By Dave Wilson, founder and managing director of Tiger Eye
For effective knowledge capture and management, knowledge leaders need IT buy-in, technical assistance – and often IT resources. To connect end users with the content they need when they need it, Knowledge Teams need IT support as well as IT tools to make these connections happen at the right time, with secure processes and solutions.
But how can knowledge management benefit legal IT leaders? And how could a mutual KM/IT partnership support IT leadership with their work? In this article, we explore the core benefits of knowledge sharing, curation and centralization for today’s IT leaders.
In the world of hybrid working, many legal IT leaders have focused their efforts on providing reliable, secure access to systems and networks for all staff, wherever they may be working. Throughout the pandemic, legal IT leaders have worked tirelessly to connect staff with access to matter information, and secure methods of collaboration. Whether focusing on shared drives, Cloud DMS or intranets, effective access is critical to the everyday successes of fee-earners and support staff, with search access issues often leading to delays with the discovery of information, experts – and knowledge. Ensuring that key documentation is available and accessible is a poignant example of the meeting of minds between KM and IT, with KM leaders also focused on improving efficiency and reducing risk through interconnectivity. Yet, this shared emphasis on smooth business operations is just one example of the united practice – and vision – of these two critical business services departments.
However, perhaps unlike some legal IT leaders, KM teams have long been focused on centralization. Moving beyond accessibility alone, this practice aims to not just connect staff with resources but bring content together, minimising the number of clicks needed to access resources – and radically reducing the number of siloes available for knowledge to become trapped within. In many ways, knowledge leaders are working to simplify what has become a complex network of information and collaborative systems. For this reason, many legal knowledge leaders have invested in – or are looking to adopt – knowledge management systems (KMS), designed to bring together the firm’s critical know-how resources, making it easy for fee-earners, PSLs and all staff to find and reuse expertise across the business. An effective KM system will not only act as a store, but also drive efficient knowledge workflows, steering the process for knowledge capture, curation, and management. This stops fee-earners wasting their valuable time ‘reinventing the wheel’ and stops knowledge staff focusing on low-value tasks such as chasing knowledge contributors for metadata, comments and drafting notes. But, more than this, the centralization work of the Knowledge Team can also reduce pressure on internal IT, for example by negating the need to answer repetitive queries related to search, document access, and ’who do I talk to about this’ questions. Where firms have adopted consolidated, trusted KM systems, Knowledge Leaders can also support IT by providing concentrated, effective training for fee-earners for one trusted go-to system, avoiding issues of misuse and human error that commonly arise where multiple systems are in place. In essence, knowledge management’s focus on centralisation attempts to alleviate issues of control, communication, access and ultimately, confusion.
As the network swells and points of entry increase, we also have an increased risk of outside threats attacking valuable data and potentially exposing the business. In the hybrid working environment, knowledge sharing is no longer office bound, and it can easily slip its way onto our personal devices. This is an issue for legal IT in terms of compliance, with audit trails often difficult to track in a complex, highly varied network of channels and devices. With fee-earners potentially bringing content into the firm’s domain through personal email accounts and downloads from personal devices, the ever-expanding workplace poses a risk to legal IT leaders. Therefore, the work of Knowledge Leaders to adopt secure, reliable knowledge sharing solutions can often reduce compliance risks from an IT perspective simply by reducing the number of knowledge sharing solutions in use.
Similarly, knowledge leaders’ focus on documentation can also benefit legal IT teams from a compliance perspective. The creation and collation of precedents, templates, forms, best practice and more into a single trusted source of truth ensures consistency, efficiency, standardised approaches to work – and reduces risk. Knowledge teams review documentation not only for regularity and usability, but also for security purposes, ensuring all client confidential data is removed. Furthermore, without precedent collections, firms could risk fee-earners simply copying, editing and reusing existing documents for other cases, with metadata, client names, contact information and key data also copied – and sent to the wrong client. With integrated KM solutions, both IT and knowledge leaders alike can build on the security of existing systems such as the DMS to support firmwide security and accountability with best-of-breed protection, minimising the risk of threat by ensuring all data is systematised, trackable, auditable and secured.
KM is dedicated to enabling end users to focus on higher level knowledge work rather than low level administrative tasks. So, it is no wonder that in larger firms, KM and Innovation are so closely related that KM leaders adopt a dual role, incorporating innovation into their practice. Focused on improved problem solving, better and faster decision making, KM is a natural fit for supporting IT’s innovative projects.
In many ways, KM leaders market innovation to the firm – increasing awareness, providing communications and working towards increased engagement with innovative processes, technologies and thinking. KM encourages reflective thought and innovative mindsets. Almost every firm will find that some of its staff – whether fee-earning or administrative – are already using some of their time to focus on improving efficiency and ‘working smarter’, however it is common for this to be done in isolation, with staff focusing on improving their own workflows rather than supporting team productivity. Knowledge sharing cultures can support these problem-solvers by giving them the confidence to share their ideas and innovations with the wider firm, supporting organisational learning rather than siloed productivity gains. Encouraging staff to take ownership of their own workflow improvements can also be of real benefit to legal IT leaders who can work in partnership with end users to find – and invest in – appropriate solutions for specific business needs. Such problem-solving individuals can then become ambassadors for new adaptations and even adoptions acting as trusted internal promoters for new launches.
Knowledge sharing cultures drive resourceful collaboration, uniting unique views, diverse opinions and varied experiences. However, more than just encouraging collaborative perspectives, KM’s work towards centralisation arms staff with a unified store of critical knowledge which can be used as a snapshot of the firm’s history, processes and ideas, grounding innovative thinking in the firm’s collective experience. With the firm as a whole armed with this valuable resource collection, teams can be easily brought together for effective process review, workflow analysis and problem-solving, successfully making decisions based on collective knowledge and expertise – supported by KM’s ‘bigger picture’ mindset.
In summary, an effective relationship between legal IT and KM leaders can have a range of benefits for both parties – and the firm as a whole. With a united focus on efficiency and productivity, it is no surprise that the valued work of KM teams can support legal IT leaders to ensure processes and workflows are not only streamlined but optimised.
Yet, more than this, knowledge management is built on the principle that as organisations, teams and individuals, we are on a continuous journey of learning. Connecting knowledge, encouraging communications and building knowledge sharing cultures, knowledge leaders work to ensure that the firm has a competitive edge which is both sustainable and agile for years to come.
About the Author Dave Wilson has many years of experience within the legal technology industry, spending most of his career focusing on work product management. In 2005, Dave worked to forge partnerships with key industry players (including iManage, Litera, DocsCorp and more) to build Tiger Eye – an organisation dedicated to helping professional services organisations to enhance the way they work with their documents, emails and knowledge.