Allen & Overy is evolving extranet use from collaboration to project management. Mark Dibble, Head of Online Services, and Ruth Ward, Head of Central KM, explain why they chose HighQ, and Caroline Ferguson, Digital Manager, describes how the platform is helping to transform business processes across the firm.

With approximately 5,000 staff and 44 offices in 30 countries worldwide, Allen & Overy is one of the world’s largest law firms, providing legal advice in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

The challenge: developing an effective, user-friendly extranet solution

In 2009 Allen & Overy switched to HighQ’s deal room and extranet platform. Previously, the firm had deployed two consecutive in-house extranet solutions based around a bespoke SharePoint platform. However, these were proving complex to manage and use, so a decision was made to switch to an externally managed service. Mark Dibble, Head of Online Services and Ruth Ward, Head of Central KM explain why HighQ fit the bill.

“We were looking for an enterprise solution which provided the control we needed at the right price together with the ability to open and close deal rooms depending on our requirements. Although a few suppliers offered the secure data rooms that Allen & Overy required for its financial sector clients, most were relatively expensive and focused on supporting huge M&A deals, whereas Allen & Overy was looking for a broader collaborative solution.”

Many of Allen & Overy’s clients are banks and financial institutions, so security and confidentiality are critical factors. HighQ’s close involvement with the financial sector, through their operation of the BLT Portal, and recognised industry expertise made it an obvious choice.

The solution: from document sharing to enterprise collaboration

For Allen & Overy, HighQ represented a different direction – moving from an in-house solution to a managed, cloud-based platform – and its user- friendly next-generation extranets ticked all the boxes. Furthermore, HighQ’s cutting-edge social collaboration and project management features enabled Allen & Overy to move from just operating an online data room environment to investing in an enterprise-grade collaboration tool.

“It’s refreshing to work with a technology supplier whose management combines understanding the industry with deep expertise in social software.”

Mark Dibble, Allen & Overy LLP

Dibble and Ward appreciate the fact that HighQ is amenable to clients helping to drive and shape its products. “HighQ is always learning from the industry and evolving its products to meet lawyers’ and clients’ changing requirements. Allen & Overy, as a long-term client and one that is deeply engaged with the financial sector, has worked closely with HighQ to achieve this.”

HighQ’s iSheets module illustrates this practical, collaborative approach. “We wanted to share more than just documents; we wanted to capture data and metadata – so that people could search for particular information as well as specific documents,” says Dibble, adding that these features were especially useful during the global financial crisis when lawyers used iSheets as a way of capturing the conclusions of various data analysis exercises.

HighQ, and in particular iSheets, has moved Allen & Overy’s extranet capability beyond document management and into project management. As Dibble explains, “iSheets works like an online Excel spreadsheet which can incorporate everything from simple knowledge management and project management to a comprehensive presentation of the entire lawyer-client relationship”.

Caroline Ferguson, Digital Manager involved with setting up sites in Dealroom (which the firm have named their instance of HighQ Collaborate) and promoting the use of HighQ’s platform across the firm, describes the benefits of iSheets in more detail: “iSheets offers one version of the truth accessible by all parties involved in a deal. Everyone inputs into one dynamic document, instead of one massive Excel spreadsheet that gets emailed back and forth. It’s a much more efficient way of working.”

“It is particularly helpful for client communications such as cross-border surveys,” Ferguson explains. “A&O offices can create online questionnaires in iSheets and give clients information about which laws and regulations apply to them. Clients see a summary view with relevant information, and A&O offices can see the whole suite of information that has been inputted. It is a good way of gathering information and presenting it as well.”

The result: HighQ enhances client collaboration

Allen & Overy’s client collaboration and community sites have been particularly successful, and Ward attributes that partly to HighQ’s policy of involving clients at an early stage in the product development lifecycle – sufficiently early to incorporate their feedback and priorities.

Each site is tailored to a particular purpose, which could be a deal, project, client or a practice or project group, and can incorporate a selection of different modules depending on the purpose, such as blogs, wikis, tasks, events and activity streams. “The sites are built in a modular fashion and each module works independently and in different combinations, enabling us to select the best combination for each particular site,” explains Ward.

Ward highlights five ways in which HighQ social deal rooms benefit users and administrators:

1. Ease of use – simple, straightforward user interface and functionality

2. Ease of set up and configuration

3. Absolute security and control over participants

4. Flexibility – the ability to select and combine modules for different uses

5. Seamless integration between different components

“All social media and collaboration tools stand or fall by how easy they are to use,” says Ward. “HighQ works for users with limited experience of social tools as it offers straightforward user management and visibility; it works for more experienced users as it meets all their expectations in terms of social software.”

Ferguson describes how users are engaging with one another using the social tools. “Blogs are great for creating conversation, particularly before conferences and events, where users post information and engage with one another in the comments. The blogs are used to set the agenda and keep the conversation going afterwards.

They are a great alternative to having meetings or sending emails where only the people who receive it see it. This is a much more open way of proceeding with projects.”

Social engagement within the platform didn’t come naturally for all users at first, explains Ferguson. “It took a while for momentum to build, but when two keen users took on the roles of Community Managers for one particular site, A&O Exchange, they seeded conversation, kept the site active, and kept content live, and now there are multiple posts daily from people across the network.”

The conclusion: Building relationships and boosting engagement

HighQ was a good fit for Allen & Overy because it had developed long-term contacts and relationships across the financial sector. “HighQ is small enough to be focused on our particular requirements and those of the industry, but sufficiently sophisticated to develop effective products that deliver what we need,” says Ward.

Ferguson sees first-hand the benefits of HighQ’s technology throughout the firm. “Dealroom is becoming a differentiator for us in pitches. We’re getting partners to share success stories when they’ve won a piece of work. We’re working hard to expand the use of Dealroom across the firm. We have pockets of genius in the organisation of people using Dealroom, and there is lots of potential when it comes to systemic adoption across the firm.”

“HighQ’s management is clearly committed to excellence and dedicated to ensuring that all their customers make the best possible use of their products.”

Mark Dibble, Allen & Overy LLP

Ward and Dibble appreciate having ready access to HighQ’s senior management. “It’s refreshing to work with a technology supplier whose management combine understanding of the industry with deep expertise in social software,” says Dibble, who is impressed by the fact that although HighQ is growing at a healthy rate, it remains extremely close to its client base and is proactive in sharing ideas and experiences and applying them to the task in hand.

“We’ve been on a great journey,” Ferguson concludes. “We’re developing our products, we’re enhancing the value that we can deliver to clients, and we’re building the robustness of how we can leverage this further. By embracing technology we are able to deliver a better service to clients, be more productive and profitable, and have happier lawyers.”

About HighQ

HighQ is a leading provider of secure document exchange and team collaboration software. We provide innovative collaboration and publishing products to some of the world’s leading law firms, investment banks and corporations. We uniquely combine secure, enterprise-grade document management with the best corporate social tools. Now you can securely exchange critical business information and collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners in one unified space.

About Allen & Overy

Allen & Overy is a leading global law firm with 39 offices in 27 countries. If there’s one thing that sums up the way we go about serving our clients it’s our belief that outstanding things happen when the best minds work together. In the 80 years since Allen & Overy was founded, we have created a collaborative culture where talented individuals, working together, can truly flourish and achieve great things.