In this edition of TechWatch, we’ll be talking about the new Microsoft employee experience platform, Viva. We’ll also be taking a look at a new hosting platform for law firms based on Amazon Web Services rather than the usual public cloud approach of using Microsoft Azure. Finally, we’ll be looking at a product for eDiscovery.
We’re always keen to see the latest Microsoft innovations and have followed with interest its very recent announcement regarding the Viva platform. Microsoft has touted this as the first employee experience platform that brings tools across engagement, learning, wellbeing and knowledge discovery into Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams.
This is no doubt a strategic reaction to the now not-so-new normal we’re seeing in working approaches across the globe. Firms have faced challenges onboarding new colleagues who have never met their colleagues in person yet need to ensure that the culture of the firm remains intact.
Microsoft Viva currently has four specific areas:
- Microsoft Viva Connections
- Microsoft Viva Topics
- Microsoft Viva Learning
- Microsoft Viva Insights
The functionality for some of these areas is still being rolled out to customers. Just two of the modules – Viva Insights and Viva Topics – are currently available for use; although they are not entirely new and have already been available to use before Viva was announced.
I think it’s fair to say that what I’ve seen so far of Microsoft Viva is that it consists of repackaged/repurposed functionality. That being said, it doesn’t make it any less useful.
Viva Topics addresses an issue many law firms will be familiar with – making information accessible to staff when they need it. Viva Topics uses Microsoft Artificial Intelligence to search the Microsoft 365 environment and index content to automatically create specific ‘topics’. Essentially, a topic is a phrase or term that is significant within the business and has resources related to it. For example, in law firms it might be a project name (e.g. Project Mandarin) that would then be identified and become a named topic. Every mention of the topic name would be highlighted and when clicked on, the user will be taken to a page containing all content relating to that project (topic).
This is essentially using the same SharePoint Syntex technology we spoke about in the last Tech Watch article, albeit specifically purposed for the Microsoft Viva environment.
The other area currently available is Microsoft Viva Insights. Again, this is not exactly new technology but built on the previously available Insights tool.
Viva Insights is accessible through Microsoft Teams by adding the Insights app. Once added, it allows you to review commitments made to others and requests made by them. You can also book out ‘focus time’ – time between calendar commitments where you can allocate time to pay attention to specific projects or learning.
There are some useful aspects to Insights, but it does have its limitations. Using AI, it can identify where you have received requests and made commitments via email. For example, if you have committed to a colleague that you will ‘send the information tomorrow’, Insights will remind you of this commitment. Likewise, if a colleague has made a request (e.g. ‘Can you please resend that document?) you will also be prompted to confirm that the action has been completed.
This can be very handy, but the AI isn’t perfect. I’ve noticed that text as email footers can be mistaken as a request (e.g. Please respond immediately by email if you have received this email in error …). Neither does it really seem to know when you’ve responded to colleague requests. But even with these teething problems, it can still be useful and I’m sure the AI will be fine-tuned over time.
Law Firm Anywhere
Moving away from Microsoft and on to Amazon I was intrigued to speak to Moore Technology and its new Law Firm Anywhere hosting solution. When so many IT providers are offering cloud hosting solutions using Microsoft Azure, it was interesting to find a provider that is taking an alternate path. Moore Technology is an AWS Amazon Partner Network (APN) Consulting Partner and can provide a complete hosting solution for law firms using Amazon Web Services (AWS).
AWS doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a hosting solution when thinking of law firm needs. However, if firms are looking to migrate their on-premises systems to the cloud or move to a new cloud solution from their existing one, AWS has a number of out-of-the-box solutions.
For example, Amazon WorkSpaces is a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution that will provide a desktop environment for staff, with prices based on the compute power required on a monthly basis.
One of the strengths of Microsoft Azure is its disaster recovery capabilities and AWS also has a similar offering, known as ‘CloudEndure Disaster Recovery’. CloudEndure Disaster Recovery replicates infrastructure into a staging area; in the case of a disaster, it can automatically launch machines in their fully provisioned state in minutes.
After speaking with Moore Technology, I was impressed by the capabilities of the AWS technology on the face of things and will be interested to see how AWS is able to capture more of the legal hosting market over the next few years.
The final item I’ve paid close attention to this month is a technology that streamlines the process around Data Subject Access Requests (DSAR). There is no doubt that firms have seen a surge in DSARs and whilst these are great from a data transparency viewpoint, they can be extremely time consuming and resource intensive for the organisation receiving the request.
One of the challenges around a DSAR is that they require meticulous attention to detail and need to be undertaken methodically. What is more, data can be distributed across various file systems such as email, file shares and within databases.
Microsoft Advanced E-Discovery is a great tool for firms running Microsoft 365 environments but even so it does have its own limitations. I was interested therefore to hear about the Nuix Discover product.
Essentially, the Discover product will allow you to analyse a variety of data sources, but the real power is around how the data is presented back for analysis. For example, conversations between individuals can be analysed to produce a ‘concept cloud’ showing topic words in a word cloud style format. Conversations can be further analysed to examine the topics contained in discussions between specific individuals. It is this ability to look at the relation between particular data types that can save huge amounts of time in the process.
One of the important aspects of any eDiscovery tool is its ability to perform complex searches. This is where I find the Microsoft Advanced eDiscovery tool to have some strengths and was interested to see what Nuix Discover had in comparison. Nuix also has the ability to build complex advanced searches using a variety of query syntax. These are particularly useful for building up searches based on multiple criteria (e.g. various recipients, date ranges, content types, keywords etc.)
The product also allows you to create standard searches using keyword search terms but will search document meta data as well as document content for those terms. Document lists can easily be filtered to focus only on files matching the defined criteria. Finally, there is the capability to easily export relevant documents to provide the final DSAR result set.
This type of tool is also of use to litigation teams performing extensive eDiscovery, where a methodical and through approach is required.
That’s all for now, stay tuned for the next TechWatch.