From its early beginnings, knowledge management (KM) has offered law firms the promise of improved profitability: put systems and processes in place to encourage and facilitate knowledge sharing, and you've solved the problem of capturing what's in people's heads for the benefit of the organization. If only it were that easy.
The intent of KM is at once to collect knowledge and distribute knowledge. It's about optimizing collaboration, increasing information transparency, and making it easier to reuse content. In working toward these goals, initial KM efforts in law firms focused on making the knowledge embedded within documents more discoverable. When systems such as West km® evolved offering full-text indexing and enhanced metadata, it became possible to retrieve and filter through large document collections quickly and easily according to specific legal criteria.
Enterprise search was adopted to look beyond documents and enable search across additional sources of information, such as a firm's website, intranet, and other internal data stores. Systems like these did indeed make information more transparent and reusable, so what could possibly be in store for KM going forward? A look at just a few technology trends suggests some new ways firms might encourage people to share their knowledge.
Show Them What's Behind the Curtain Big Data
At some point, we've all resisted doing something for the common good when it required extra effort on our part. But when we can see the value of that effort, when the question, "What's in it for me?" is answered, we're more likely to step up to the plate and bat for the team. Many law firms are already gathering and storing enormous volumes of data and some of that data is surely making it into the hands of attorneys through systems like West km and enterprise search. The real power of data, however, is revealed when data silos are dismantled and recombined to illuminate trends, opportunities, areas for improvement and inefficiencies. This is "big data."
According to McKinsey, big data can "substantially improve decision making" by "making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency" (Manyika, et. al., 2011)i. When data is captured and integrated, analytics can be applied to transform that data into information. Here, harvested data is not merely accessible but made meaningful and actionable. What would have once been a tiresome (and thereby quickly dismissed) exercise of consulting a number of different sources of data to try to make insightful connections and inferences is no longer necessary or reasonable.
Instead, data from various systems now can be manipulated, brought forward and presented in dynamic ways, directly illustrating to attorneys how the details they contribute about themselves and their projects can reveal patterns and trends that can lead to better service to clients and improvements to the firm's bottom line.
Make it Effortless Social Media
Not everyone likes to share, but what if sharing were seamless? What if sharing knowledge with colleagues was as easy as sharing photos and updates on the events of our everyday lives with family and friends online? In the social media space, many of us eagerly connect with one another and automatically share information about our interests and ourselves. Social media have become so pervasive that in due time they may influence behavior in other spheres, including law firms.
Until then, firms that implement enterprise social media tools can make sharing "frictionless" through activity streams (Cannell, 2012)ii. Colleagues can "follow" each other and communities of interest and thereby remain informed by virtue of their membership in a group or their status, and according to various parameters. Attorneys won't have to take the time to email colleagues to say that an important document has been completed and added to a client site, that a meeting has taken place, or a key project milestone reached. Instead, that information will instantly be made available to the appropriate community. With activity streams, keeping up to date on key activities and information becomes less mediated (i.e., dependent upon others to do the "right thing" proactively) and more automated (i.e., instantaneous), increasing the likelihood that everyone will be "in the know."
Offer Cool Tools Tablets
Of course, just because information may be shared seamlessly doesn't mean attorneys will contribute. Many IT departments have fretted over partners who insist upon saving everything to their hard drives. For these folks, maybe it's a matter of providing the right toy er, tool to entice them to get on the bandwagon. The rise of the tablet is well reported, both in the consumer market and in the workplace. Email, video, music, photographs, documents, books, the Internet, instant messaging, and so much more are now all readily at our fingertips literally on the iPad, the Kindle Fire, and other tablet devices. It's not surprising, then, that lawyers are increasingly expecting IT to permit these devices to connect to their firms' networks.
Beyond the sex appeal of these devices, apps transform them from mere gadgets to invaluable tools for the home and the workplace. Apps have been developed to support all sorts of professional activities. Lawyers can manage email, annotate documents, track projects and tasks, conduct legal research, write articles, and more using these elegant and inexpensive software programs. Many apps offer features that make it easy to share information, connect with others, and collaborate, though first and foremost they've been developed to meet the needs of the individual.
As tablet adoption continues, apps surely will evolve to address the needs of organizations as well. In March 2012, app support emerged for legal KM when the WestlawNext® app was updated to allow for secure connection to West km. The future of KM and the tablet may ultimately be driven by apps developed by law firms themselves, apps that tap into the enterprise social network and allow attorneys to access, monitor, and contribute to the "big data" tools described above.
Make it Fun Gamification
When all else fails and coercion is not an option, make it a game. Online gaming is estimated to be a $10.5 billion industry. Clearly many of us enjoy the challenge of competing and collaborating to achieve a goal, even when that goal exists in a virtual world. If managing one's inbox can be turned into a game, as one attorney describes on The Lawyerist blogiii, why can't knowledge management tools be more entertaining?
Gamification is the use of game mechanics such as time limits, obstacles, status levels, and rewards for accomplishments "to drive engagement in traditionally non-gaming products" (Edwards, 2011)iv. Evidence suggests it works. Samsung, for example, saw a 66% rise in visitors and a 309% increase in comments after they introduced a "gamification layer" to its site using a platform called Badgeville (Rosenbaum, 2012)v. Beyond making customers more engaged in a product or brand, Badgeville and like platforms also can be used to influence the behavior of employees. In the KM space, Deloitte is successfully stimulating knowledge sharing by offering badges as a reward. As badges are accumulated, the employee's status changes on a "leader board," revealing to colleagues and upper management alike who is meeting with clients, who is innovating, and who is expanding his or her knowledge through learning opportunities. For those lawyers who thrive on competition, public recognition may be all it takes to get them to play ball.
Offering rewards and a fun way to earn them may be just what KM needs to drive knowledge sharing in law firms. Perhaps offering a sleek app on a tablet that taps into data attorneys already are providing will move knowledge hoarders to share what they know. Or maybe giving attorneys a means to connect with each other on their own terms, where sharing is done for them, will do the trick.
Certainly no one technology trend discussed here will entice all attorneys to contribute to KM efforts. Nevertheless, together, big data, social media, tablets, and gamification suggest that knowledge management may very well one day be as simple as providing systems and processes and letting the technology, and the attorneys, do the rest.
i James Manyika, et. al., Big data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity, May 2011.
ii Larry Cannell, Frictionless Sharing and the Enterprise Social Network, Jan. 27, 2012.
iii Kate Battle, The Gamification of Your Inbox, Lawyerist.com, Aug. 18. 2011.
iv Tom Edwards, 15 Brand Examples of Gamification, Aug. 3, 2011.
v David Rosenbaum, The Games Businesses Play, CFO.com, Feb. 14, 2012.
Suggested Other Reading
Daniel Burrus, Technology-Driven Trends for 2012, HuffingtonPost.com, Feb. 2, 2012.
Pete Cashmore, The Top 10 tech trends for 2012, CNN.com, Dec. 19, 2011.
Gamification.org, Game Mechanics: Achievements, Gamification Wiki.
Idyf, The Gamification of Online Communities, Jan. 18, 2012.
Juli, BMO Raises Apple Estimates on Enterprise iPad Adoption, Pad Gadget, Mar. 30, 2012.
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