Oct 21 2014

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


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!



Jul 15 2014

NetDocuments Secures $25 Million to Fuel Growth in the Document Management Market


So today NetDocuments announce a “strategic partnership with Frontier Capital, securing a $25 million equity investment to accelerate NetDocuments’ increasing growth across the legal market”. Interesting move from both sides, a private equity firm willing to invest heavily in Legal IT and a big investment for NetDocuments to use pushing their product forward. I understand it will be a push on the marketing and sales rather than the technology side. I guess they feel the technology is at a mature state that is ready for a big push.

As the press release says:

“This investment represents Frontier Capital’s confidence in the market and NetDocuments’ ability to accelerate the growth across the legal industry.  The boost in capital will build on a successful sales and marketing strategy that will continue to penetrate NetDocuments’ core market and exploit the robust features of a true SaaS document management service.”

I think it’s actually an exciting time for the bread and butter technology for Legal IT. Here we have NetDocuments looking to move documents into the cloud, we also have Microsoft looking to moving email and lync into the cloud with their Office365 offerings and Mimecast wanting to look after law firms vast email archives in the cloud. These are systems that don’t offer strategic value as they’re common to all firms, but they are absolutely critical services. These SaaS solutions could turn them into utility services allowing hard pressed Legal IT depts. to focus on that game changing disruptive technology that we’ve talked about.

But there is just that pesky word “risk” that comes into play. We’re edging closer but unlike the corporate world we’re not taking the plunge just yet. True, we are custodians of client data and not just users of our own data. But as law firms clients move their own data into the cloud surely the demands from clients for data control will change?

So, if you were a betting man would you bet law firms will take the plunge to an Office365 or NetDocuments? A top 10 firm in less than 2 years? 5 years? Why not take a vote on the poll on the right hand site of this page (won’t be available if you’re on the mobile site).

I put £10 in Bet Victor for the World Cup and had a few 50p’s on various matches. My balance after the final stood at £1.68, clearly I am not a betting man! But I do have a feeling that in the DMS world we could we be in for a bit of a replay of the early 2000’s DMS battles (word of caution before you all log onto Bet365, we all thought this of SharePoint a few years back!). We could do with a bit of competition, the last battle drove some real innovation in the DMS world that led to a shift from profiling to a much more user friendly matter centric DMS with DM5 & Worksite 8.

As Alvin Tedjamulia, CTO, NetDocuments said in the press release:

“We’ve seen the document management industry go through dramatic changes over the last decade and a half, and we’ve been fortunate to be at the forefront with technology that is truly challenging the status quo.”

With some developments HP iManage Worksite have on their roadmap we could be seeing the start of an innovation acceleration in DMS, picking up from my last post, maybe one that will shift us to the “third platform” in this core Legal IT technology.


Aug 7 2013

Digital drafting and DMS users looking for change


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!


Jan 15 2013

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


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!


Jul 29 2012

SharePoint – bogged down and out of the battle?


Back in February 2011 I wrote a post titled “Is iManage WorkSite about to be outflanked?” where I looked at two up and coming DMS (Document Management System) technologies that were looking to take iManage WorkSite’s crown as the legal DMS of choice for mid to large law firms. After 18 months I though it would be worth taking a look to see how one of those “manoeuvres” is progressing.

The SharePoint offensive.

Leading the front is Magic Circle giant Clifford Chance, their drive started back in 2010 (at least that’s when I first heard of their plans to replace legacy DM5 systems with SharePoint at ILTA 2010 in Las Vegas). A post on Legal IT Professionals this month nicely brings us up to date on how it’s going and below are some of my comments on the progress.

My first concern for any big law firm thinking of SharePoint is the length of time taken to reach the objective. The project is getting on for two years old and so far only half the firm is live (3000 staff), as an example we have recently put nearly 1000 staff onto WorkSite in a project taking a little over 6 months (the main logistics of the rollout being the last 7 weeks of the 6 months where we also replaced the desktop estate too). Yes you could argue that any new technology brings delays, but you have to weigh those up against the benefits you’re going to get. One of the main benefits touted for SharePoint is the cost savings!

The biggest concern though for me, and I think should be for any firm, is the lack of email management. Managing the volumes of email today is much more critical to firms than just the documents of the firm. Keeping an up to date electronic file with todays mobile lawyers is an essential part of any DMS. Clifford Chance say “We are still deciding how best to present email content in SharePoint”, this is two years in! As Joanna puts it in the article “So basically you don’t have and will not have for the foreseeable future one folder or site-collection with all your matter related data including knowledge, email and related documents”.

Now an interesting point is raised here, “it is not totally clear to me that a single folder for everything is going to be what people actually want” says Clifford Chance. And I agree from a technical perspective, but from a lawyers point of view I think the feel of one place for all the matter material is essential. In fact I’m starting to think that maybe the DMS isn’t the right place for email, but that is for another day/post. Regardless you still want the UI (user interface) to present you a matter folder so from a user perspective you feel all your file is together.

On current progress in legal, SharePoint doesn’t look to me to be a threat to iManage anytime soon with these two issues. However there could be one secret weapon up Microsoft’s sleeve that may turn the tide.

Office 15.

As Clifford Chance point out “firms would gravitate towards SharePoint because it integrates with everything on the desktop” and this is the key point. The user experience is becoming key, the consumer UI that Apple brought us with the iPhone and iPad and now Micorsoft are bringing with Windows 8 mean people are demanding easy to use applications. The integration of Office 15 and SharePoint could be key, as Clifford Chance say “most people like the way SharePoint looks and the way it works. It is very similar to using a Microsoft desktop at home, and it is a lot easier than learning to use a piece of additional software that keeps popping up and getting in your way all the time!”.

On this current attack though I don’t think that iManage needs to worry about being outflanked. If costs are to be believed (“said that they invested over £1 million in consultancy”) then there are few firms that can afford the cost or the luxury of a two year project. But there is the question over iManage now it’s part of HP and how it will adapt in the next few years? The battlefield is about the change considerably with Windows 8, cloud and mobile computing and it’s going to take an entirely different set of equipment to cope!


Oct 4 2011

WorksharePoint – a law firm perspective – part 2


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.


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.


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.


Oct 3 2011

WorksharePoint – a law firm perspective – part 1


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.


Feb 15 2011

Is iManage WorkSite about to be outflanked?


It’s been a few years since iManage WorkSite effectively won the war of the document management systems (DMS) against Hummingbird’s DM5. Since then both companies have been through a number of mergers and are currently the Legal DMS products are owned by Autonomy and Opentext respectively.

The peace though looks soon to be shattered by a counter strike on two fronts. On the one side we have the SharePoint juggernaut from Microsoft and on the other a coalition of vendors we’ll call “the cloud” (currently led from the front by netdocuments).

So who’s going to win this latest battle? First off it’s worth pointing out that the game has changed considerably since the WorkSite 8.0 v DM5 days, it’s no longer just traditional DMS functionality that is required in the armoury, but email management capabilities and great search functionality.

Let’s start with SharePoint. In its 2010 guise it looks like SharePoint is starting to be taken seriously. From Lewis Silkin’s SharePoint implementation to the announcement that Clifford Chance are going SharePoint there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the product is ready to be used by law firms. The big benefit of course is the cost, if you’re licenced for Microsoft, then you’re likely licensed for SharePoint. Plus there is the native integration with Office 2010. The addition of the FAST search engine gives it some capability against WorkSite’s IDOL engine. And there’s also a growing IT skillset out there to maintain the product (wider than just the Legal IT market).

But wait, there are limitations for Legal. Matter centricity and email management to name two. These can be addressed by “add ons” like Workshare Point or DMS4Legal (the former I have seen and have to say looks really neat) but then the cost and resource benefits are reduced or eliminated.

So if it’s not a one horse SharePoint race, what about the other side, the cloud coalition?

I’ll be honest I like the concept of netdocuments. The desktop application has all the features of a good DMS like WorkSite, but the heavy lifting of a DMS (the application servers, the indexers, the database etc) is managed in the cloud. Allowing the focus for the Legal IT department to be on the fee earners desktop, which is where it should be.

The downside of the cloud at the moment is the perceived security and risk concerns, I’m sure this will be resolved in time. But right now it’s still a stumbling block for many firms, but the shift may be coming (Foley & Lardner in the US, a 1000 lawyer firm, have possibly shown the way).

So is the original winner of the DMS battle doomed?

Short answer, certainly not.

I think there is plenty of life left in iManage WorkSite. As well as the fact that unlike the others it is a proven product in Legal, it also has a couple of aces up it’s sleeve.

First off it’s proven itself to be scalable to meet the demands of even the largest law firms. Something that SharePoint I don’t think has yet proven. The number of documents a law firm has may have levelled, but the email volumes on matters is still growing. That’s a counter strike on one flank.

On the other side it’s announced a big offensive by moving WorkSite to a hosted solution, too early to tell whether this is a route to victory (or what exactly the hosted solution will look like), but on the face of it moving WorkSite into the cloud itself is a good move.

So who’ll be the winner?

I honestly don’t know. Thinking about it, I hope there won’t be one outright winner. A little competition in the Legal DMS arena is a good thing. Product competition usual brings with it innovation and advancement, it forces vendors to up their game. All of which can only be a good thing for the lawyers!!  *

*that’s lawyers as users of the technology, not in some big litigation of course!!


Jul 1 2010

Down to London for a look at “Microsoft 2010”


I spent the day today in London at an event hosted by Trinity Expert Systems. The event focussed on Microsoft’s 2010 stack of products and my reason for attending was to look at Office 2010 and the surrounding technologies (I was particular keen to see what SharePoint 2010 had to offer).

I thought I would blog about a number of other products that caught my eye, not all of them were new, I’d seen some before, but it was the possibilities that came to mind that interested me.

The first session was more on the “infrastructure” products. I use quotes as these were what they traditionally were, but as you’ll see from these two parts of Microsoft’s System Centre, the end user service is becoming more of a focus:

  • SCOM (Microsoft’s monitoring solution). The pictorial view of a systems health from a business service perspective and the possibilities to monitor client machines interested me, it took it beyond what I’ve seen in MOM (it’s predecessor). The possibilities of monitoring the iManage Document Management service end to end, for example. Not just that the physical server is up and running, but that the clients can connect, the IDOL indexer is indexing correctly, the SQL database and application servers are handling transactions nicely, applications load in a satisfactory time etc. For a support team you can see the health of the service as a whole rather than just the servers in it.
  • Service Manager. A new introduction and effectively a help desk system. What I liked here was the self service portal idea, allowing the end user to “do it themselves”. So for example, install an authorised piece of software just by selecting if from the self service portal.

A couple of interesting features of Windows 7 were mentioned that I wasn’t aware of:

  • AppLocker – in my opinion this allows you to lock down desktops in a much better way. Effectively giving a white list of apps you allow on your desktops, the users can install authorised apps themselves. No longer having to manage the crude Windows XP standard user v admin user, which inevitably leads to people having admin right and a proliferation of unwanted apps in the organisation. It also allows quick but controlled authorisation of new apps.
  • BranchCache – basically this is local caching of information. So files from remote locations are downloaded once by the first person and then subsequent requests for the file are from local PC’s rather than from the remote location. I don’t know too many of the technical details but it looks interesting.

Next up was unified communications, I use Office Communicator at work and blogged at the start of the year that I think this is the year for IM in legal. But the integration into Outlook 2010 will need some thinking about. For example, do you need a separate application for communicator? It isn’t necessarily required as it gets integrated into Outlook 2010.

Also something that struck me was whether there was a need for a separate “Person” database (usually found in all firms intranets) diminishes as contact information becomes richer and exposed in many of the 2010 applications (Office, communicator, SharePoint etc)

After lunch it was the turn of SharePoint 2010, this product interests me at the moment. Especially the possibilities for real time collaboration when integrated with Office 2010. The granular way that collaboration works sounds very good, the locking of a paragraph as one party edits it removes the chaos that you got in say Google Wave. Combine this with Office Communicator and real remote collaboration becomes much easier.

I think there is a lot of potential here for Document Management System (DMS) providers to leverage this functionality. Law firms aren’t going to abandon hard core DMS systems anytime soon, but I think there will be use of SharePoint with Office 2010. So there is the real need to control the checkout from a DMS and smoothly transition to SharePoint for collaboration before finally returning that document back into the DMS with version control and audit history (the later isn’t kept by SP2010 when collaborating).

As I start to look at Office 2010 I see more and more possibilities. It’s going to be very hard to scope the delivery of this version of office as it seems to integrate so well with the other Microsoft applications!

Finally at the end of the day we got a quick run through security and Direct Access. This allows seamless access into the business network from your firms laptop wherever internet access can be gained. No more convoluted token/password access! It also ensures that the laptop is covered by all your corporate policies, deployments etc whenever the laptop is connected.

So overall a good day. Plenty learnt about the new technologies from Microsoft. But now, from my point of view, we just have to work out how we avoid getting too carried away with the possibilities for Office 2010!