Shepherd and Wedderburn has created a widget platform, MyShepwedd, which allows users full control of the content they see on their home page. This marks the first time the firm has allowed users as much freedom to decide which content they consume.
MyShepwedd has been developed internally with no capital cost and using existing resources. Our development team has designed the platform to be quick, lightweight and to run well even on low-specification machines. The platform is built using PHP for the application code, Microsoft SQL Server as the backend database and AJAX and jQuery to perform the functionality without the use of page-reloads.
The platform hosts a set of widgets that can connect to any of our enterprise systems either directly through SQL, or through the use of Web Services to extract appropriate, relevant data from these repositories. Users are given the ability to customise the display of these widgets further through widget-level options. This can be as simple as determining the number of rows of data to display, or more complex filtering based on a number of criteria, including location and practice group.
Examples of current widgets come from a number of our systems – financial management, CRM, knowledge resources, current awareness – include recent matter worked on, WiP alerts, CRM updates as well as external content such as news and weather feeds. The widgets are user-aware so are able to bring back information of direct relevance to the currently logged-in user based on their geographic location, practice group, rank or profit centre – for example matters the user has recorded time on, changes or notes against contacts they know, or location based office events. We have found that this increases the usefulness to the end user, as they don’t have to sift through data that is of little interest to them to get to what they need.
We have retained control over a limited number of widgets in order to allow the firm to push important, firm-wide content to users.
As part of this project, we have taken the opportunity to implement Microsoft Search Server Express, again at little capital cost. For the first time, this has enabled end users to search across all enterprise repositories to find information that may otherwise have remained hidden. The filtering capabilities this provides have proved popular with users allowing them to perform a search and then refine it to display accurate, concise results. Through extensive customisation of the search results, we have been able to enhance the display of results based on its source. This allows access to a number of actions. Matter based results, for example, allow actions such as summaries of both the matter and client, quick access into the CRM system to contacts for that organisation and direct entry to our financial system for that matter. These actions have combined to save considerable fee-earner time locating information.
The goals of this project were three-fold:
- Highlight the vast array of information we, as a firm, hold electronically, and make better use of it to aid our transactional work;
- Increase the efficiency of end users’ day to day work by giving them ready access to information they need on a regular basis;
- Create a platform on which we can build in the future.
Results and feedback
Since the platform was launched firm wide, feedback has been universally positive. As expected, younger members of the firm have taken to MyShepwedd very quickly and have been actively customising their pages to suit their needs. As a whole, take up has been high with around 70% of end users customising their pages from the standard template pushed to all users on launch within the first month.
Analytics tracking page loads have fallen since fewer clicks are required to locate relevant information. Correspondingly, the number of user sessions have increased showing that users are spending more time interacting with firm information using MyShepwedd as a base.
Significant production and distribution cost savings have been made through a number of hard-copy management reports being pushed electronically using widgets to appropriate staff with security inherited from our practice management system. This has resulted in reduced printing costs for weekly and monthly reports that are now pushed electronically.
Feedback sessions have garnered interesting feedback both on how end users are using the platform, and to efficiencies it is creating. Giving users the ability to customise their intranet experience has enabled some staff to become more productive as they spend less time trawling firm systems for information relating to their matters. For research too, time has become more productive through our Search Server Express implementation as there is not a single place to search all information silos. Within the search results page, the ability to perform the same search on external sources such as PLC, WestLaw and LexisNexis has proved valuable both from a time perspective as well as from a risk management point of view.
Time was spent before launch liaising with partners and knowledge champions in each practice group to ensure that content provided by widgets was useful to them, and to gather views on additional content that would benefit their daily working life. Additionally, we spent time scoping what each practice group would like to see on day one as their standard set of widgets which proved effective in gaining valuable buy-in at all levels of the firm.
Partner Joanna Boag-Thomson comments “It’s great, we’re very excited about the delivery of information in this widget based format”.
The MyShepwedd platform has been live for one month and already we are witnessing significant benefits in terms of information usage and access, but also in terms of requests for new content to be made available in widget form. Usage statistics from the first month of operation suggest that end users have grasped the concept and are willing to buy-in to it and use the platform to improve their access to information to help their working lives.