As assistant director of knowledge management for the law firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, John Szekeres spends his days looking for ways to leverage intellectual assets.
Within its securities law practice, for example, Cleary was using secure extranets to help clients mark-up and swap confidential documents. Internally, the technology could also help new associates tap in-house “experience databases” on cases.
Szekeres saw them as little more than handy tools to augment the firm’s own internal infrastructure, as well as the staff’s skills.
But since Sept. 11th, when 350 members of the firm had to evacuate their 1 Liberty Plaza offices near the World Trade Center disaster, collaboration technology has been helping them with day-to-day basics of communications, and keeping the work flowing.
After the attacks, the 1 Liberty Plaza employees were scattered to six
temporary locations around the city; others worked from home while the
firm’s tech staff got a backup location in midtown up and running.
“We were lucky in that regard,” says Szekeres. “A lot was replicated to our
disaster site. But the problem was more of communications, not being able to
connect to the outside world (after telecommunications were knocked out).”
Although the tech staff got the network back up at the back-up location within 48 hours, it was sluggish and some critical documents were inaccessible; even memo-drafting was difficult.
“Every hour we were down, that was a lot money going out the door,” he says.
Prior to the attacks, Cleary had been pondering whether to build its own extranet for online deal rooms, but decided to give an ASP model a test-run with IntraLinks, a New York-based company that has been providing online workspaces to the financial services industry for the past five years.
Like its financial services clients that were once housed in the World Trade Center or nearby, “some employees were in temporary offices and basically all they had was a PC, a dial-up modem and a Web browser” to use while they awaited the return of office space, says Andrew Damico, general manager for financial services at IntraLinks.
“Traditionally, most of our clients had been using (IntraLinks) for loan
syndication. This suited many of them while they continued to work from home.”
The IntraLinks workspaces for Cleary quickly moved beyond tools
on test-drive status. They became a lines of communication for everyday functions, starting with Web spaces where attorneys could securely post their (new) contact information, including home and personal numbers that parties and workgroups on a case need at the ready.
IntraLinks had also set up a number of secure Web spaces where the firm’s securities, M&A and real estate practices could post documents for other companies to log in, check-over, mark-up and sign off on.
Intralinks was already experiencing growth with financial services clients due to an increase in distressed loans that needed restructuring, complex deals involving many parties and lots of documents.
But since the attacks, online workspaces have become fundamental to companies such as Cleary, as it looks for ways to keep the work flowing between far-flung staff and prepares to return to its lower Manhattan office on Dec. 3rd.
Damico says most of IntraLinks increase in usage after Sept. 11 involved customers
such as banks that lost their e-mail network and had to find a way to share information electronically.
Between August and September alone, IntraLinks experienced a 33
percent increase in new workspaces created, he says. From Sept. 11 through
October 11, the company created 398 new workspaces, up 28 percent from
its year-to-date average of about 310 new workspaces in the same time
In addition, fewer people are traveling to meetings, which have become increasingly virtual. In one case of a complex loan restructuring, the company videotaped a bank meeting and put it on an IntraLinks work space for other parties involved to view.
Cleary’s Szekeres says he’s not sure how the firm will continue using the online work spaces once it returns to its offices, since he thinks there are only a finite number of uses for the technology in the law sector.
But he also says internal use would be a different discussion, now that 1,000 or so of the firm’s employees in 9 other locations around the globe have found a way to reach and work with their displaced colleagues.
Not bad for a pilot project that started out as a way to capture expertise and avoid “reinventing the wheel,” and turned into a case of rebuilding the wheels that keep the business running.
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