Content Management - Risky Business

Organizations including law firms are obsessed with managing content, and with good reason (1).  We have more of it than ever before, so we deploy document management systems, records management systems, case management systems, human resources information systems, and knowledge management systems, to help us create, accumulate, manage, use, and dispose of information.  It’s impractical not to use these systems – right?   They’re essential to efficient and effective business operations and vital to managing risk.

We often think of managing content from a tactical point of view (how do I find it when I need it) and in a reactive way (the client called with changes, lets find the documents and make edits).  But content management systems are one of the most important risk management tools you have at your disposal. 

Managing risk domains like regulatory compliance, litigation, human resources, conflicts of interest, operational, and ethics, means reaching back to the content we’re managing to assure content management practice aligns with risk strategy and policy. 

Part of this alignment means taking a hard look at ad-hoc processes and transforming these to managed processes.  A working example of where has been implemented is the move to matter-centric document management.  This change has streamlined content intake, improved accuracy, and cascades from the document management system to the records management system. 

For any organization including law firms, efficiency is how we improve profitability and become more effective in areas like customer service, but managing risk is how we stay out of the really hot water. 

Perhaps examining the obvious, here are a few examples of risk domains and their intersection with content management:

·  Operational Risks  
-   Are vendor contracts managed to assure the firm takes advantage of all available discounts?
-   Do you have a way to systematically search all systems for client conflicts?  Is this method documented?
-   Is your pre-billing process entirely paper-free?

·  Client privacy and confidentiality  
-   Does your document management environment make it easy to establish group or ethical wall security?
-   Does it allow only authorized users to remove content from the managed environment?  
-   Are laptops encrypted?

  • Regulatory Compliance. 
-   What is the typical regulatory request and required response time?   Are you confident you can locate the required content on time?
-   What are the unlikely but possible regulatory requests and how will you respond to them?

  • Litigation
-   Can you easily identify relevant content in your document management, email management, records management, and HR information system by custodian?   How long would it take?
-   Can you easily collect, hold, and quarantine, relevant content? 
-   Is your records retention and destruction policy defensible?  Can you assure that it has been applied consistently?  

Attendant to managing the content itself in a “risk-aware” manner, are related issues of continuous user training and assessing their compliance with procedures.  Does everyone in the organization have training on what a litigation hold is and how and why they’re issued and implemented?    Does everyone have training on how your records policy works?  Do you audit employee conformance to the policy?

Content management tools will always be used to deliver important efficiencies that make it possible for the modern business to operate in the information age.  But as the universe of risks becomes wider and more complex, content management solutions also play a role.  The very systems that we use to create, accumulate, manage, use, and dispose of information are the same systems that must help us manage risk.


Why do you use content management solutions?
I submit that it really boils down to three things: efficiencies, effectiveness, and risk management.  Efficiency means lower costs; effectiveness means better organizational execution, and risk management means lower risk.  We’ve discussed risk management, but what about the other two areas?

Given the amount of content moving through and within any organization, it’s obvious that tools are needed in order to operate in a rational and efficient way.  Imagine running a 200 lawyer firm without a document management system?   The simple question of “most recent version” would become an untenable task – and an expensive task.  The task of starting a new document would be almost always from scratch. 

Securing documents would mean endless emails to the network administrator asking for new folders and new groups.  Document management systems make these tasks effortless – and the result is a business that operates more efficiently – and at much lower cost.  Cost savings through efficiency is a key reason we deploy content management solutions.  It’s cheaper to operate with managed content.

Content management systems make us more effective as an organization.  Organizational effectiveness is how well your firm executes on core values like Client Service, Value, or Expertise (or all 3).   The very fact that you’ve implemented these solutions reflects core values like “leveraging content” or “client retention” (through better customer service and competitive pricing).
(1) The Digital Universe Decade – Are You Ready? -  IDC May 2010 IDC iView
.  IDC predicts that “…. by 2020, our Digital Universe will be 44 TIMES AS BIG as it was in 2009.”