Content usually illuminates data, but the opposite can also apply, with data pointing to better use of documents - InformationWeek

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4/11/2005
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Content usually illuminates data, but the opposite can also apply, with data pointing to better use of documents

Field Report: Zelle Hofmann, Minneapolis

Field Report: Zelle Hofmann, Minneapolis

The key to efficient content management is reusing chunks of existing information. Minneapolis law firm Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel, Mason & Gette is pursuing this principle, using a business intelligence (BI) tool to search old casework that might save lawyers time and clients money while possibly changing the outcome of current legal cases.

Like most law firms, Zelle Hofmann deals with thousands of documents every year, and the firm's 180 attorneys and six offices nationwide rely on a document management system to store, access and retrieve more than 800,000 matter-related files. In 2002, the firm upgraded to Hummingbird Enterprise, an enterprise content management (ECM) system, but it also stumbled upon Hummingbird's BI Query tool, which was included as a reporting tool.

"BI wasn't a part of our original plan, but our firm has more than 60 partners, and they're all interested in the financial status of the firm," says Warren Knowles, technology implementation manager. "We've used the software to develop better and more flexible financial reports."

Hummingbird BI lets attorneys review standard reports or select their own criteria and develop custom reports without the aid of IT or accounting staff. The tool also cut costs: More than 200 accounting reports were made available online, with e-mail alerts replacing physical printing and shipment of 20 to 30 reports per day-a time-saving move that has eliminated the equivalent of more than 50 full-time days of labor per year.

Once the IT staff became familiar with Hummingbird BI, they quickly spotted new applications. In one example, a report was developed on the internal use of West KM, a knowledge management tool from Thomson that can scour the firm's own content repository for related documents whenever an attorney conducts a search in the publisher's popular Westlaw legal research database. The BI report revealed that West KM is returning some 1,400 relevant hits per month, a good return on a service that costs the firm more than $8,000 per month, according to Knowles, but the project also led to a bigger idea.

"We realized that if we can use BI to analyze patterns of content usage, we can make better use of our knowledge," says Knowles. "If attorneys are constantly referring back to old [cases], we can point to related documents that can provide a baseline for new cases."

Zelle Hofmann attorneys hold meetings to trade ideas on cases in progress, but people retire, change firms, take leave or are too busy to put much effort into sharing information. The challenge in exploiting BI for KM is devising useful reports. "When is a pattern measurable and useful?" asks Knowles. "Is it when a document has been referenced five times in one month, or is it whenever old content is used?," says Knowles. "The main push is that we want to use our content in a way that is valuable to the client."

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