posted 1 Jun 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 9
Using knowledge management to reach the top
The aim of Morgan Cole’s knowledge management programme is to help the firm achieve its ambitious plan to become ‘the UK’s first choice business law firm’. David Main has seen the company through the first phase of the process and here he discusses the key aspects of the project.
Morgan Cole is recognised as one of the top 30 UK law firms following the merger of Morgan Bruce and Cole & Cole, and subsequently, over the last two years, Fishburn Boxer. Morgan Cole now has around 770 employees spread across six regional offices in the Thames Valley, London, and South Wales. The new firm has set ambitious plans for growth and development in its quest to lead the market.
Challenges to the KM goal
KM comes in many guises and, depending on whom you speak to, the definition of what it is can vary dramatically. However, most would agree that as a business tool, KM delivers business benefits by helping organisations better utilise the valuable knowledge that resides in the heads (tacit) of the staff and the many information repositories (explicit) across the organisation.
From the beginning, it became very clear that in order to achieve our goals and ultimately realise the benefits and synergies of the mergers, it would be vital to implement a KM solution. This ideology is evident at all levels within Morgan Cole, as everyone views KM as a critical part of the firm-wide strategy.
The first stage of the process involved setting up a small project team with responsibility for driving the project forward. The primary objective was to address a number of key challenges, including:
- Integrating the complex IT systems the new firm had inherited;
- Harmonising the different cultures;
- Managing and sharing knowledge between all our offices;
- Harnessing the disparate sources of knowledge held in different systems across the three merged firms;
- Understanding the technology and deciding whether to build or buy a KM system.
Finding the solution – build or buy?
At the time of researching the options for developing our project, the team spoke to a number of firms that were either building or buying their systems. During the research it became evident that some of the firms that were developing their own systems were making slow progress. Therefore, we decided the best solution for us was to buy.
After the formation of Morgan Cole, a new practice management system was identified, and implemented throughout the firm by April 2000. We had also selected and were in the process of implementing new case management software.
Whichever solution we chose had to work with our current systems and give users easy access to information from a wide range of sources enabling:
- Users to get up and running quickly;
- Users to gain quick and easy access to the information they need, when they need it, and from any office or remote location;
- Customisation to each individual user’s needs;
- Knowledge sharing; it had to be easy to capture and disseminate knowledge to people across any of the offices;
- Operational efficiencies, reducing the time wasted searching for information or re-inventing the wheel;
- Improved client satisfaction through its ability to increase staff responsiveness;
- Attraction of new staff through systems that effectively use knowledge to support working practices;
- Profit improvements through helping people leverage firm-wide knowledge.
After considering the various options, we decided upon Perceptive Technology’s Mentor, an out-of-the-box solution that could be customised to our specific needs and requirements. Once the initial specification had been outlined, we set-up a six-week pilot of the system before a complete rollout. By December 2000, everyone in the firm had been trained on how to use the basic areas of the system.
Creating added value
Our ultimate goal was to develop the information held in the systems across the firm, so that users could derive real added value from it. There are a variety of features provided by Mentor that helped us achieve this, including:
- Reporting – Users can access information from systems such as the marketing database, and then present and cut it up for use in many different situations, including client profitability analysis, market segmentation, and presentations;
- Data warehousing – We had an HR system that was not providing all the functionality we required, but Mentor was able to add a new database with the additional fields we required and then integrate the two side-by-side;
- Industry know-how – This is now gathered by marketing and made easily accessible to everyone who needs it;
- Personal responsibility and accountability – Fee earners will increasingly be made personally responsible for their own information, especially CPD hours and training. No longer will they have to be chased for information, as they will be able to access and manage it themselves;
- Know-how – Users can easily submit new documents with classifications and keywords;
- Personalisation – Each user has access to the system via personal identification. Access to information can be controlled, so when users log-on they will only see what is relevant to help them do their job;
- Customisation – As well as each screen being customised to meet the users personal requirements, the firm-wide system has been customised with the Morgan Cole identity and corporate colours;
- Client extranet – As we develop, we will be using the same system at the backend with specific client style sheets at the front. Clients will be given access to the information pertinent to them;
- Self-service management of profiles – Users will be able to update details such as their qualifications, national practice areas, role within the firm, internal committee membership, personal development and industry sector.
The project started less than 12 months ago, and phase one was implemented at the end of last year. The benefits we have already started to experience are:
- The system has enabled us to focus and drive harmonisation of precedents and procedures;
- We are able to respond much more quickly to client demands, as we spend less time re-inventing the wheel when asked for advice;
- More time is devoted to applying our knowledge to clients’ issues;
- It is simpler for new staff when joining the firm as they do not have to spend masses of time looking for information through a variety of systems. The system includes everything from the firm’s mission statement and firm-wide information through to their day-to-day practice area knowledge;
- Personalisation, giving every user their own identity and personality so the system is completely customised to their specific requirements;
- It is possible to search and retrieve specific information from multiple sources, for example client database, case management system, precedents, HR and accounts systems, expert witness database and library catalogue;
- Our users are able to add their name to committees and groups in the firm, giving them access to information relevant to that committee;
- Everyone at Morgan Cole can subscribe to receive information on specific topics;
- Users can submit and authorise documents for the firm-wide knowledge base;
- The system has a browser-based interface, enabling users to access their personal system from any office;
- Ultimately it has resulted in a better quality of service and value for our clients.
Plans for the future
We are still learning about KM, and now that the first stage of the project has been delivered, we are looking at how we can continue our development and get more from our knowledge resource. The plans for future development include:
- Driving people through Mentor as their desktop with access to applications through icons on the screen;
- Applying greater resource to the project. We have recognised the need to strengthen the team of professional support lawyers (PSLs) and knowledge officers (KOs) and to appoint some dedicated maintainers working on the system full time;
- Knowledge submissions will constantly be monitored, along with usage of the system. We will also be looking at our appraisal process, and awards and prizes to help encourage contributions to the system;
- Client portals will become a big area of development to aid customer acquisition and retention. Therefore we will be looking at the best way to implement extranets using Mentor and its client portal functionality;
- Adding additional resource to the team, as everyone realises the importance of having an effective KM system to the future ambitions of the firm.
As the system develops, we feel it will deliver even more benefits, and push Morgan Cole higher up the ladder in pursuit of our vision.
David Main is chief executive at Morgan Cole. He can be contacted him at: email@example.com