UK ‘Magic Circle’ law firm Allen & Overy LLP wanted to improve knowledge and expertise sharing within the firm, allowing easy participation and content contribution from users across multiple global locations. The firm recognised that such improvements offer enormous potential for bettering people’s performance and the firm’s overall operations, with consequential benefits to client service delivery. Responding to these strategic requirements, Headshift built an online communications platform integrating and customising a variety of social tools, including group weblogs, wikis, social bookmarking and tagging, and an RSS-based updates and subscription system.
Managing a complex information environment
Law firms, in general, face the constant challenge of managing the creation, analysis and application of information, and its circulation both inside and outside the firm. As a global firm, Allen & Overy has the added challenge of doing this in an international context.
The firm recognised that having the ability to quickly access authoritative guidance from colleagues in different teams or geographical locations, and being able to easily find and retrieve current relevant information, are crucial to the development of actionable current awareness.
Put simply, the firm needed a means to reduce information overload and help people share the highest value and most relevant information, knowledge and expertise quickly, simply, and within a relevant context – without introducing extra effort and cost into people’s busy working day.
A seamless internal communication platform
Through a series of structured requirements capture workshops and a period of close observation and collaboration with key stakeholder groups, Headshift developed a thorough understanding of Allen & Overy’s organisational culture, workflows and professional interactions. This initial work led to the development and documentation of clearly-defined user requirements, and initial recommendations for the design, development and implementation of a new internal communication platform.
Based on the identified business needs and use cases, the Allen & Overy platform’s development drew on four key social software components:
The platform drew on the following four social software tools:
Group-based weblog publishing and discussions
Wiki-based collaboration and co-production
Easy social bookmarking, tagging and retrieval of useful information
RSS-based information alerts and updates, combined with e-mail alerts and retrieval
These social tools were integrated with relevant elements of the firm’s IT infrastructure, including user management, search and content-level access to existing knowledge bases, and made available to end-users via a single, highly usable, fully branded interface within Allen & Overy’s network.
How do people use it?
There are multiple use cases for this type of platform within the firm, and the system’s easy group formation means that new ways of utilising the technology are constantly evolving as new groups.
In a typical scenario, if information is needed on a precedent agreement in a particular practice area and/or jurisdiction, someone posts a question about the issue on the shared blog of the relevant legal group. Other members of that group will receive an alert of the entry via e-mail or through an RSS feed reader. Members of the group can post answers to the group blog and bookmark relevant information as they need it. A page for the collection of shared links relevant to the issue can then also be created, and thematic labels (‘tags’) can be applied to the blog post, either by the individual or drawn from a range of existing labels created by other group members.
This collaborative process results in fast, simple, highly contextual exchange of relevant information, helping to move people away from email (which is great for point-to-point communication, but is a vastly over-utilised and highly inefficient group communication system). The introduction of more collaborative, social approaches to information management, and the recording of conversational knowledge in a shared system, has also cut down on repetitive inquiries and encouraged staff to source knowledge from peer groups, and is leading to improved levels of self-service when sourcing expertise. This approach has also helped to surface connections, relationships and networks within the firm, which would otherwise have been invisible.
The project began as a three-month pilot for three groups, but twenty months later there were more than 30 active groups in a range of professional areas. Some of these groups have also been opened up to the firm’s clients.
The project’s success measures have included quantifiable elements, such as increased number of posts over defined periods, diversity of readers and contributors, and readership levels on receipt of alerts. In addition, success has been measured not just in terms of increased usage, but value to the staff and firm. The lasting benefits of the knowledge and expertise sharing platform include more efficient work practices and better business intelligence derived from:
Increasing self-service and people’s awareness of available information and expertise
Timely delivery of relevant information
Improved “findability” of information
Making content more dynamic and easier to update
Increased contextual information exchange and easier identification of expertise
Capture of conversational knowledge in blogs and wikis, helping to make tacit knowledge explicit