Nov 22 2016

OneNote and Office Lens – hidden gem or does everyone know?

Jason

This is one of those blog posts that I’ve thought about for a while, but worried that I was stating the bleeding obvious and so have put it off. I’ve used Office Lens and OneNote for so long now that I figure others must know about it and be using it? But if not then there are folks missing out on a really useful tool for anyone who needs to collate information from various sources (whiteboard write ups, projector screens, hand written notes on paper, printed documents, business cards etc). Given that law firms are mainly users of Microsoft Office and are now generally on smartphone platforms it’s a great combination for the lawyers.

So here we go.

Office Lens: This is a smartphone app for iPhone, Android and Windows 10 Mobile. Its purpose is to allow you to quickly take notes using the phones camera.

The app allows simple selection of some defaults (whiteboard, document etc) to set things up and then attempts to auto crop the content (and does a good job for most things). You can then fine tune this before accepting the photo, where the app then flattens and straightens up the image (so if you’ve taken the photo at an angle what you end up with is a nice flat image).

officelens

You can then email the document or import quickly into one of the key Microsoft Office apps, the most useful I have found being One Note. It’s a really quick way to collate notes together in a OneNote notebook. For scanned images where the text is machine readable OneNote then OCR’s the content and makes it searchable in the notebook. For business cards you can of course simply photo the card and immediately add the information directly as digital contact to mobile address books – there’s an article here on how to do this.

Best of all it’s totally free.

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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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Feb 25 2014

It’s touch friendly MS Office first for the iPad and now an Android phone from Microsoft?

Jason

Much has been made on numerous tech sites of the alleged Microsoft decision to release the touch friendly version of Office dubbed “Gemini” first on the iPad rather than on their own Windows 8 tablets. The angle a lot of the articles have taken is that this somehow highlights a huge vote of no confidence in Windows 8 and that even Microsoft favour the iPad over their Surface and Windows 8 tablet devices.

I don’t think this is the case, my feeling is Microsoft realise that their long game is to get us all hooked into their cloud based Office365 environment. After all in terms of long term revenue streams, that is where they will make the money over time. But couldn’t they still do this by launching on the iPad after the Surface? Well yes, but the early adopters of the Surface devices will already be running Office2013 which when combined with keyboard covers mean the device is already ahead of the iPad for document production and spreadsheet editing. So it does make sense to target the iPad contingent initially and pull them into the Office365 eco system.

Then this Monday (23/02/14) the same type of lazy reporting comes out of the Mobile World Congress. Headlines scream Nokia are going Android, but what they’re doing is launching a forked version of Android on some cheap handsets for emerging markets, they won’t hook into Google Play at all and will have their own app store. Again they’re designed to bring people into the Microsoft ecosystem with OneDrive, Skype, HERE maps etc integrated and a very Nokia Lumia (Windows Phone) UI on top. Still, I’m actually more convinced on the Office play than this one, although I can see where they’re coming from in terms of the ecosystem I struggle to see how the Nokia X can be that much cheaper for emerging markets than say the Lumia 520. Especially when you consider the loosening of the hardware restrictions this week for Windows Phone.

But what this does all show is that it’s not about just products anymore, it’s all about the ecosystem. Apple understood this first and tied up a good chunk of the consumer market, Microsoft is aiming to do the same in the corporate space with Office365 and Azure. Throwing a line to the huge iPad user community with Office Gemini or leveraging an Android development team for cheap entry phones is just a long game play for Microsoft.

The question to Legal IT vendors is how are you going to plumb into these ecosystems? If you’re coming along to LawTech Futures 2014 in March I’ll expand on this topic and question a bit more in my talk (straight after lunch on the Lounge Stage).

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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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Sep 27 2013

Tikit TMS (Template Management System) v6

Jason

Thursday 26th September saw the launch of version 6 of Tikit TMS at BT Tower, the iconic building of Tikit’s new parent company. I last saw this product when I was presenting at the Tikit Word Excellence Day back in 2011 and it’s come on a long way since then!

The key ambitions of the TMS development team were that:

  • It would require “no code”
  • It would separate the developer and template creator
  • Use native Word functionality

The first bullet was stressed a number of times during the presentations, a move that certainly will be welcomed in a lot of law firms as it will allow the end to end development of templates to be moved away from developers to the Word experts. Yet still maintain control of the firms templates and enable the sometimes complex functionality demanded.

Tikit TMS launch 1

Mark Garnish introduces Tikit TMS v6

Mark Garnish kicked things off and explained some of the key features and desires for version 6 in his intro.

  • An aim to reduce deployment time
  • No custom code (there’s the no code again!)
  • Native support for any language – Unicode
  • Two-way sync with any SQL database
  • Compatible with any DMS
  • Built in integration with carpe diem
  • Uses windows workflow
  • Use native office functionality

Clare Waller then took us through a demo of template creation and it was pretty impressive. Once things have been set up in the Tikit Template Manager they are available to built a template in Word through either drag and drop from the right hand pane or selecting from the ribbon. It’s hard to summarise all it can do without a demo, but some of the workflows you are able to set up verge on a simple document automation tool.

Nathan Lusher then delved a bit deeper into some of the workflows a developer could set up for a template creator. The key being that once they are set up once they can be reused by the creators. Using the built in data-links and form designer, together with some simple SQL a simple but effective “update person details” form was created that pulled and then updated details in a database. To finish off some of the actions were shown that could be integrated into the workflows. A simple integration with carpe diem was demoed, so once you closed a template it would fire an action to prompt the lawyer to record time directly into carpe diem.

I had a few questions that I had noted at this point, these though were answered either in Mark’s summing up or during other peoples questions:

  1. How does it deal with Styles? A: Tikit’s restyler will be standard in future versions
  2. How does it manage remote offices or offline? A: it uses a local SQL database to manage the templates
  3. Can it use loosely coupled data sources, say a web service? A: coming in future versions

The product has been built from the ground up and so to move from v5.5 to this version is to start from scratch. This though is a good thing as legacy code and support for legacy office products can be left behind, also the version is no charge to those currently on previous versions (presumably paying maintenance still!).

View from the top of BT Tower

View from the top of BT Tower

 

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Dec 27 2012

Hangul (word processor)

Jason

This is a bit of a departure from my usual posts, but please read on! It’s more a cry for help or advice in the Legal IT world (in fact anywhere in the IT world).

In South Korea there is a proprietary word processing (WP) application called Hangul which is published by the company Hancom Inc. This WP application produces documents in its own file format (with a .hwp extension). The latest versions of Hangul can save documents in .doc format, but Microsoft Office cannot open .hwp files.

Now for international firms this becomes tricky as .hwp has widespread use in South Korea (particularly in the government), meaning difficulties when sharing, filing, collaborating on documents with the rest of the world which is wedded to Microsoft’s file formats!

So I’m asking if people can share this post as widely as possible. Email colleagues, put it on linked in, tweet it out, facebook it etc. Someone out there must be working in this dual world and have some tips and tricks they can share. So if you’re one of those people please use the contact form on this site to get in touch, contact me via twitter @planty or simply respond in the comments of this post.

Many Thanks

 

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Jul 18 2012

Office 15 (aka Office 2013) – Microsoft go tablet and cloud in a big way

Jason

I took a look yesterday at Steve Balmers keynote as Microsoft took the wraps off the newest version of Office software: Office 15 or Office 2013. I’m sure I’ll blog a bit more about it over the next few months, but here are a few bullet points of my first thoughts.

  • It’s clearly designed for the tablet (but don’t worry the desktop version there too). Some of the limitations I’ve had with my iPad and Office documents (clunky cut and paste, formatting etc with fingers) have been looked at and I like the idea of the radial menu (see screenshot below) as a concept for menu selection using fingers.

Office 15 – radial menu

  • Word : I love the integration with SkyDrive (SkyDrive is the default, not the C drive). It’s kind of like the Kindle Whispersync concept for books of different devices. So edit a document on PC, open it on your tablet and you can jump to the same place you were at on the PC.
  • Word : All your settings, templates and recent documents etc follow you from device to device too. It’s a bit like roaming profiles for the consumer space.
  • PowerPoint : The presenter view for tablets looks excellent. See your current slide, notes, next slide, a timer etc on your tablet. Whilst at the same time the tablet is displaying the presentation view on a main monitor. Apparently Apple’s KeyNote has this, well kudos for Microsoft for seeing the greate features in Apple’s products and “borrowing” them!
  • Excel : There were some key “wizard” features (you can see towards the later parts of the keynote) which shortcut some complex tasks. Nothing revolutionary, but pretty neat (Flash Fill, Suggestions for visuals).
  • Word : Track changes has been tweaked so that unless you’re actively reading through changes and comments, all the noise simply shows up as a bunch of red lines. Just click the line to expand the thread. So after a back-and-forth with say a client, the comments will appear in a single conversation that flows alongside the page, in the margins. Previous versions you’d see a separate comment bubble for each person’s response, even if they were all addressing the same issue.
  • Word : You can edit PDFs!! Let me say that again, not only create PDFs but you can edit PDFs in Word!

There’s plenty more and I’ve added a few links below in case you want to read up on more. One thing that was hinted at in the keynote that may be useful for Legal IT vendors is that you can run “Apps” in Office, so in the keynote they show some Apps in Outlook. Now these could be the answer to deeper, more usable integration for things like HP Autonomy iManage’s FileSite and Workshare’s Protect, for example. Clearly Microsoft are really on a roll with their Metro interface and readying Office for the world where we switch between desktop, tablet and smartphone devices, I like what I see with Office 15. But for it to be successful in Legal IT the vendors need to integrate their apps well and I mean really well! The Email Management Module of your DMS (Document Management System) needs to flow and work in Outlook 15 whether on a tablet or a desktop, I need to see the DMS integrate with Word like I see SkyDrive integrate with Word 15. I think some vendors need to be radical with this version of Office and break backwards compatibility of their products with previous versions of Office to really push the integration to the next level.

It’ll also be interesting to see what the corporate version of Office 15 is like, I hope it isn’t hampered by the lake of SkyDrive etc (will SharePoint be the corporate SkyDrive?)

Links:

Great review of Office 15 on Engadget : http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/16/microsoft-office-15-preview/

Some more screenshots on Mashable : http://mashable.com/2012/07/16/microsoft-office-15-review/

Microsoft Office 15 site : http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/officepreview

Keynote : http://mashable.com/2012/07/16/microsoft-takes-the-wraps-off-office-15-watch-live/

 

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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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