ease of use in the desktop increases, as does the demand for applications to use documents/emails from the DMS on the personal portable devices. HP Autonomy does provide an iPad application and I’ve seen impressive beta’s from companies like Prosperoware which take things one step further by adding your inbox so that you can manage all your emails on the move in one App whether in the DMS or not.

Summing up

The main piece of advice I would give if you’re starting on the journey is to both seek out an IT partner and also to speak to other firms and learn from their hindsight. These will really help with your planning. Also realise it’s a never ending journey!

A DMS is the bread and butter of a law firm. As such it is often taken for granted and seen as an “old technology”. But the demands of a law firm change over time as does the IT that is used to access the data. The challenge for the DMS is to keep up with these and ensure managing the electronic matter file is as simple, easy and efficient for the lawyer as possible.

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Apr 10 2012

Simple, obvious and exactly what the lawyer ordered. Legal IT software shocker!

Jason

It’s taken me a while to write this up but a number of weeks back I saw a product demoed, that for the first time in ages had me thinking “Yes!”. Actually I originally saw this product months before at Tikit’s Word Excellence day, Jan Durant was demoing it and saying how fantastic it was, but at that point I didn’t see what the fuss was about. But in the recent demo I did, the idea is simple if not a bit boring, but it just seems exactly right!

The product is gDoc Binder and it is just that, a document binder. You select a number of electronic documents, put them in an electronic binder and that’s it. See told you it was simple and boring!

But the things that excite are as follows:

  • Each document can be linked to an original in SharePoint, a DMS, a File Server etc. Each time you “sync” the binder the latest version of the document is collated into it. So you’ve always got the latest document.
  • It works like a paper binder, flicking through pages is easy. You can tab sections, add bookmarks, post notes etc
  • You can add web pages, so a lawyer can take a snap shot from the firms intranet. A page of directions from the client web site etc
  • You can take the binder with you on an iPad. And this is where the real “Yes!” comes from. The complaints we get against e-filing rather than paper filing is the lawyer can’t flick through documents/emails whilst on the phone or with the client to find the right information or communication, they can’t read through them easily on the train/plane etc, they can’t make notes. Well the binder on an iPad they can, pretty much like it were a real binder!

This simple product may be a huge lever to allow law firms to shift from paper to electronic for the vast majority of documents. I’m not naive enough to think we’ll get to the full paperless office, but it could allow us to rid ourselves of a huge chunk of that paper (and gain the cost savings that go with all that paper, ink, printing and storage).

From what I understand the product isn’t available direct from Global Graphics but will be resold by others (who can add connectors etc for the linked of documents to, say, a legal DMS), they include at least a couple of Legal IT vendors as far as I’m aware. It’s definitely worth a look.

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Oct 4 2011

WorksharePoint – a law firm perspective – part 2

Jason

An article I wrote that was originally published by Legal IT Professionals in July

OK so let’s take a look at Word. Clicking on File Open brings up a WSP dialogue box replacing the native Word open dialogue.

This type of dialogue replacement will be familiar to a user of any DMS and you get obvious views (My Matters, Favourites, Recent). There’s a checkbox allowing me to keep the document checked out (allowing me to stop others amending the document whilst I’m working on it) which is set by default.

I can then make some amends to the document. If I then click save on either the quick access toolbar or the backstage I get a dialogue asking whether I want to save as a new version or save over the existing document.

point-browse

Using Save As I get a similar WSP dialogue to Open, where I can select a new location and a new file name. If I cancel this you get similar behaviour to that of Workshare Professional when integrated into a DMS, in that the WSP (DMS) dialogue is replaced by a standard Windows dialogue allowing a local save. Quite nice consistency between the two Workshare products!

All the standard DMS functions are handled, but some areas still need some polish. For example the versions in Office 2010 on the backstage are integrated (presumably because it’s designed with SharePoint in mind) but the compare seems to jump to Microsoft’s version.

In other areas the native SharePoint use is a bonus for WSP i.e. the recent documents in the backstage (and the Recent Places) all link correctly to the documents and folders in SharePoint (i.e. the WSP versions). So if I open a document from a link and then click the Save button, the WSP kicks in and asks me what I want to do with the document as you’d expect.

Other things to note in WSP
In Outlook there is a ribbon for WSP and it’s in here you’ll find a few quick links to things like File Email and the WSP home page in Outlook mentioned earlier.

point-ribbon

Also you’ll find the configuration option, as with other parts of WSP, this is kept simple. Basically you can say which Office products to integrate with, the name of the SharePoint server(s) and some simple configuration for things like number of items in the recent list.

A couple of things that jumped out as missing for me are matter creation and the afore mentioned meta data inheritance from the matter file. The former I suspect a lot of firms would like some basic “generator” out of the box, but then as the backend is vanilla SharePoint writing something to generate “matter files” from the practice management system should be straight forward. The inheritance though goes with the missing client/matter meta data and is something that is on the plans for Workshare to address. I just hope they create a flexible meta data model that allows customers to build in their own requirements (e.g. allow fairly simple meta data for basic matter documents or more detailed data for say know how documents)

A final niggle is the synchronisation with SharePoint for which there is an option to do so in various places, but in others there’s a refresh. Again it’s nothing serious just some polish that is required to keep consistency. Also I’d suggest that fee earners just won’t get the need to synchronise with the DMS, they’ll just want their document where they expect them.

Summing up
So let’s try to start and sum things up. Starting with a question “What is it that an Legal IT department want from a DMS?”

Well fundamentally it’s to provide the functionality required by the fee earners. Both that I’ve outlined at the start, but also some they may not want, but should be using – i.e. filing emails and documents correctly in the e-file! It should do this in a simple to use, quick and un-intrusive way. And then do it all as cheaply as possible with the least amount of support work required to keep it running.

Well in so far as what the fee earners want, WSP does most of the functions and where it doesn’t there looks to be plans to add that functionality. I did have to remind myself that this is early version, it does the basics well (and some bits very well – hook into compare for review, neatness of email send/file and attachment) but there is work still to do to make it polished. And I have to say it’s fairly simple, I was provided no documentation and yet I still understood it enough to find my way around the core DMS features you’d expect.

From a desktop management WSP of view it has a small footprint and at the moment has a nice simplicity about it, yes there are some things that look a bit techie but there are others that look simple and are well integrated.

There are some future features that look interesting too:

  • Offline – the ability to mark folders (hopefully whole matters can be selected!) for cached offline use. And from what I gather the plan is that this will be part of the core app rather than an extra which is nice!
  • There are plans to support SharePoint foundation which is good news for firms on a budget!
  • Then what I think is the real interesting addition the move to look at Office 365 and SharePoint in “the cloud”. Workshare say they are looking to exploit by allowing people to simply connect to a SharePoint server online and still access that content via their office applications-just like WSP does now- except they will be connecting to a SP server hosted elsewhere.
    • Given the cost of 365 (£4 per person per month for SharePoint, email, IM and Office online!) this could be a real low maintenance legal app for small law firms

Finally the other aspect I mentioned was the fact Legal IT departments want to provide all this with the least amount of support work required to keep it running. Now this is the crux I think with the current buzz around SharePoint.

Is managing a SharePoint backend (after all WSP leaves pretty much a vanilla SharePoint backend) going to be any easier than managing one of the other major DMS’s? I’m not a SharePoint expert but I can’t imagine it will be, however finding the skills to do so may prove easier being a technology that goes wider than the Legal IT market. As for the as cheaply as possible, well a lot of firms already have a SharePoint licence as part of a wider Microsoft agreement or as an intranet (plus if the integration of SharePoint foundation is a success then all you’ll need is a Windows Server licence for the backend!).

But for large firms (and maybe the larger middle firms) that already have a DMS I’m not sure there is enough there to warrant a shift. This is not a fault of WSP, just that there is nothing really new in the DMS world and there is already a skillset supporting the systems in place. There is also the unproved nature of SharePoint.

Times are changing though; big firms are dabbling with SharePoint DMS’s (Clifford Chance springs to mind). In any case I like competition in markets as it forces all vendors to up their game. Microsoft was stagnant in the consumer PC world until Apple resurrected itself, they’re now playing catch-up Without Apple, Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as they are.

Overall what do I think of WSP? Well it does what a DMS should do (or at least it has the delivery of those missing parts on a roadmap). It does need some polish, but I’m sure that will come as it’s there in parts. I guess it then comes down to whether you’re convinced that SharePoint can be a DMS and whether Workshare can nail the price for the client to make it a very cost effective proposition.

Workshare have provided the test VM for me to use and kevin.docherty@workshare.com has been very helpful in answering my many questions on what is planned down the line. Apart from this they’ve left me to comment on the product as I saw it without any final review or editing.

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Oct 3 2011

WorksharePoint – a law firm perspective – part 1

Jason

An article I wrote that was originally published by Legal IT Professionals in July

“SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint!”. There you go, I’ve written Steve Ballmer’s keynote if he ever gets invited to ILTA to talk to a Legal IT audience (My inspiration? See Steve in this video for a developer conference.

Yes, it’s that hot topic in legal IT, SharePoint as a Document Management System (DMS). In particular, Workshare’s latest offering WorksharePoint. This isn’t “Workshare’s DMS” but a product that utilises SharePoint as the DMS and enhances it through its tight integration.

I’ve been running a virtual machine on my home PC for about a month and have just been looking at it with the experience of using a DMS for years, rather than as say a product assessment for my employee. So don’t read this as a review/recommendation as such, I’m not going to compare it directly against any DMS competition (OpenText, Autonomy or Netdocuments amongst others). Nor am I going to go into a detailed debate on whether SharePoint can make it as a DMS. I’m going to just try and look at it objectively from a Fee Earner or Secretary’s perspective and also from a Legal IT department perspective.

So first off let’s start with asking “What does a lawyer or secretary want from a Document Management System?

  • For it to integrate seamlessly with Microsoft Office? Microsoft Office is the tool of choice for the lawyer and secretary. The DMS should be there to support that and not get in the way.
  • Indexing of full document content and making it searchable? Basically the lawyer just wants to find their document!
  • One logical and organised place for the storage of the documents. Again to allow documents to be swiftly retrieved through either browsing, searching, using a unique number or some other categorisation of material (i.e. meta data).
  • Security of documents (I’m a bit of an advocate for simplicity here! ).
  • Assistance in drafting of documents by allowing versioning of documents, ensuring the most up to date or correct draft of the document is used.

These are pretty much the basics of what any DMS should do. Yes the lawyer and secretary want the DMS to do all these, but they want the DMS to work with them in what they’re trying to do and make things easy and quick. In particular when they are using their key tools of the trade, Word and Outlook.

So how does Workshare Point stack up?
Well first up Workshare Point (which I’m going to abbreviate to WSP from here on!) is a client application; the server side is basically out of the box SharePoint (i.e. SharePoint is the DMS). WSP is designed as a “legal skin” to SharePoint, providing a matter centric document management system with email filing. With it it brings some meta data (including a unique document number) and version control.

WSP in Outlook
As a fee earner what I’d want is to be able to browse my matters, file my emails into the matter and maybe send some of the documents in the matter to clients (and file the returning amends).

WSP helps me here as it appears in Outlook below my Inbox folders. So I can browse matter files and see the documents in there.

I can easily file my emails into the matters by “drag and drop” as I would any other Inbox folder or I can use a file email button on a WSP ribbon.

For those outgoing emails WSP has a “File email to” option when sending an email, the user interface for this integration is really nice, it fits really nicely into an Office 2010 environment (in my view this will be the standard Office version in legal in the next couple of years). It sits above the message body (see enlarged screenshot) and is a simple check box option with drop down for filing location. At the moment this is just a most recently used list with a browse option, but suggestive filing is on the roadmap for v2.0. Also on the roadmap is the ability to auto file the thread on receipt of a returned email.

If I want to send a document I can do easily using another well integrated panel on the compose email window. To the right is a panel displaying my most recent document list. I can simply add a copy of a document or a link to a document from here.

Sending out a document as an attachment brings in a very cool feature that goes above the standard document management features, the seamless integration of Workshares core product (Compare – Deltaview). So, if a client makes amendments to the document that I have attached, when I receive the document back I receive not just the amended document but also a comparison that has been run automatically using Compare! The change of the email is indicated in the Inbox by an icon change from my standard mail message.

I can then drag the document, redline or both into the matter file (for the document WSP will notice that the document already exists and prompt me to file as new version, overwrite etc).

The version I used doesn’t have Protect integrated, but it will be interesting to see if that can be integrated as neatly as Compare has been.

There are a few niggles within email filing in the current version:

  • The view for emails within the WSP matter folder. It would be better to change the view that of an email folder and ensure that the dates are “date received”, Subject etc. At the moment it is a list of .msg files as if they were just documents.
  • De-duplication seems to be on a file name basis rather than a message guid. This could cause problems as it doesn’t necessarily hold true that the email with the same subject is the same message. However Workshare indicate a more advanced de-duplication will be introduced in v2.0
  • Also at the moment it is a little confusing as to what has happened to the email (through icons, indication of location or status etc). So I did wonder what had been filed or whether there was an auto redline attached etc. Workshare say they are aware of this and looking at it for v2.0

So as a fee earner, what about finding my documents in WSP?
As mentioned there is a folder tree below your Inbox, at the moment this a little “flat” and because of this a little hard to get to grips with straight off. A bit of organisation and simplification would be good. Favourites, Recent, Browse and Searches. These are there, but could do with a little polish. The simplicity is in there as it can be seen if you click the main WSP folder, which displays a WSP window in the main Outlook pane.

However once you’ve got to grips with it, everything is there. From the document view you can easily see meta data, document previews, versions etc. One obvious area for legal that is missing at the moment is Client and Matter information on the folders or documents, together with the ability to inherit this information down to lower levels based on what’s filed where. There are plans on the roadmap for this apparently.

The same goes for security, further development is on the roadmap. So at the moment SharePoint security is respected by the WSP application, but there is nowhere in the WSP application to see this, apply this etc. You’d have to go into the SharePoint backend. This is an area I think Workshare should take time over and work with customers (both risk people and fee earners), keep it simple and get it right.

There is a search (obviously as there is in SharePoint) but I was unable to test this in the build I had, it is integrated into the WSP application though. At the moment Workshare say this exposes standard enterprise search, but they are looking to add SharePoint foundation and FAST.

Workshare have provided the test VM for me to use and kevin.docherty@workshare.com has been very helpful in answering my many questions on what is planned down the line. Apart from this they’ve left me to comment on the product as I saw it without any final review or editing.

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Apr 5 2011

Folder and File security for dumm…..humans

Jason

I’ve realised over the last few weeks that we (software engineers in IT) seem to have made security for Documents and Folders (whether in a Document Management System – DMS or just on a file share) overly complicated. Add to this the fact that we’ve now added powerful search engines over the top and guess what? We’re finding things are not secured the way we expected!

So here’s my suggestion for a simple security model from a real world perspective. Let me have your thoughts in the comments. Who knows maybe a DMS vendor will take note and implement it?

What do we have in the real world?

  • A document or many documents.
  • Which can be stored in a folder, or maybe collated into a set of folders for a matter or project.
  • Then these are stored in a filing cabinet/pedestal. Right?

In the real world where is the security applied? By default it’s only accessed by those in the company (secured by building or floor access). Then if there are confidential items the filing cabinet/pedestal is locked and access to the key given to those that need it.

So how about we implement this for an implementation for the the DMS?

  • The DMS as a whole is your firm, accessed by your employees.
  • Now make a choice at implementation of the DMS – Do you apply the key to the filing cabinet (i.e. a DMS library) or do you wan to apply the key to a matter (i.e. a collection of files)?

Then during use the simple question is for the level you chose 

  • Who do you want to see this? Is it everyone on the firm, a group, or a few individuals?

That’s it, I’d have no granular security below this. Bottom line would be if you need security below, then set up a new collection of files.

But hang on, what about those cases where you need to share a document or file? Say you need some advice internally on a document but you don’t want to open up the whole matter.

  • So final addition would be to introduce a concept of lending, in the real world you’d borrow a file or document and then put it back in the file. Do the same, set up a time limited “guest pass” for any point at lower levels (i.e. a folder or a document). That way if you forget to revoke the system will correct itself.

That’s it. I challenge you to think of any scenarios it can’t handle?

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Oct 11 2010

Office 2010 – Legal IT vendors polish your interfaces

Jason

During a recent one day introduction course to Office 2010 in Leeds, I started thinking how much work Legal IT providers are going to have to put in to really get their products to integrate successfully with Microsoft’s latest offering. The reason is Microsoft have clearly put a lot of thought into Office 2010 in terms of usability. Once you’ve adjusted to using the ribbon interface, you realise that things are exactly where you need them and that a lot of things you want to do that were previously multi clicks have been made much slicker.

Naturally my initial thoughts were about DMS (Document Management System) integration, after all this is more or less a standard add-on to Office in law firms. During the day I started to scribble down some questions in my course notes and I’ve bullet pointed a few of these below. These are areas where I think the integration of a DMS and Office has to be really slick (I’m ignoring the obvious Open, Save dialogues). It’s not aimed at any particular DMS providers solution (in fact I haven’t seen any of them running in Office 2010 yet) it’s more a general view of where I think integration has to happen well.

  • First off the new Office “backstage” page, particularly in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. There are numerous places where integration needs to happen here.
    • The Recent tab – the DMS surely must replace the Recent Documents, Recent Workbooks, Recent Presentations list with the recent documents from the DMS (filtered by the Office application you are in). Also the Recent Places has to be replaced with recent folders or the Matter file in matter centric DMS’s surely.
    • The Info tab – an obvious place to pull in the DMS profile information of the open document from the Document Management System. Also “Permissions” on this page is calling to be replaced by or integrated with the DMS security options.
    • Versions – you’ll also see this on the “Info” tab and this is Microsoft adding to the confusion with what they call file versions (or if you want a true description its the saving a document that you might want in case you close it without saving feature!). The DMS providers will need to factor in the terminology to avoid confusion. Ideally they will also want to factor in the new functionality available here as the feature is a useful one!

Within Outlook there are a number of challenges for those DMS’s that handle email (which is most now as this is a big part of the electronic file)

  • The Conversation thread – Outlook now shows all parts of the conversation grouped together, even if some of the emails in the thread are stored in sub folders. What will happen if some emails in the thread are filed in the DMS? I think this will be a popular view in Outlook 2010 and so some thought will need to take place of how this will work with an integrated DMS.
  • The attachment preview tab in emails – this needs to function if the attachment is a DMS link doesn’t it?

I’ve picked on DMS providers, but the same goes for comparison tools, PDF creation tools, template management systems etc. They need to work within the new Office interface in a way that is seamless to the lawyer, rather than feeling as though it is a bolt on to the Office product. So for example a compare tool needs to be where I’d expect, in the Review section of the ribbon in Word. A template management system would integrate perfectly in the New tab in the “backstage” page.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the new generation of lawyers will start to demand better software. Software that works like an application on a smartphone with an interface designed to make things easier! If legal IT providers don’t think about their integration with Office 2010 they’ll stand out like a sore thumb (and probably give the lawyer as much grief as one too!)

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