Kraft Canada digs into document management

Kraft Canada‘s legal department has come up with its own document management recipe: Consult one like-minded enterprise, add technology and serve.

The Canadian arm of one of the world’s largest branded food and beverage companies

got even bigger three years ago when its parent acquired Nabisco Ltd. The consolidation meant that the local operations of both firms doubled almost overnight. It also meant double the paperwork, particularly in its legal affairs department, where an old PC Docs implementation had failed to manage its data effectively.

“”It wasn’t mandatory, it could be turned off, and the person who had really championed it had left,”” says Kelly MacGregor, Kraft Canada’s senior counsel. “”We had always had the usual paper overload — which is part of being lawyers — but we found with acquisition that we had hit the brick wall.””

Like many organizations, Kraft thought the best way of scaling that wall would be the formation of a small committee to assess its document management needs, then approach the appropriate consultants and vendors. Once discussions began, however, MacGregor said there was confusion over vocabulary. To MacGregor, for example, a “”document”” refers to a letter or memo, while a “”file”” refers not to an item stored within a word-processing program but a physical file folder organized by a predetermined numbering system. Even once they were speaking the same language, MacGregor said many vendors found the group of approximately 15 lawyers too small to justify the cost of a consultant.

“”They were always enthusiastic until they learned how (small) we were,”” he said. “”They were polite, but they clearly lost interest at that point.””

That’s when one of Kraft’s committee members, a former administrative assistant at Toronto-based Blake, Cassels & Graydon, remembered a popular document management system she had used at her old office. Martin Fingerhut, senior partner at Blakes, said Canada’s sixth-largest law firm had gone through some of the same technology headaches, and was prepared to offer some on-the-fly consulting expertise as a special service.

“”It’s not the usual relationship you have with a client,”” he said. “”It was an opportunity to cement the bonds a little more.””

Through interviews with Kraft legal staff, the two companies modelled an implementation of Hummingbird software on the same system Blakes had created more than five years ago. This time around, MacGregor said the firm spent much more time on training and making it an integral part of the department’s workflow.

“”If you want to work in documents on your computer and you want to save them, you’ve got to save them in the system,”” he said.

Fingerhut said Blakes has already had at least one other call from a client about following in Kraft Canada’s footsteps, though there are no immediate plans to create an IT practice.

“”I don’t see that at this stage as a sort of new core competency as opposed to a way to assist client in ways that traditionally haven’t been done,”” he said. “”That maybe gives you a competitive advantage.””

MacGregor said the system, which has been in place for about a year, is also being used by corporate and government affairs within the firm.

“”Lawyers are always pressed for time,”” he said. “”It works for Blakes, because it just helps them be more productive and bill more to their clients, and for us, it truly gives us more time to do the things we need to do.””

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