A Portal to Action: UBIC’s business intelligence tool lets customers control their project’s destiny

Via UBIC’s Trust Business Intelligence Portal, companies can extract metrics regarding the data they generate to make more informed decisions about staffing, spend, and work flow, both for existing matters and as a historical comparison. Shamir Colloff, CTO at UBIC, describes how the portal has benefited his customers in a variety of ways: reducing email traffic, assessing spend versus hours required, providing common ground between legal and IT departments – even helping UBIC’s own evaluation of the quality of its project management teams. His remarks have been edited for length and style.

MCC: Please give our readers a brief overview of your career in the legal technology space.

Colloff: I started out in this business at Morrison & Foerster, first as a paralegal and then in the Practice Support group, managing e-discovery for large intellectual property (IP) and patent litigations in the Silicon Valley office. Through good luck and connections, I met Andy Jimenez, who was running Evolve Discovery. I joined Evolve Discovery, which has since been acquired by UBIC, as its first director of technology and am now CTO. I’ve been here nine years this December.

I take a consultative approach with customers over how to best use technology for their matters. As of late, I’ve been very focused on business intelligence and how to provide our customers insight into what data they have and how to best use what they have.

MCC: UBIC has a unique product called the Trust Business Intelligence Portal. What is business intelligence, and what business problems can it solve?

Colloff: Fundamentally, business intelligence is the ability to extract meaningful information from the data that clients generate. We use that data to make more informed decisions that are actually representative of what’s happening on projects, what we’re spending, and what we’re doing.

We keep track of, for example, how many users they have on the database, how many hours we’re spending on their projects, how many hours their document reviewers are spending on their projects. The Trust Business Intelligence Portal gives our clients insights and visualizations into their usage.

MCC: How can the portal help in-house law departments develop more effective work flows and manage costs?

Colloff: The portal gives clients the ability to see across the enterprise, and also to drill into an individual project or type of service. They can see how they’re spending their money, either with us or third parties, and use that information to find anomalies and patterns in their data sets.

There’s also a real-time status update function, giving customers a window into our project management organization. They can see the tasks we have in our hands, the status of those tasks, and when we expect to be done with them, and they can track all the communications that have happened around those tasks. This is the meat and potatoes of the portal, allowing customers to become a part of the project management team. One plain and simple benefit is decreasing email traffic. No one likes sending emails to get status updates, and no one likes fielding emails about status updates. The ability to log in and get self-service, real-time status updates on demand puts more power into the hands of the people writing the checks.

Another way that the portal can help in-house legal departments is to compare on an apples-to-apples basis their usage and consumption across different projects with similar legal profiles. Say, for example, a corporation has a portfolio of employment litigation, a portfolio of IP litigation, and maybe one bet-the-farm case every few years. Our system lines up all of the IP cases next to each other, and the client can see pie charts that reflect, for example, how many users were assigned to each of those cases, how many hours were spent, how many gigabytes were processed. It gives them the ability to take a data-
dependent approach in how they select, vet and manage their outside counsel.

There are practice group leaders saying, “I want to know how we are doing across all of the cases I run. Where are we doing well? Where could we improve? What are our strengths and efficiencies?” It’s a race to who’s going to get there first, to understanding their data and being able to use it to make decisions.

MCC: What do clients like about the self-service feature?

Colloff: It gives them the ability to get an update on a request immediately. They log in to the system, and there’s the update, with the history of what’s happened, where we are in the process and our estimated time to completion. Empowering them to get real-time updates gives them the ability to more effectively manage their projects.

We used the tool recently for a firm that had a very large case with us – 500-plus custodians – and there were dozens of requests a day, hundreds of requests a week. At the outset, there was a lot of email, and once we converted the firm to the portal, they only sent an email when they said, “I want to change the priority order. I need to do this immediately, even though I know you’re doing something else now.” Our team was no longer spending a lot of time with back and forth, which wasn’t helpful for the customer or for us either.

MCC: Analytics are key to risk and litigation management. How can this portal help in-house law departments develop the analytics that they need?

Colloff: A lot of the sections in the portal have title headers that start with KPI: key performance indicator. Frankly, KPI isn’t something that a lot of folks in the legal field have experience with, nor is it something, when you’re practicing law, you really have to worry about for now. But we’re trying to distill the usage, spend and work detail down to specific data points that can be repeatedly measured against. A corporation can look at how many users on average should be on a database, how many pages should be printed, how many dollars it should spend on various services. Enabling our corporate customers the ability to identify this information early and then use it in management decision-making is key.

We have a number of customers for whom we develop playbooks for certain kinds of cases, covering the background information on the case; the standard operating procedures for, say, document productions, document review, deposition preparation; the KPIs to report on. The playbook will often include an estimated or expected amount of data and spend. When there’s an excess, we flag it for in-house counsel and ensure that it’s justified, that it’s required to properly handle the case. You can use the portal to display that information for a customer on a self-service basis so they have that information without depending on a monthly report from us.

MCC: Law departments are getting more technology-savvy with the help of business intelligence. What more should or can they do?

Colloff: I really think that having regular meetings with the various stakeholders and reviewing this information is the only way to make it actionable and usable. Our portal lets you download a dashboard to a Briefing Book (in PDF format) to send to a CFO or CLO, whoever you’re dealing with inside a corporation who doesn’t want to be involved on a day-to-day basis but whose input we need. Those conversations should be happening on a regular basis – quarterly, biannual or monthly, depending on the company and the portfolio of litigation they’re dealing with.

At the end of the day, the fancy charts and the colorful graphs are only helpful if they turn into action for a customer. Our role is to help our customers by providing the tools they need, and walking them through these dashboards to enable better decision-making.

A good example is you’ve got five cases, and four of those five cases have active users, but only three of those five cases are in active litigation right now. For that fifth case, you’re paying for users and hosting that you don’t need. You could be in cold storage and have all those users deactivated, and the only reason that hasn’t happened is a disconnect somewhere. The dashboard surfaces that information, and the sooner we can surface it on a regular basis, the sooner we can make decisions that save customers money.

MCC: Please provide some examples in which clients have used the portal to mine internal data, identify business trends, forecast potential risks for the company or make decisions for
the company.

Colloff: One of our customers is a large consulting team that provides discovery management services, and they use the portal to aggregate and analyze all of their spend for their customers. They’re able to look at historical analysis of their spend per quarter, as opposed to the number of cases they have per quarter, and identify anomalies really quickly. Within those anomalies, they can drill into which services they are overconsuming, vis-à-vis their average consumption historically, and use that to decide where they should either try to negotiate better and limit their production scope or, hypothetically, use a managed services model to up their consumption limits to ensure that they don’t have to pay any burst rates.

Here at our company, in fact, we use the Trust portal for our own KPIs and management of our project management organization. We use factors like the number of errors reported as a ratio to the number of milestones managed by a project manager to determine their quality level.

MCC: Relationships between legal and IT can be delicate. Is it time for that to evolve?

Colloff: That’s a very culturally sensitive thing at companies. Some legal departments partner well with IT and are able to coordinate their efforts and reporting. For other companies, IT has a lot of functions, and legal is just one of many, and given that functions are often profit centers, and legal is often a cost center, it can definitely be a challenge to get the appropriate attention and partner properly with the IT organization.

Through the portal, we’re trying to allow our customers to manage their own destiny in terms of their projects and project management. It also gives them common KPIs they can use in instances when IT partners with legal, to guide decisions in a way that makes the most sense. An example is the amount of data collected versus the number of custodians on a project. After having that metric for a couple of projects in a row, you can turn around and ask your peers in other organizations, “What are you seeing as the average collected data size per custodian?” If yours might be higher, you’ve got a defensible story to take back to your IT department and say, “Our peers are seeing this number of gigabytes on average. We’re seeing three times that amount based on this portal. We’d like to work with you to limit how we collect data.” We’re trying to arm clients with information and help them partner in a way that is based on empirical data, instead of just giving it lip service.

MCC: What is the most important priority for leaders and technology experts in corporate law departments as they adopt new legal technology solutions to manage their data?

Colloff: The people running legal in corporate organizations really should be thinking about controlling their own information governance process and understanding what’s happening with their data. That’s as simple as ensuring that they’re using the appropriate sort of security questionnaires and vetting processes when they select external vendors and law firms, or as complex as tools like we’ve been talking about, like the portal.

There’s a tendency to outsource complex challenges, to say, “I’ve got a big, nasty problem. I’ll get a vendor to deal with that.” In some cases, “vendor” is just another word for “scapegoat.” With corporations more and more responsible from the court’s perspective, it’s important that the corporations are more empowered to be that responsible party. If you outsource without managing the process, you can end up in a heap of trouble.

Our differentiator is that this portal is a fully customizable solution. Business intelligence isn’t a new idea, but it’s starting to get some traction. Some people say, “I have BI. I have this one dashboard that gives metrics about the files people are tagging.” Yes, that is BI, and it is helpful, but in a very limited capacity. The reason I think that the Trust portal is a universal solution is that it’s not just a recipe for giving everyone what they want. In other words, the solution is purpose-built. The way we’re set up is to provide each individual customer with a dashboard that meets their specific needs and answers their specific questions. Now, that’s intelligent business.

Published May 5, 2016.