Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wolters Kluwer (Finally) Launches "Cheetah" Research Platform: Usability, Workflow and Context Drive New Design

Cheetah may hold the record for traveling the longest runway from product preview to rollout. I first wrote about Cheetah in a post "Can Wolters Kluwer Get Its Groove Back?", back in December of 2013. At that time  the product had been in development for years and I believed that release was imminent. In July 2014 the Wolters Kluwer booth at AALL was one of the most buzz-worthy exhibits and almost everyone in the exhibit hall was sporting Cheetah design sunglasses. Even though Cheetah generated a lot of interest, Wolters Kluwer executives were not ready to launch.They continued to drive enhancements in design and functionality. Greg Samios, who was appointed CEO of Wolters Kluwer Law & Business In August 2014 offered this comment on the design strategy. “Our goal was to create the kind of simple, elegant, seamless experience that is comparable to our customers’ favorite consumer websites. We specifically designed Cheetah in close collaboration with our customers to create a product that supports and streamlines their legal research workflow." 

The Cheetah Dashboard

The Recap Cheetah was developed to replace the much maligned IntelliConnect platform. Wolters Kluwer brought in high powered tech talent from “The Gartner Group”  and deconstructed and deduped all of their documents and assigned a permanent URL to each document. For the first time Wolters Kluwer could offer a new kind of search capability decoupled from their traditional hierarchical statutory code driven research. Mobility was also a key design consideration. Cheetah is optimized for on-screen reading, blurring line between desktop & e-reader.

The Stealth Launch. In recent months, WK has  undertaken a “soft launch” by making Cheetah available to existing customers. The initial launch of Cheetah includes corporate and securities content. They hope to launch a tax product by the end of 2015.

What's New In Cheetah?  I recently had the opportunity to see the latest version of Cheetah. The platform  is more polished and has some nice features what were not available in earlier iterations. 
  • Aesthetically the colors and design are more appealing
  • Implemented a new dashboard design to improve access to critical, high-value  content — things like Smart Charts 
  • Restructured content to improve discovery of content items  such as Rules, Regulations and Treatises
  • Increased the breadth of the available content by adding new practice areas and expanding the content available on existing practice areas
  • They have added functionality to allow users to easily search across things like selected jurisdictions or specific content items (e.g., search across Folk and Balotti)
  • Improved the search experience  by allowing users to easily append and remove search terms to their queries
  • Improved tracker, newsletter, and daily sign-up/management to make it easier for users to access these features.
Workflow Informs Design. In designing the Securties Platform. WK observed and interviewed securities practitioners. As the results of this feedback they identified 3 separate Corporate and Securities subspecialties which require access to different types of securities materials based on their workflows. Those topical clusters include: Governanace & Complaince, Litigation & Enforcement and Transactional. This approach signals and important alignment with law firms' strategic focus on maximizing efficiency.
 Context is King. Some of the features I especially like, are those that provide associates with a passive tutorial experience, and which provide important contextual guidance.

  • Blue book citation format displays adjacent to the text
  • Entities and roles searching so you can focus on the law that applies to certain entities e.g. board member of a benefit corporation
  • Contextual orientation. Since Cheetah searches across all types of legal content, it labels the material type: statute, regulation, caselaw. I think this type of “tutorial orientation is especially important for younger lawyers. One of the benefit of learning research in books is that your brain experiences the different ways that content is organized. On a computer all of the content is normalized and it is less obvious that regulations and statutes arise from different legal processes and have different weight.
  • Users can easily search across the firm's entire subscription or just within a selected Practice Area.
  • The Table of Contents presentation  reflects the structure of document, Users have access to the Table of Contents from anywhere in the document, which eases navigation to any section or chapter.
  • The Search Scope panel allows users to filter by Document Type, Jurisdiction, Court, Governing Acts or Entities/Roles.
  • They have added a customer feedback feature! Since all digital products are “works in progress” it makes sense

Cheetah clearly labels document types.

Can Cheetah Outrun the Competition? The 2015 ALM Legal Intelligence Law Librarian Survey reported that cost recovery for online research systems such as Lexis and Westlaw has reached an all time low. Cost recovery dropped more than 10% from 2014 to 2015. This trend might represent an opportunity for Cheetah to chase as firms explore ways of migrating lawyers to a lower cost, high quality, no-billback systems.

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