Even before the keynote speech at the iManage ConnectLive conference began, attendees paying attention to social media knew about the biggest news from the company since it became independent from HP: iManage acquired RAVN Systems. The deal closed on the night before the conference began, which left little time for the presenters to prepare a flashy presentation. In fact, during Neil Araujo's keynote, it almost seemed as if the announcement would be relegated to a brief mention, buried among more in-depth sections about Work 10's features.
Chief Scientist and iManage co-founder Rafiq Mohammadi began to explain more about the implications of the acquisition during his portion of the keynote. "Knowledge Management has been a bad experience in legal for a lot of reasons, and one of the reasons is the sheer amount of time it takes to curate good knowledge," he said. "With the robot in RAVN, we can do very effective classification and curation." He went on to outline how the new technology could be integrated into the content creation process, understand the content, and connect it to users who would find it most useful. He also described a contract creation scenario (perhaps due to the amount of time he had just spent in negotiations): "When a 3rd year associate is creating a contract, with the help of RAVN technologies, you can say how far [the contract is] from the company's best practice and then simply come up with a risk measure saying that this particular formulation of assignment clauses are very very far from what's in the best practice libraries."
To elaborate further, Mohammadi brought RAVN CEO Peter Wallqvist to the stage. "I'm new here," Wallqvist joked. "We feel like we're part of the family already, even though we've only been part of it for less than 24 hours. It might be because we've seen the iManage guys more than our actual families for the past couple of weeks. It's been intense, but it's been fun."
RAVN was founded by former Autonomy engineers in 2010, so its management team is certainly familiar with the players at iManage. For those in the audience unfamiliar with RAVN, Wallqvist talked about the company's focus. "When you do a search," he explained, "you usually end up with lots and lots of documents, and then you have to start reading those documents - sometimes re-reading them. So we spent a lot of R&D on actually taking that next step, actually delving into these documents to structure them, and to pick out details so that you didn't have to read them. And when we say 'read', we mean 'routine read'. We don't pretend that we read a book like people do, of course, but we can often read documents as you would instruct someone to do. The reason that we're so complimentary [to the iManage platform] is that we've had a laser-like focus on understanding documents and other types of unstructured data."
That's the key that makes the RAVN acquisition a game changer: now the DMS doesn't just organize and store documents, it can read and understand them. The importance of the fact that RAVN’s AI engine will be integrated directly with the DMS, and be sold by the DMS company, cannot be overstated. No other DMS or AI vendor can offer that yet, which gives iManage/RAVN a distinct first-mover advantage. The implications for the legal market are significant:
Impact on Knowledge Management
For the many law firms and corporate legal departments that struggle to parse the content produced by their attorneys in order to find model documents and best practices, the RAVN engine may be the best tool in their toolbox. Wallqvist did a live demo on the second day of the conference in which he extracted salaries and other data from a small group of disparate employment contracts, and easily presented that data in tablular form. He also cited a case study in which RAVN’s technology reduced the processing time of documents from one hour to one millisecond.
Impact on End Users
There is still much to be decided about exactly how the RAVN technology will be integrated into the iManage software. In a session added to the second day of the ConnectLive conference, it became clear that the teams have some general ideas, but were open to suggestions from the attendees. Neil Araujo confirmed that some RAVN elements would be released as embedded features within the familiar iManage tools, but that there would be a separate AI offering. (This certainly makes sense – we can’t expect iManage to spend a large sum of money on an AI acquisition, then simply give it away to its users.) Integrating AI with the DMS clients will put the power of this technology directly in the hands of users. While it may be beyond the skill set of the average end user to properly harness this kind of capability today, a well-crafted interface can go a long way in minimizing the learning curve. It is also worth considering that the addition of AI may obviate the need to profile and/or tag documents, which would remove one of the significant hurdles to DMS adoption.
Impact on IT
The notion of DMS adoption is not lost on legal IT departments. AI offers a compelling reason to have users store their documents in the DMS instead of in unmanageable file shares. This kind of user training takes time – which may be a blessing because IT staff will need that time to develop their AI skillset.
Over time, the RAVN engine will replace the IDOL search engine, so engineers will need to learn to configure and support that as well. The IDOL technology is still owned by HP, so it should be no surprise that it is not part of the long-term iManage plan. Wallqvist elaborated on IDOL, saying that it was a good search engine for its time, but that RAVN’s search leveraged more modern technology. He also claimed that the newer search would run on a fraction of the hardware required by IDOL.
Impact on the Market
Prior to the acquisition, there were a variety of offerings an iManage customer needed to consider before getting started in AI – now there is only one. This is not to say that RAVN’s solution is necessarily the best for every need, but it does become the de facto choice. This change in the landscape will also put pressure on other legal AI solutions to consolidate and partner with each other to survive in this vertical. It also puts pressure on competing document management systems to come up with their own AI integration, which may spark more acquisitions. There is still room for other AI solutions in the legal marketplace, but they will need to be particularly impressive to compete with the new incumbent. There is also plenty of room outside the legal vertical for AI to thrive, so AI vendors who focus on the legal market now may shift their focus.
It is also worth noting that once RAVN’s AI is integrated into the iManage software, that other software companies may be able to take advantage of it by building upon it. For example, imagine a conflicts solution that is able to determine which clients a firm can and cannot do business with based on an AI-driven review of all the firm’s documents. Or perhaps an AI-driven time-tracking system could flag entries that do not comply with a client’s outside counsel guidelines. To be clear, neither of these ideas has been announced, or even hinted at, so they are pure science fiction at this point. Of course, the same was said of AI not too long ago.
Neil Araujo said it best in closing his keynote: “I sincerely believe that we are entering a new era in how iManage can support your business to operate, to be more secure, to adapt to change faster and to get fundamental gains in productivity that you just couldn’t even imagine before. I’m really excited about the future, and I can feel it in my bones. I hope you are too, and I hope you can see the journey we're taking to get there.”