In a massive boost for Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint-based matter and document management solution ES/Unity, National Grid has agreed to be named as one of its first and largest clients, we revealed in the April Orange Rag. ES/Unity, which launched in March 2017, combines Eversheds Sutherland’s legal experience with Repstor’s case, document and email manager, called Repstor Custodian.

Custodian is built exclusively for the Office 365/SharePoint platform, offering native integration with Microsoft Office and incorporating reporting and analytics from Microsoft BI. Mo Ajaz, National Grid’s group head of legal operational excellence, told Legal IT Insider: “We needed a matter management system and didn’t have the budget or inclination to go to the ones already on the market. The push for me was that we wanted something that people recognise and would be easy to work with – something that sits on top of SharePoint makes that easier to overcome. Then taking SharePoint and bespoking it to create legal tailoring takes a lot of the work out of it, so bumping into Eversheds made that quote easy.”

Ajaz adds: “ES/Unity essentially talks to Outlook. It’s a repository for files and documents and we are able to share documents and we are able to co-create and work on documents together. The drag and drop functionality was painful before but this time it works really well. When you send an item, it lists the possible folders and you can put it into a folder you want. 

“This is a really good way of storing the latest documents and working on them and it avoids the risks of people putting stuff in their personal folders. It’s quite intuitive and Eversheds has done a pretty good job of supporting us.

“The thing in the headlights here is the ability to integrate with our existing infrastructure. The fact that there was a consultancy arm available to support us is key and the model generally works well: we’ve had a ridiculous amount of success results.”

Evidence of this success is demonstrated in a follow-up user survey by National Grid, in which 87% of the legal team at the British multinational electricity and gas utility company said their experience of ES/Unity and the new way of working was ‘excellent’ and the remaining 13% were very positive too. “Everyone is very happy,” Mo says. “Collaboration is very good, there’s improved visibility of where things are and what is happening, and people are working well and retrieving matter related content easily.”

As a result, National Grid’s risk and head of investigations have now also rolled out ES/Unity, and the company secretary’s office, property and other departments have expressed an interest too. “Having seen how easy ES/Unity has been to adopt, enthusiasm has spread across the business,” Ajaz says.

The news will be good news for many in-house teams and law firms looking to leverage their existing Microsoft stack. While traditionally on premises SharePoint DMS have failed thanks to a number of reasons not least the sheer amount of customisation that has been required, its use as a component of Office 365 – which coincides with the legal sector’s slowly growing acceptance of storing their data in the cloud – is changing the game.

Sheila Gormley, director of business development at Repstor, said: “There are several reasons to use Office 365 for matter management. SharePoint has not been adopted for matter centric email and document management because it fails in a couple of key areas: when we speak to lawyers, they live in Outlook. SharePoint takes a lot of customisation to configure to these use cases. We have taken a powerful, secure platform that Microsoft invests literally billions in and we have brought matter centricity to it. Custodian allows you to define and configure your matters and workspaces and integrates into your practice management system if that’s what you need. On the client side it’s able to work in a collaborative way through Microsoft Outlook.”

Repstor’s solution is not confined to the in-house legal market: Eversheds Sutherland is itself going through deployment right now. Other clients include KPMG. Gormley said: “Many large customers are using our software. Legal is a bit unique: effectively there is one player monopolising that document management system space but there is room for others.

“The comparative cost of buying a niche document management system as opposed to an addition to the platform they have already invested in is like night and day; it’s about exploiting your existing investment in Office 365 as opposed to buying a new platform. It’s all about exploiting what our customers have.”

One vendor who works with both document management leader iManage and challenger NetDocuments said: “SharePoint DMS failed because of lawyer expectations but Microsoft has a much stronger offering than in previous years and regardless of what is slapped on top of it, firms aren’t going to care where their repository is if it has a usable front end.

“No-one wants to pay iManage a shit load of money that you could spend on client delivery services. Why wouldn’t you use Microsoft? Office 365 isn’t perfect, but it works well and it’s getting better.”

National Grid will give a presentation about its experience of deploying and using ES/Unity at AIIM Forum UK 2018 on June 20th in London.  Register to attend here.

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