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Bindmans, a hundred user firm, tells Citywealth about their tech plans and latest SharePoint intranet implementation

Date: 05 Oct 2007

Citywealth

Kambiz Jahanshahi, joined Bindmans, who have 100 staff, this year in April after a career spanning IT consultancy and a media company called the GB group, where he ran the IT and websites. “I left there in April then joined Bindmans.” Says Kambiz. “It was an interesting time to join because they were undertaking a substantial review of technology. They wanted to digitize their workflow. One of the big projects underway was the launch of an intranet system based around MySQL. After a review, I didn’t think it was user friendly from an admin or end user point of view. It was using the TYPO3 content management tool whilst the firm is moving down the .NET and SQL route. It didn’t really fit in with forward motion.” Kambiz took time out to consult the management committee and canvass opinion within the firm to see what they wanted to achieve with the intranet. “It seemed SharePoint ticked all the boxes so we stopped work on the system we had and bought SharePoint instead.” He says he’d used it before at GB Media so was comfortable with how it worked. “It’s user friendly and it’s the same sort of interface that people are used to with Windows. It was a no brainer for me.”

Although there are many champions for SharePoint in legal, there are some detractors who still believe it’s too complicated for smaller firms to undertake, so I ask about buy-in from the staff. “We have an ongoing training process and at first people are intimidated. They think it seems complicated with a lot of features but people get excited once trained and jump on the band wagon very quickly.”

As to how they manage the content, Kambiz says they spread the work load throughout the firm. “We have two people acting as content editors in their spare time and individuals in different departments have been happy to take charge.” He confirms that he does any technical work and keeps an eye on consistency. As to resources taken up with the project, Kambiz says. “We haven’t allocated any extra resource to the SharePoint intranet, it is not labour intensive.” He adds that Bindmans previously had an intranet “for updating news and policy” but says they didn’t have the same interaction as they do now. “It was a much smaller scale project.”

So the next logical step usually for those implementing SharePoint is to bring other software components into it to allow staff to benefit from everything in one interface and reduce complication. Kambiz says this is likely to happen. “We are looking at CRM systems at the moment. The purchasing hot list includes AiM’s marketing module because Bindmans use their practice management system along with Laserforms. “We are also reviewing Microsoft CRM, Goldmine and there are some others in the mix.” Says Kambiz although he does confess that Goldmine is not a hot favourite.

As a new entrant into legal, the CS Group took over AiM in dramatic style in the last year, so I ask for his view of AiM. “We are very happy with the performance of AiM despite the change in company management. I constantly find new features to work with. It’s great.” He says.

Kambiz explains that Bindmans is in the process of implementing a DM solution based around INVU who were not a vendor I’d heard about. “They are big in the financial sector, user friendly and easy to get to grips with. We launched our test systems last week and it’s integrated into AiM and pulls matter centric documents in. We are looking at INVU to build internal workflows to move documents around.” He adds that this may be a candidate for a SharePoint connector utilizing software like Handshake. “We want a single area where everything is accessible. With INVU if we pass the trial we will go ahead and implement the connectors with their DM system. We want to cut the use of paper everywhere.”

So were the bigger DM vendors considered? “When I joined, both Interwoven and Open Text had been reviewed but to go that route meant a large investment and we would have had to change our working practices.” He echoes a theme that is rising like cream with many IT staff. “I would rather bring a system in to work the way we work, not to force the way we work around it. INVU seems to deliver that.”

Kambiz, who has been in the IT world for seven years, used IT consultants, Concentra for the SharePoint project and is happy to sing their praises. “They seemed to know where we wanted to go.” He says. “Everyone was really impressed by what they were able to offer. We just told them what we wanted and they built it for us. We knew from internal meetings what features we wanted then leveraged their knowledge of this type of project. We were very happy with them.”

And to the elastic topic of implementation times? “Start to finish SharePoint was about a month.” He explains the speed. “Before I started we went through what we needed, then refined the system, we had a consultation and went through with stakeholders about what was required. So in was pretty much done in three weeks.”

Of his move into a partnership structure, which can often take newcomers by surprise, he says the transfer into a law firm was pretty easy. “In media, like law it’s also about managing information, so it’s a very interlinked industry. We worked with a wide variety of media which included video. Law firms will have the same challenges. Everyone is moving away from documents and it’s all going digital. It’s more about managing the volume and enabling users to consume it effectively.” As VM ware is the new big thing, I wonder if it’s on Bindmans agenda? “We are looking at VM ware because we have a number of small servers working on sole tasks taking up space.”

Other projects on the list for review are diary management systems, core infrastructure changes whilst the office is under renovation, remote working and consolidation of current systems. “We have a large number of small servers taking up space that we would like to lose.” Kambiz says extranets for clients are also a goal for next year. “We want to publish bills, have clients see progress on matters and accept documents by secure intranet linked to the DM.”

So in the big is beautiful but smaller is more agile does Kambiz think that SharePoint is helping smaller firms lift their status? “I think SharePoint is really helping us raise our game. Its extremely powerful and if you wanted to have it custom built it would cost a fortune but off the shelf, SharePoint does what you really need it do.” His peer support group from his media days includes developers at Westlaw and Sweet & Maxwell “I get to meet their tech guys and get information on how other firms are doing things.” He says, then makes an important point for legal aid firms. “There are changes in legal aid which mean law firms are having to be more efficient. We can use technology to bring overall operation expenses down. It will take away chunks of cost for archiving information if everything is stored in digital libraries. I think law firms are realizing it’s a route they have to go down. Smaller firms have to be as efficient as possible.” He adds that Sweet and Maxwell are looking into digital paper solutions including sending resources out to fee earners on the road for downloadwithout a laptop with links into DM systems.
As to the tech team at Bindmans, there are two staff which includes Kambiz on the implementation side and a second member who runs the support and help desk. “We call on some of the PA’s and IT responsible staff in the firm to take on support, then we have team leaders here who are senior content managers.”

For firm wide IT projects, decision making starts with Kambiz, then goes to a working group to identify requirements, a spec’ is created and the partnership get final sign off. Although smaller schemes don’t need to run this route and day to day, as you would expect, decisions are made by Kambiz.

And a final word on SharePoint? “Staff morale has really improved because it’s given everyone a chance to contribute to something within the firm. We are in the middle of an office renovation but our office manager is keeping the office updated about improvements with photos and work information. It’s making people happier and they feel more connected.”

Www.bindmans.com
www.invu.net/
www.concentra.co.uk/

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