Information as Strategic Asset

Two weeks ago I attended the Solcara organised event “Information as a Strategic Asset” this was hosted by MacFarlanes and featured speakers from 3 different law firms, MacFarlanes, Pinsent Masons and Allen & Overy.

Following an introduction from Rob Martin, Solcara’s Managing Director, Sally Roberts from MacFarlanes described how and why they chose to implement Solcara. For those not familiar with the Solcara search product I recommend having a look at Solcara’s website.

For those people who don’t want to navigate away from this blog post, in a nutshell Solcara’s product enables federated searching within an organisation. What this means in practice is that you can point Solcara at a website or an application, typically LexisNexis or Westlaw, enter a search term and Solcara will federate (display) the search results within your search application/intranet. The difference between this and Recommind is that with Recommind’s search product you can do clever things with rankings and search results whereas with the Solcara product you’re returning the same search results as the native application (LexisNexis, Westlaw etc)

Getting back to Sally’s presentation she outlined some of MacFarlanes motivations to install Solcara search, these included the number of resources that were available to fee-earners and the demands of new fee-earners who almost expect there to be a Google like search tool available. Sally then outlined some of the technical challenges they faced as part of the project, these included the speed of the new application, customisations they need to apply, interface issues, new and improved functionality and whether the new application would make sense to users. Sally then outlined some of the benefits of using Solcara; these included having one search box for everything, users not having to make too many decisions and the ability to choose preferred sources to search across. Finally Sally outlined MacFarlanes future plans for the Solcara search product these include more customisations, fine tuning the integration points, improvements to the user interface, embedding the search within other applications and looking at what Social Media tools they could integrate within the search application.

From my perspective this was the most interesting presentation but I feel duty bound to provide a summary of the other two. The second presentation was from Kathy Jacobs of Pinsent Masons, in a nutshell Kathy looked at some of the reasons why Legal Information is so costly, namely its authority, its currency and the fact that products provide by legal information suppliers are unique.

Kathy also spoke about how measuring usage of a product was crucial both to understand how the product is being used and how but also to ascertain who the heavy users and what they’re doing. It was interesting to see that Pinsent Masons are using Research Monitor as this is a product I’ve used previously.

The final presentation was from Sarah Fahy of Allen & Overy. Sarah spoke at some length about Allen & Overy’s experience of negotiating with content providers. Sarah also discussed with the audience some of the internal challenges they’ve faced when budgeting for online products namely whose budget the product is going to be charged to and who knows what products are best for particular users.

Sarah also had some good advice on deciding whether or not to renew a product, suggesting that all products should have a champion. This champion would outline the reasons behind maintaining/renewing a product and would be the first point of contact when it came to negotiating a new price for the product.

After the presentations there was a brief session were attendees could ask the presenters questions, this was followed by the most important part of the evening, drinks and networking. This was a very well attended and certainly worthwhile event to attend. Sally’s presentation was particularly interesting and I hope to see more of what MacFarlanes have done with their Intranet and search application in the near future.