It is nice of LexisNexis to give me a good example of how some IT/KM departments approach the problem of users not using the existing technology. I want to start off by giving a disclaimer that this isn’t a critique of the LexisNexis product (as I haven’t used it), but rather this is a general critique of trying to fix technology usage problems by adding another layer of technology.

LexisNexis’ Visualfiles is the latest project in the law firm IT/KM process of capturing documents (Interwoven), contacts (InterAction) and client matter information (Elite 3E & Internal Practice Management System) from the firm’s timekeepers. See if you can read between the lines on this product press release statement:

Once deployed, Visualfiles will be the default application that users will use to open any file or matter, seamlessly feeding information into Elite 3E, InterAction and Interwoven. This will provide users with a single, integrated business environment and allow them to record information efficiently and accurately for the benefit of the entire organisation.

To me, this says this: “Our people aren’t using all of the expensive databases that we’ve bought and supported for the past “xx” years, at a cost of $x million (or in this case £x million). Let’s add a new layer of technology that will seamlessly push the information into these systems.”
This fits right into the issue that we discussed earlier this week in “Has ‘IT’ Killed ‘KM’“.
Many firms have found themselves heavily invested in technology that their attorneys are simply not using. In other words, the existing technology is a failure, but we’ve invested so much time and so much money that instead of scrapping the technology and admitting failure, we need to put the existing technology on some type of virtual “life support”. All of this in order to keep the existing technology alive and somehow hope that this “life support” will bring everything back to life and justify the huge time, money and technology expense we’ve invested. In some industries this approach is called “throwing good money after bad.”
In defense of this approach, it should be noted that what I’m calling “failure” isn’t necessarily IT or KM’s fault. Most users (read: attorney) of these products refused to “automate” the capturing of data in the initial phases, and didn’t want to spend the upfront cost of bring in data stewards to make sure the data was “clean”. Therefore, the technology is ready to perform as promised, but the way the users actually use the technology is flawed. To paraphrase one of the oldest programming sayings of “garbage in – garbage out”… in this scenario, you can say “nothing in – nothing out.”
Perhaps this latest product of “automatic data collection” developed by LexisNexis will get around the users refusal to actually add their documents, contacts or client related data into these costly systems. However, if history tells us anything, never underestimate the users ability to work around the system. And, in return, never underestimate IT/KM’s ability to believe that one more layer of technology will make the existing systems finally work.
  • Greg: Thanks for this very interesting post. In practice, I observed that competition among lawyers is a factor contributing to refusal to submit documents into a KM system. Some lawyers are very team-oriented, and are confident that their contributing to the team's KM system will benefit them in the long run. But other lawyers are more individualistic and more skeptical: they view other lawyers in the firm as competitors for work, and so they hoard valuable documents (particularly precedents and forms) on their office PCs, so that these lawyers can distinguish themselves in the intra-firm market for work, on the basis of unique knowledge and resources. I doubt any policy or mandate alone will change this conduct. As you suggest, only background automated capture systems are likely to succeed in getting documents from the skeptics into the shared system.

  • This reminds me of the "click one button" fix. Every new layer of technology is presented as the "click one button" and find what you need solution. It all looks so great in the demo. One button was clicked and magic happened.

    The reality is we still don't have a handle on our knowledge and we now have a more complex system to manage.

    Good post.

  • Well, at the very least, you have to give them credit for addressing the problem: the user interface (AKA end user).