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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Jan 6 2015

NetDocuments Acquires Decisiv Email Technology and Team from Recommind

Jason

Well today NetDocuments has made a move into controlling the explosion of email in law firms. Not the first to do it, but a bold move to acquire Decisiv Email from Recommind. I didn’t know too much about Recommind’s product until last summer when they (Recommind) were on a panel at ILTA, the session was titled “Predictive analytics: email management magic”. Given the challenges that email management brings in law firms (underlined by ILTA’s 2014 technology survey where it was shown as a major technology headache) the session got my interest.

The panel were mainly vendors looking at predictive technologies to try and understand the email content and context to be able to control and manage the email received, there was also a bit of “sales talk” sandwiched in between this and some good case studies.

Neil Etheridge of Recommind talked about approaches to email management and the scenarios they were best suited to, for law firms the most pertinent was:

  • Suggested filing (great for the day forward)
    • Great for matter-centric filing
    • Filling location suggested to the user
    • No training = minimal set up time

The case study in the ILTA session was from a mid sized North American law firm where Decisiv Email  was implemented, it was used to suggest likely Client/Matters, with the user then confirming or editing. They ended up with high accuracy through the combination of Recommind’s analytics and user intervention.

NetDocuments intend to rebrand Decisiv Email to be NetDocuments Email. It will be separate from NetDocuments EMS Folders and EMS Profiler. What’ll it bring? Well this section from the press release sums it up nicely:

Email continues to grow at a staggering pace and firms are struggling to incorporate, protect, file, and manage email in the document management system. The Decisiv technology will bring several key components to email management that will improve the ease of use when filing and managing email. Key features for effective email management across the firm’s matters, clients, and internal communication include:

    1. Predictive filing to the DMS – The Decisiv technology allows for robust predictive filing based on key criteria such as To, From, Cc, Subject, contents, etc. Predicted locations are visually ranked, indicating probability and enabling filing to the correct matter with just one click. Automatic filing can be enabled with a set threshold (e.g. email that reaches a 95% confidence rank or higher will be automatically filed to the predicted matter).
    2. De-duplication – Email is filed to the content management system once, regardless of how many individuals file it.
    3. Folder Mapping – Select folders in Outlook and map to the document management system. Email filed to mapped folders will be sent to the DMS.
    4. Global filing indicator – Email is visually tagged in Outlook for all internal recipients to see in their own mailboxes, indicating it has been filed to the DMS regardless of who in the firm filed it.

Now to an iManage customer with WorkSite Communications Servers and Email Management plumbed into FileSite this may not seem a massive deal, but it does bring the feature set of the two DMS products closer in terms of email management. I guess the key will be down to whose analytics engine produces the better recommendations. I presume that Decisiv Email under the Recommind guise could be plugged into iManage, so I’d be interested to hear any analytics stories in the comments from people who’ve used both?

My final thought though is one I’ve had for some time, is the DMS actually the right place for email? It’s probably too late given the volumes of email we’ll all have in our DMS’s, but I’d love someone to come up with some way of leaving the physical email in an email archiving product and the DMS hold a pointer to the physical item in the matter file. All this wrapped up in some lovely UI that was available on multiple devices with multiple apps for different use cases!

Link to the NetDocuments full press release

 

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Jan 16 2014

Looking back on 5 years of blogging part 5 – My favourites

Jason

To finish up this look back on 5 years of blogging I’ve pulled out some of my favourite posts from the first few years.

Back in May 2009 I covered a topic that was and still is a hot topic across Legal. That of the “billable hour”. I’m sure there will be a blend of billing options for clients going forward, but I still like my example at the end of this post as to why for many clients fixed price may not be the nirvana to low costs. – The billable hour isn’t going anywhere!

I think there must of been something stuck at that “good enough to go” stage back in August 2009. The post I wrote was on the 80/20 rule. Looking at the extra effort that last 20% can take, when it’s the first 80% that will get you the majority of benefits. – Following the Pareto principle (aka the 80/20 rule)

The control and management of email has been a recurring topic over the last 5 years, topics on top tips, products to help etc. But this one I’ve pulled out with a title that sums it up nicely! It was less a help guide and more a rant at email that I’m sure will chime with many. – email, hate the stuff!

I alluded the other day to it taking a generation for law firms to change, well it could be Generation Y that starts that ball rolling. This post from April 2010 was an insight into the experience of a young lawyer just starting in BigLaw. – Generation Y trainees about to shake up Legal and Legal IT

Also from April 2010 I took a look at CRM systems in Legal and wondered whether LinkedIn could be a valid replacement? LinkedIn does seem to have gone a different direction since 2010 and is more focussed on business social with its groups and posts, but recruitment agencies certainly use it as their “InterAction” I’m sure! – LinkedIn to replace InterAction?

Finally a post from May 2011. It was looking at the challenges, both externally and internally, we’re going to have when communicating. Since this post I’ve experienced similar frustrations with firms that have twitter streams but don’t use them to communicate with customers. – What happens when a Baby Boomer lawyer meets a Generation Y client?

On a slight related note I could this great TED talk the other day that is worth watching on the challenges of working with introverts v extroverts.

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May 7 2013

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” so is it time for Lync, Yammer and HighQ?

Jason

I’ve been thinking about communication within law firms for a while, thinking there has to be a better way than email. For a few years in my new year top 5’s I’ve had instant messaging within law firms or more specifically Microsoft’s Lync platform, this is starting to take off now and I suspect for those adhoc short emails it is slowly becoming a replacement.

But I tweeted last year about how Lync still feels like email systems back in the early 90’s, they were mainly internal mail systems with no link between firms and people external to the firm. It was only when email was “set free” that it really took off and became the deluge it is now, so I think until federation really takes off linking Lync systems between firms and individuals (via Microsoft’s Skype) it will only make a small dent in helping reduce our email mountain.

Another Microsoft product that is making some waves within law firms is Yammer. For those not used to Twitter, Yammer can bring some confusion. “How is this different to sending a message via Lync?” I’ve heard asked. I answered this in a tweet last year, Internal “broadcasts” = Yammer, Conversations = Lync, What’s left = email. There is some overlap between them all off course, but primarily I think these are what should be used for each type of communication.

You do need to be a little wary with Yammer though. First off it’s in the cloud, it isn’t solely stored within your firm. The second issue is the security. The free model has a method of authentication that allows access as long as you can confirm your login via an authenticated email domain. So if you are using the free version care needs to be taken about what is communicated. To explain in some more detail how the free model works, lets take a firm jasonplant which has an email domain of jasonplant.co.uk. So if I sign up with my email I will get an authentication link sent to my jasonplant.co.uk email address, so there is a check to see whether you work for the firm. However, if I leave the firm my email stays valid. Others in the firm can mark that I have left and this will trigger an email to re-authenticate (if I’ve truly left my email will have been retired of course and/or I won’t have any access to the firms email system). Of course beyond the free version there is a paid for enterprise version of Yammer, here security ramps up with IP filtering, synchronisation with the firms user access systems, single sign on, enterprise administration etc

This weekend I’ve been involved in an important piece of work, something that started off in a very sudden way on Friday afternoon and involved people from Leeds to Melbourne via Amsterdam, Dubai and Hong Kong. Looking back at how this played out I think it would have been great to spin up a Yammer type “community” to allow all the relevant people to communicate and share information around this specific piece of work. Once completed the “community” could have been dissolved. In this case email was our tool, but as most people will agree with it isn’t the ideal tool in this situation.

I think Yammer could be an answer to this “community” communication, there is also some fantastic work being done by HighQ Solutions which hopefully will be great at bringing these communities together allowing the relevant communication to take place and reduce our 20 year dependency on email!

However remember, as one presenter at these years LawTech Futures said “If a community doesn’t communicate well at the moment, they won’t start to communicate just because you give them a wiki, blog etc”

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Jul 12 2012

WorkSite Send and File explained

Jason

The idea for this post came about after a recent internal email query from colleagues in our Australia offices where we’ve recently started a WorkSite roll out. When you live Send and File for a long time you forget how confusing it can be for even the tech savvy. It’s not all simplicity in this Applesque consumer world, complex desktop software does exist! So this post is an attempt to simply explain the ins and outs of Send and File.

Lawyer is sending email to their client. To file the email, the lawyer uses Send and File (the subject line will be appended with a subject/luggage tag on send). In our set up the email address of the workspace will be in the BCC field.

Client responds to the lawyer. The email is received into the lawyers inbox and the email is filed using InboxFiler automatically, without any user action (such as pressing File) required.

Since the original email had the workspace address in BCC, the client would not have visibility to it when doing a reply/reply-all. We don’t allow incoming external emails to our workspace addresses, so even if the workspace address was in CC, then the client would get a bounce message returned. This is to prevent spam and other emails directly getting to the workspace. The important thing to note here is we are relying on the luggage tag, to file, NOT the email address for incoming email.

Lawyer then responds to the client. Now this is where our lawyers got confused, as there is an expectation that once they’ve started a Send and File then the whole thread gets filed. But as we’re using the luggage tag the lawyer needs to either:

  • Tick the box next to File To on the EMM toolbar to ensure this email is addressed to the matter workspace upon sending
  • OR ensure they select Send & File when the dialogue box pops up

When the client then responds the email is filed using InboxFiler automatically again. It’s just the Sent Items that that lawyer needs to remember to always file.

Couple of gotchas also worth pointing out in the S&F world:

  1. If during this process the Luggage Tag (in the subject line) is removed, the InboxFiler will be unable to identify and file the email. In this case a manual file will be necessary.
  2. Watch out for “rogue filing”! Scenario: I’m a lawyer and I receive a copy of an email originating from a Senior Partner with a luggage tag in the subject, I forward on the email to a colleague calling the partner an “idiot”. If I left in the luggage tag and the colleague was in my firm with EMM installed, then this email will get filed into the Senior Partners workspace. Oops!

Thanks go to @bashaa from whose email explanation to colleagues I cribbed the jist of the scenario from.

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Apr 23 2012

Good, is it any good? Corporate email, personal devices

Jason

This last week Good for enterprise was released onto the Windows Phone 7 platform. As I’ve a Windows Phone device and we’ve had Good in place for email in our firm for a while (for those on iOS and Android at least), I decided to download the app and take it for a test drive.

So what were my thoughts?

First off for those unfamiliar with Good, it “is a suite of powerful mobile device management tools that bring military-grade security, end-to-end data loss prevention”. Basically for me as an end user, this means the firm can deliver my work email to my own personal device, knowing that its fully encrypted at all times and can be remotely removed if required. So from a control point of view, firms IT and risk depts don’t lose control of the data even though it’s not on a firms device.

And from an end user point of view, I do get access to all my work emails, contacts and calendar on my own personal device.

But…..

The downside for me was that I’d already experienced Exchange email being linked natively to a Windows Phone via Acticesync. And the experience of that from an end user point of view was SO much better. I have my phone setup with 3 personal email accounts already (don’t ask!!) and Windows Phone like most smartphones combines these into one set of contacts, one calendar and (if I want) one inbox. So using Activesync my work email just blended into this environment (I ended up keeping a separate inbox for email, but the joined calendar and contacts was perfect). All my world in one joined up interface. The Good experience wasn’t, well, as good!

At the end of the week I had an excellent twitter discussion with Simon Dandy, Jeffrey Brandt, Charles Christian and Ryan Alban about BYOD (bring your own device) and the balance between security and usability. We concluded “So it’s simple. All we need is a native interface, feature rich, data bifurcating Good on steroids :)”. Basically what you’d want is a separate store of data that’s encrypted (what Good does well) but delivered through the devices integrated native interface.

As I can’t utilise the Activesync option at work I’ve stuck with the Good app. And to be fair it does work well. I takes a while to get everything set up (on start up it has to synchronise the encrypted store with my inbox at work, which can take a while if I haven’t launched Good for some time), but once things are up and running it works as you’d expect any email/calendar app to work. But I can’t help feeling that the need to go into a separate app to look at my emails seems a bit clunky (I mean in Windows Phone I don’t even have to do that for Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, all this is integrated into the UI!). Overall it just isn’t quite as usable as having the emails pushed straight into the devices native email interface!

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May 19 2011

What happens when a Baby Boomer lawyer meets a Generation Y client?

Jason

A recent experience of trying to hire a car over the “royal wedding weekend” got me thinking about how important good electronic communication is with clients.

I was after a large mini-van or mini-bus for the Bank Holiday Monday and for one reason or another didn’t start looking until the Saturday. The first two companies I tried were the big national car hire chains, I started on their websites and for both it was clear that on the day I required the car they were closed at my local branch. Annoying for me, but at least I knew where I stood.

I moved onto some smaller local businesses, the next two had nice large adverts in the local business pages and indicated they provided the type of vehicle I was after. Both had prominent website urls on their adverts. So I visited the sites and got their contact details. As they had email addresses or web based contact forms I used these (although a Generation X’er myself I do seem to favour a lot of the communication forms of Generation Y!).

These companies then failed. Not only did they not respond to my email, they never acknowledged them at all. I know they received them as I ended up calling them by phone and they clearly knew of my query. Also they didn’t have the vehicles available either so a simple “Sorry no vehicles available email” would have taken 30 seconds!

The remaining local company I tried looked a bit more hopeful and they had online booking!

The order was taken and an automated confirmation received. I was wary though with it being a bank holiday so I emailed them to check they booking, after no reply in 24 hours I called by phone and got no reply. But the automated phone message gave no indication of the company being closed for the bank holiday, so although doubtful I had no reason to believe my car wouldn’t be their waiting for me.

Guess what though, it was closed! Worse still was the fact that a week later I have had no reply either email or phone from this company apologising for their error or even just acknowledging it!

Unbelievably a lot of companies seem to recognise some need to have a website and an email address but then treat them as a second class communication form over phone and face-to-face. Trouble is for them, unlike the boomer generation, the Y generation favours the electronic. Given the volume of email coming into law firms, it’s clear that a lot of lawyers get this and are comfortable with electronic communications. But there are a still some older lawyers who don’t and are quite happy to dictate emails for their secretary.

Regardless of which camp you’re in we still need to remind ourselves to acknowledge those emails. If we can deal with it immediately, do it and then get the email out of the inbox. If it can’t be dealt with quickly, acknowledge the receipt, add a task to deal with it later and get the email out of the inbox. As someone who has 90+ emails in their inbox at the end of today still, I know it’s easier said than done. Also clearly not all emails are from clients and need this kind of attention. But hopefully it’s obvious that we should try to avoid being the law firm that mirrors those firms above. At best your clients will be annoyed, at worst they’ll go somewhere else next time!

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Jul 26 2010

Outlook 2010 – a legal viewpoint – part 1

Jason

I’ve been running Microsoft’s Office 2010 on my home PC for about a month now and have to say I’m impressed. Well as impressed as you can be with an email client, a word processor and a spreadsheet application!

I thought I’d share in a few blog posts some of the really nice features of Outlook 2010 that I think will be useful for lawyers. For the first post I want to take a look at a couple of nice ways in which Outlook 2010 helps you organise and find email.

The conversation thread

This arrangement of the Inbox quickly tidies up all those email conversations. It allows you to maintain a date organised view of your emails, but then it groups a conversation into one line (see in the image below how the single email for Today is in fact a rolled up conversation).

Outlook-conversation-closed

click on the image to zoom

The conversation can then be expanded. The great thing about this is that it spans emails in other folders and even in other Outlook data files (e.g. a PST/archive file, which it does with my Archive Folders PST in the example below)

Outlook-conversation

click on the image to zoom

You can then quickly tidy up your email by a right click on the conversation and selecting “Clean up conversation”. This will then remove superfluous messages from the conversation.

Search

The search in Outlook 2010 is much nicer than previously (for information, my previously is Outlook 2003).

When you start typing in your search you quickly get a drop down to allow you to limit the search to a person (from) or subject if required.

Outlook-search-selection

click on the image to zoom

The results are then highlighted both in the subject and in the body of the email.

Outlook-search-results

click on the image to zoom

There is also a quick link at the bottom of the results to allow you to quickly expand the search scope from the folder you are in to all mail.

Finally on search, as with the rest of Outlook 2010, the ribbon is now here. After initial confusion as to where everything has gone, the ribbon becomes an asset. For example once you’ve done a search the ribbon switches to the search ribbon and provides useful options to you to use without having to go hunting through menus.

Outlook-search-ribbon

click on the image to zoom

There are a couple of reservations I have regarding search in Outlook 2010 searching though:

  1. Performance – the indexing of all the email data. I’m not noticing any performance impact on my PC (a fairly old Pentium 4 machine), but my exchange mailbox at home is only 60Mb and the PST file attached is only 560Mb. When you’ve got a lawyer with three or four 2Gb PSTs you could be testing your PC’s!
  2. If you’re planning to run on Windows XP – you will need to install the latest desktop search software from Microsoft, Outlook 2010 uses this for it’s search rather than an in built search. If you’re moving to Windows 7 this isn’t an issue.

Further thoughts

Whilst using these two pieces of functionality in Outlook 2010, one thing struck me.

How will this work with Document and Email management systems?

In the conversation threads how would this integrate with emails filed in the document management system (DMS)? Similarly with the search, integration to expand the scope of your search to include not just other mail in your inbox but emails in the DMS would be nice.

Microsoft has gone to some great lengths to really think about how you use email and streamline things to make everything just where you want it. There is a challenge for Legal IT providers to integrate into Outlook 2010 in a way that complements this.

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Mar 23 2010

email, hate the stuff!

Jason

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about email recently and I mean a LOT! I’ve concluded I hate the stuff, both on a personal level and on an enterprise level. It’s like sand, it gets everywhere and you can’t get rid of the stuff. And even if you put it in a sandbox, you’re still finding the stuff all over your feet and clothes for days.

The worst thing is that email plays to our natural instinct to hoard. We actively go and collect the stuff. Then we keep hold of it for years! I know of lawyers who have mailboxes running in the Gb’s and have inboxes with tens of thousands of items in them. I remember doing a rollout in 2005 and noticing PST’s in lawyers mailboxes going back to the early 1990’s!

So what does it matter if we collect the stuff? Well let’s ignore the fact that as a lawyer there should be an organised file somewhere (PDF) and just look at the pain they cause…

First off the performance nightmare!

The chances are you’ll be storing all the stuff in Microsoft Exchange and Outlook like most corporates.

Matt Cain, lead email analyst at Gartner. "We forecast that Microsoft will get 70 percent of the commercial email market by 2010”

Bottom line is big mailboxes equal bad performance (unless you’re lucky enough to have a quad core desktop with a solid state hard drive at work!). There are a number of factors involved in Outlook performance, but basically big in size (Gb) is bad and big in number of items is bad!

Sure Exchange 2007 brought improvements as did Outlook 2007 Sp1 on the desktop. And Outlook/Exchange 2010 may bring more, but if email usage continues to grow then they will just be playing constant catch up (also I bet most of you are on Office 2003!).

Then you have to worry about storage!

There are probably gigabytes or terabytes (or petabytes!!!) of the stuff that your organisation collects. More and more money thrown at playing catch up with shelves of discs to collect all the emails you hoard. Sure if you’re a small firm you can outsource your email to say GMail or as a large corporate perhaps to a hosting company (it might ease the hassle but probably not the cost). In fact I suspect that maybe this is the future, we will treat email as a utility like with we do electricity. But that’s not addressing the problem is it? It’s like buying space at Big Yellow Self Storage because your back bedroom is full and you can’t bring yourself to throw away your shoe, comic, book, record (delete as applicable) collection!

So what’s the future?

Can’t we just kill it off? As well as performance and storage there’s the time sucking controlling nature of the stuff. I was hoping instant messaging (IM), wikis or social media would kick in and reduce emails dominance (like facebook has virtual killed my useful home email, I say useful to distinguish from the almost spam messages I get from sites like LinkedIn, Amazon etc). It’s starting slowly in firms but IM is like the healthy vegetable sat next to the krispy kreme doughnut of email!

I don’t have all the answers for the problem above unfortunately. But if someone can solve them for me, then from a lawyers perspective I did come up with an idea for organising the stuff that would require virtually no effort on the lawyers time. No filing, no tagging, but that’s a post for another day ……

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Feb 22 2010

Human Computer Interface

Jason

Such a dull title, but that was the title of one of my final year modules at University. The textbook is probably in the loft somewhere. It was all about designing applications to be intuitive and easy to use (a much harder job when everything was DOS based!).

A couple of things over the last week got me thinking again about the design of applications from a user perspective and how important this is.

First off was the launch of Windows Phone 7 Series.

winmo_7_peoplescreen

Clearly Microsoft finally “got it” with this release. They went back to the drawing board and designed something from a users perspective. Grouping things together in a logical human way (rather than technical grouping). Take a look at the video over at MSDN.

Second though was the interface with the most potential, Microsoft Live Labs Pivot.

Pivot

Basically it is an interface into huge amounts of information. It allows you to slice up information in different ways, allowing you to go from huge amounts of data down to small amounts and back out in logical and connected ways.

It’s quite difficult to explain how this works using text, so take a look at the video over at the Microsoft Pivot site – http://getpivot.com/

In a law firm the possibilities for this are huge.

Law firms have huge amounts of data in documents and emails that this kind of interface would be perfect for. Imagine this being the main interface for Outlook or your document management system. You could slice up your emails quickly to find the information you were after. Or slice up your documents to collect together specific types of agreements, in specific jurisdictions etc.

On the developer page there are a number of challenges. One of which is a front end to SharePoint. I’m going to put my own challenge out there for any legal software developer to front end Autonomy iManage’s WorkSite, imagine this being the user interface of DeskSite!

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