Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Janders Dean Exclusive: Guest Post by David Fitch, Director of KM at Simmons & Simmons

Janders Dean is pleased to bring you an exclusive guest posting from David Fitch (Director of Knowledge Management at Simmons & Simmons).

We're pleased to be the online forum where David speaks for the first time about this project to the wider community in what is a very open, honest and detailed account of the firm's recent Enterprise Search project. We thank David for his excellent summary and advice.

We look forward to bringing you similar case studies and additional guest postings in the areas of law firm Knowledge Management and Technology in the near future.

Justin & Bevan



What did we learn when implementing enterprise search?

It’s been a long journey for
Simmons & Simmons in delivering enterprise search technology to the firm. Finally, on 15 August, we rolled out the Recommind MindServer platform across 20 offices, to 1000 fee-earners, integrating five key knowhow and information collections across the firm.

The journey commenced over two years ago, through a recognition that lawyers faced real difficulty in finding information across the many disparate knowhow and information resources across the firm. We had great collections, but lawyer feedback confirmed that there was confusion around where to go for different types of material, that findability of information in a number of systems wasn’t optimal, and importantly, that lawyers spent too much time looking!

Identifying the business case for enterprise search

The business case for enterprise search was straight forward and focussed on four key areas:

* Reducing the amount of time that lawyers spend finding information
* Providing a single entry point to key information and knowhow resources
* Encouraging lawyer self-sufficiency
* Supporting our global business by integrating systems across borders and introducing search capability that supported all languages in which we do business

Most enterprise search business cases invariably propose calculations around reducing search time for lawyers, calculating out estimates of weekly time saved, multiplied by average charge-out rates. These types of calculations, although useful, only take you part of the way to assembling a compelling case for enterprise search.

Every firm is different. Each of us will have different types of information collections, in different systems, in different languages and with varying structures behind them. Every firm will have different business drivers and high level objectives documented in a longer term strategic plan.

In developing your business case for enterprise search it is essential that you outline how the introduction of enterprise search technology will help you, as a business, to more readily achieve your firm’s strategic vision. For Simmons & Simmons, it was around the provision of a knowhow and technology infrastructure to better support our growing, global organisation.

Vendor selection

Once the business case for enterprise search had been approved, a detailed list of requirements was assembled. These requirements were used to identify prospective vendors. When on the market back in 2006, we shortlisted six vendors based upon our requirements analysis and a short RFI process. We selected two providers for a competitive proof of concept exercise.

Running a proof of concept

The best way to make a decision about any technology is to take it for a test drive!

Technology vendors will invariably make claims around how their system operates, what connectors are available, the overall performance of the system, various functions and features. The only sure way to form a view as to whether the given solution meets your requirements is to put it to the test. The proof of concept exercise that we ran at Simmons & Simmons, pitched two leading search platforms against each other. We asked each vendor to connect to the same information sources and to deliver a basic user-interface for testing.

We learned a lot about how search systems operate during the proof of concept. What was apparent was how different the underlying technologies were – using the same underlying data – how different the results were for the user. We also learned some of the search jargon,
precision and recall as examples. We found real differences between the two systems and were able to form a good view around which system would work best with our collections and which provider would deliver the most usable system for our lawyers.

Aside from testing the technology platforms, a key reason for running a proof of concept was to asses how well we could work with the technology providers. A successful partnering relationship is absolutely key when delivering any technology system to your business. We worked incredibly well with both providers, but ultimately, we felt a stronger relationship with Recommind and an impression that they were committed to and better understood the market in which we operate.

Getting to grips with metadata and taxonomies

The proof of concept exercise highlighted that in order for us to deliver a successful production system, we would have to get to grip with our underlying metadata and taxonomies. Recommind MindServer delivers faceted search capability – that is, it delivers the ability to “slice and dice” search results based upon the underlying metadata facets.

To give you an example of faceted search in action, take a look at the
Amazon UK online shoe store. When searching for shoes, you can filter results by style, brand, colour and price.

In the law firm world, faceted search allows us to run a generic search that delivers many results. You can then filter (or narrow your results) by metadata facets that include jurisdiction, document type, author and date. This allows lawyers to drill-down through their results quickly and enables much greater precision in the final results delivered.

To get faceted search working properly, you need to do some work on your metadata and taxonomies. How many documents do you have classified as “General”, “Default” or “No Office Specified”. Improving the quality of your metadata will make a significant impact in terms of usability of your chosen system.

Negotiating the agreement

Once we selected our provider, we set our procurement manager the task of negotiating the agreement. I would recommend this strategy to anyone. Having a procurement manager in place keeps you at arms length from the vendor and allows commercials to be negotiated in the best possible terms.

Buying any type of firmwide solution will be a significant investment. It is your obligation to negotiate the best possible terms that you can with the vendor. Despite what they say, there is always room to move!

Building a production system

Once the deal was struck, we moved in to planning and building our production system. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of planning and taking time up front to agree the scope of the project and responsibilities for work. The team at Recommind were a pleasure to deal with and were committed to helping us deliver a fantastic solution. Some of you will be aware that Recommind undertook all the development work remotely from San Francisco. I have to say that I was sceptical around this at first, but in hind-sight, I feel this worked to our advantage (particularly because of the time zone differences which in effect gave us much faster development turnaround).

The system rolled out on 15 August is our Phase 1, Knowhow release. It integrates the following content collections:

* Interwoven WorkSite (our collection of standards and precedents)
* Knowhow database (home grown system sitting on Oracle)
* elexica (our award winning online service)
* Heritage (our London based library catalogue)
* PLC (knowhow and online service now used across the majority of our UK practice groups)

Our next phase will be to switch on the remaining FileSite indexes across our four data centres. We’ve built and tested this already and are waiting a short time for our lawyers to get comfortable with the system before we throw another 30 million documents at them! Our final phase will be to enable the Matters & Expertise module, integrating time narratives from Elite and contact information from InterAction – allowing us to use Recommind MindServer as a sophisticated expertise location tool.

Rolling out to 1000 lawyers

Rolling out the system across the firm was straight forward. We relied on email communications and recorded online demonstrations, garnering the support of our professional support lawyers (PSLs) to deliver targeted messages within the practice groups. Recommind MindServer is accessed by an icon on the desktop (something which lawyers seem to like), in addition to having links from the intranet and our business management system (BMS).

Most days, we have over 1000 searches going through, and around 100 unique users accessing the system. A great result and one I know that will only get better over time.

What’s the feedback so far?

Lawyers love it, even partners are using it! We still have another two phases to deliver, and I’m confident that the positive feedback will continue.

What makes the system a success for us is its ease of use and simplicity. Lawyers like going to one place, they appreciate being able to search in any language, they report precision in search results and like a number of the features such as saved searches and preferences.

What next?

Our journey is not yet complete, but we are well on the way to deliver what we set out to achieve. We have a trusted technology partner in Recommind and feel confident continuing our next round of development. Over time, we would like to integrate more sources, bringing in a number of systems that are located outside of London. Longer term, we’d like to explore integrating content from the large legal publishers, although this will require careful planning and testing to ensure that integrating such large content collections does not dilute the quality of what we already have.

Your journey

I hope your journey with enterprise search also delivers a happy ending. Take your time to plan, be confident about your business case, partner with your IT teams, communicate and collaborate with your technology vendor, spend time on your metadata and taxonomies. For me, these are all essential features of a successful journey in to enterprise search.

David Fitch
Director of Knowledge Management
Simmons & Simmons
24 September 2008

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