“Knowledge is Power”, Sir Francis Bacon wrote in 1579. Four centuries later in 1957, Peter Drucker wrote: “the most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution….will be its knowledge workers and their productivity”. Though the value of knowledge is clear, methods to “create” and share knowledge inside organisations aren’t widely used. The result is that knowledge workers such as lawyers and bankers have to perform many menial tasks.
To minimise operational inefficiencies, professional services firms have until now, resorted to stopgap, non-technical methods to improve knowledge workers’ efficiency, for instance, by shifting low value added/rote work away from highly skilled employees. Offshoring or outsourcing the work altogether was also a method of choice for some time, and continues to be a preferred option for many. However, when it is not possible to outsource work, separate in-house departments such a “middle office” in banks or a “know-how” team and professional support lawyers in law firms will pick up those tasks.
Technological progress in Artificial Intelligence and specifically in Natural Language Processing/machine learning now facilitate the means to capture knowledge of front office individuals and share it throughout organisations and beyond. The question is how this can be rolled out and best used?
Why has change been so slow? And what can be done about it
Knowledge sharing, such as what is the best clause to use for drafting, or what is “market standard” across the latest 10 deals, is inconvenient. Moreover, it takes up time and may sometimes even run counter to the interest of individuals. From a firm’s perspective, it requires investment in time and a long-term view on the pay-offs.
Widespread knowledge sharing can reduce work duplication, training costs and create higher profitability for a firm. More importantly, it can bring more in depth analysis of single and batches of documents. Document reviews and the need for due diligence can significantly be reduced when documents are turned into Deep Documents.
Technology can now make vast knowledge sharing second nature or even automatic. Before asking how efficient knowledge sharing can be implemented through technological means, we offer five prerequisites:
- Sharing knowledge needs to be easy. Structured, searchable knowledge repositories can be created in the course of normal document drafting and review. Knowledge creation need not initiate separate work for its own sake. Knowledge that is created should directly be accessible so it can immediately improve the workflow and give an edge to employees.
- Knowledge sharing should make work more interesting. Making data readily accessible will allow for more in-depth data analysis. Extracting data currently is seen as repetitive rote work. However, cross document- or cross firm analysis will mean availability of tagged up sections of all documents inside an organisation– which provides powerful management information.
- Creating high quality knowledge should be rewarding. Sharing knowledge is not often rewarded yet and can take a lot of time. Recognition of knowledge sharing activities, both inside and outside a firm, can increase the reputation of both the firm and the individual and encourage more sharing of information.
- On a firm level, taking a longer term view is required to measure a meaningful ROI and making knowledge firms more like data providers to their clients and internally to employees. Prioritization of IT projects is becoming more and more important as a result.
- Extracting and structuring useful knowledge requires sophisticated technology. Augmented Intelligence is growing and should be integrated well in the workflow. It requires an understanding of specific use cases.
In the 21st century professional services firms need to have the tools to easily extract, share and access relevant knowledge that is held in a firm and by individuals. Machine learning and Natural Language processing can help to tag up and create structure in unstructured knowledge that is hiding in documents/folders inside firms.
Knowledge is power in general – for interconnected 21st century organisations it will be vital. The ability to share knowledge effectively across organisations will redefine law firms and other professional services firms alike. It will give the early adopters an edge to provide better service to their clients and has the potential to make them more profitable. Work will become more data driven and analytical and in addition more interesting for the fee-earners – after all who enjoys combing through endless similar documents, when this can be done quickly and efficiently by the imaginative use of technology?
Suzanne Fine is Director of Professional Development at Lex Mundi, former Global Head of Knowledge and Learning at Linklaters, Head of Learning at Hogan Lovells, and teacher in U.K. Law schools.
Eli Luzac is the CEO and founder of TagDox, the world’s first Document Analysis Platform that enables firms and individuals to analyse documents in a collaborative, semi-automated and structured manner.