Oct 5 2015

The future of document management?

Jason

I’ve been reading a bit on Office 2016 this week and getting interested around their real time collaboration on documents using any device, true mobility (meaning ubiquity not device type). The challenge for legal here is the DMS (document management system), how does this fit into the picture?

It feels we’re on the cusp of change here, like the shift in DMS when Windows 95 and Word came online, out went stand alone DMS desktop apps and in came integrated Open, Save etc within Word. What we need now is a DMS that is fully aware of Microsoft’s emerging ecosystem to allow us to take full advantage of the new features of Office 2016. Ignoring Windows 8 and, to a large extent, Office 2013 (by ignore I mean taking advantage of the new systems rather than compatibility) was fine, most law firms skipped these, but Windows 10 and Office 2016/365 I think will be different.

You get the feeling this is no longer just about access on mobile devices, but something more fundamental. It’s ubiquity of access to what you want to do. Working wherever, whenever, on whatever. I’m sure for law firms Microsoft Office will still remain the core to this, as will the need for industry strength robust DMS’s. But the the next generation DMS needs to swim faster with the Microsoft Office tide in true document mobility rather than just constrain itself to addressing iPad access and being in the cloud.

Maintaining a good electronic file in the DMS is key but it can not afford to be at the expense of efficiency in creation of what is part of the core business, the legal document.

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Sep 22 2015

Outlook groups in Office365 – this could put the nail in the coffin for emails sent to all and sundry

Jason

I came across a small article on news site for Windows Phone (yes, yes, small readership) about a new beta app from Microsoft called Outlook Groups. This is a feature I hadn’t heard much about, but that has apparently been introduced to Online Outlook in Office365. Anyway long story short, this could very well be one of the best additions to Outlook in a long time. A way to finally kill all those “All-<insert distribution list here>” emails that clog up exchange email systems of law firms. Basically it’s a collaboration space built around groups.

Say you have a distribution list for “Project Work Related”, rather than create a traditional list of email addresses under the distribution list you create an Outlook Group. People are then added to the group.

Outlook Online Page

You can then email this “distribution list”, the emails are collated though in the Group view as shown above, I can reply to the conversation in this view. I can also start new threads. So rather than having to find emails and threads in my Inbox where I lose context of the particular project in amongst all the other junk email I see all the communication in one place.

Outlook Groups AppAs well as using Online Outlook to view and collaborate with the group I can continue the conversation using the mobile app.

The emails I send and receive also appear in my Inbox, this to me is both a pro and a con. Pro: I can continue to use a familiar tool (Desktop Outlook) and therefore don’t have to go to yet another product to use groups. Con: It’s not quite getting rid of my email clutter, though I know I can delete the emails quickly if they are emailed to the group. Maybe Office 2016 will integrate groups much better than the Office 2013 client shown below?

Outlooks

 

But the great thing about the groups concept is that it isn’t limited to just email, it hooks in the whole Office365 ecosystem. So as soon as I create the group I get a shared calendar (events are displayed in the group and I can simply click or tap a link to add to my own calendar).

Calendar Event

I get a OneNote notebook, where the group can share notes amongst its members.

OneNote

And finally I get a OneDrive space for my documents. So for example I can add and use documents using either the outlook group page or outlook group app above. However I can also go into my Onedrive and get access to the documents there.

OneDrive

Now at the moment it looks like the functionality isn’t integrated into the OneNote apps, nor directly in the Onedrive apps. So I can’t go into the Onedrive app on my iPad or Windows Phone and get the documents (even though I have my Onedrive for Business account set up). But I really can’t see why this functionality won’t be extended into these apps, when it does it will mean direct from within the Office Apps (Word, Excel etc) on the iPad I have access to create and edit documents within my group space.

For me this is the really exciting part for law firms. Having all the shared emails, documents, notes all in one place and that one place not being your personal inbox is fantastic. It will be interesting to see when the Office 2016 announcements soon, whether the groups functionality is brought into the desktop applications as well. Imagine if this collaboration space was surfaced through Outlook 2016 on the desktop, through the Outlook apps on your phone and online. That the documents could be edited directly from Word 2016 or Work on your iPad. And that notes made on the train on your iPhone would appear in the same notebook as your colleagues OneNote on their desktop in the office.

The question for Legal IT vendors, particularly in the document management and collaboration space, is how they will react. Surely the time is coming again to stop the proliferation of point solutions and hook up to the Microsoft 365 bandwagon. This has got to be the future for document and email dominated industries like law firms surely!

For a more in depth look at the features of groups have a look at this WindowsITPro article

Legend of the Boy and the dyke

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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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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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Nov 10 2009

Collaboration – Google Docs just got served

Jason

For a while I’ve been meaning to do a post on document collaboration, especially as working on documents with the client is such a key part of a lawyers work. In a typical law firm this collaboration is through backwards and forwards emailing of the document to the client.

I’ve had some more thoughts on this recently whilst doing a number of workshops on email management, a large portion of email traffic for a lawyer being this transmission of documents back and forth! To be fair this process works reasonably well, especially when you’ve got version controlled documents in your DMS (Document Management System) and tools like Workshare are thrown into the mix, either for use in comparison (e.g. using the Compare functionality or Deltaview as it was once called) or for power users using tools like the collaboration in Workshare Professional to track the multiple amends from various parties.

However I had a nagging feeling return that underlying all this was the email system and really this wasn’t what email was designed for. Surely there is a better way to do this?

So first off when I originally thought about this post it was Google Docs that had prompted the feeling above, with its ability to share the document in the cloud. This basically cuts down on the multiple copies of the document. Instead of attaching the document to an email and sending out to multiple people (= multiple copies) you create your document on the internet and invite people in to collaborate in real time. One click and they can edit and save the document online. One copy, always up to date!

For a brilliant explanation of Google Docs watch this video : Google Docs in Plain English.

Then this week I came across an article in my RSS feed for a product called DocVerse, a document collaboration plug in for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. For me this brings the benefits of Google Docs, with its online collaboration and real time document editing with a number of parties, together with the power of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint which I’m guessing is the standard for most law firms. This for me is the ideal solution.

Again take a look at this video explanation from the DocVerse suppliers.

This real time collaboration has to be the way forward. There is a but though and thus I think full adoption of this technology may be a few years off yet. The but is that there are a few hurdles IT depts and risk management functions need to get over first. The major one being “the cloud” itself. I read an article online yesterday that posed a question :

“Would you use a cloud-based service to store critical infrastructure documentation?”

45% said they’d consider it

36% said no way!

only 20% said definitely

That’s only 1 in 5 that would definitely be happy storing their documents in the cloud! Maybe someone good in math would be able to work out the odds therefore of you and your client being happy? And for this reason I think for large adoption this may take time, however for small firms who can move quicker than the large firms maybe the take up will be faster.

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