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Celebrating Collaborative Innovation with BDO and NSerio (and 3 Tips for Building Better Relativity Apps)

Sam Bock

“When you empower legal professionals with an understanding of their data, you empower them to make better decisions,” Daniel Gold, managing director of BDO’s e-Discovery Managed Services practice, recently told me.

“An open and constant feedback loop between business stakeholders and a development team is critical to ensure an application has a clear value proposition,” added Phil Hennessy, VP of sales at NSerio.

Daniel has a lot of passion for collaboration and transparency in e-discovery. And for good reason: strong partnership is a well-paved path to success in this field, after all.

You can spot that success in the way internal teams cohesively work together to stay ahead of the curve; in how those teams collaborate with outside counsel and service providers to tackle even the most intimidating matters; and in the innovations that are born when these experts connect with capable developers to solve new challenges in creative ways.

An example of the latter scenario is Athenagy™, a Relativity application developed by BDO and NSerio. According to Daniel, Athenagy is “a first-of-its-kind, innovative solution that provides corporate legal departments with critical insight throughout the litigation lifecycle. The app presents users with intuitive dashboards showing where data resides and how it is used, from the moment a legal hold is initiated all the way through to analysis, review, and production.”

Designed to enable better collaboration between BDO and their managed services clients, Athenagy is itself the product of collaboration—specifically, between Daniel’s team at BDO and Phil Hennessy’s team at NSerio, a Relativity developer partner. The application has up-leveled BDO’s offering to their clients, reinforcing the support and transparency that keep project teams productive, effective, and happy.

Because submissions for the 2021 Innovation Awards are now open, I asked Daniel and Phil to help our team inspire aspiring app builders (like you!) to create new solutions and send them our way for a chance at winning an Innovation Award this fall. Read on for their advice—and evidence of its usefulness from Athenagy’s origin story.

Tip #1: Set a firm foundation by pressure testing your ideas for a new application.

Phil had some great tips for how any team can identify development opportunities to support and simplify their everyday work. To begin, he said, simply “identify any gaps in processes, manual pain points, or other areas that can gain efficiency through the application of technology.”

Phil also advised gathering input from a diverse group of people who could find these opportunities and help brainstorm solutions.

Next, for every great idea, be sure you’re asking some important questions to evaluate its feasibility and the potential ROI of building a bespoke solution for it:

  • Will the application benefit a lot of people? Can we solve a broadly recognized problem and open up some new business opportunities by offering it?
  • Is market research needed to determine the viability of the solution? What, if anything, already exists to tackle this problem, and how might we improve upon it?
  • Is there an opportunity to gather requirements and feedback directly from end users? Will our colleagues in the field or beta testers within our existing clients be willing to get involved?

For Daniel, the idea behind Athenagy was years in the making: “The app has been a passion project I’ve had on my whiteboard for a couple of years now. What inspired me was my authentic passion to help corporate legal professionals take back control over their e-discovery data so they can achieve better business outcomes. Having been in this space for so long, I knew there had to be a better way. Because of the innovative culture at BDO and the team at NSerio, we were able to make this dream a reality.”

But agile ideas can be quite viable, too—and the time to start spinning them up is now.

Tip #2: Lean on the expertise of your partners and peers.

Once a solid idea is on the table, the next step is to visualize its execution. Does your team have the skillset to create a Relativity application in-house? Can the folks who have these skills be given the necessary time to devote to the project? And can the people with first-hand experience managing the challenge you’re trying to solve stay plugged into the development process, too?

“Involve as many stakeholders as possible to ensure broad applicability of the solution and a clear value proposition,” Phil advised. Certainly there are projects for which having too many cooks in the kitchen can slow progress. But in the case of app development, inviting many perspectives into the conversation can help ensure a well-rounded solution that’s helpful to a wide audience and enables “doing more with less” on your team.

For this reason, it’s critical to be open to input from experts from across your organization. They can advise on what they’d like to see in your solution, and how they could make the most use of your development efforts.

And if you don’t have the development chops—or the time—to build something from scratch yourselves? Don’t sweat it. That’s what our developer partners are here for.

“Ultimately, I decided to work with an external developer partner because I wanted to work with a development team who had a very specific focus and expertise on how to take a vision and execute,” Daniel recalled. “Hiring NSerio was the easiest decision I made during this process.”

Tip #3: Build feedback loops into every step of the development of your app, and don’t overlook the little things.

Whether you’re building in-house or working with a partner, some of Daniel and Phil’s most essential advice was to never hand off a project to be completed in a silo and then handed back to the ultimate end users.

At every step, developers and case teams must work closely together to ensure the end product is not just sufficient, but stellar.

This means discussing everything from feature prioritization, to minimum viable requirements, to scope and budget adjustments, to user experience and design considerations.

“We combined our substantial end user and design experience with Daniel’s business expertise to deliver Athenagy to the market,” Phil explained, and it was that combination of skills that made Athenagy what it is today.

For Daniel, no stone went unturned from start to finish on this project.

“The NSerio team can attest to my intense focus on the smallest of details—all the way down to how much shadow was under a dashboard's widget, and my desire to have all of the icons match RelativityOne's icons and the fonts and colors match BDO's branding,” he said. “I'm glad the NSerio team has a great sense of humor and patience!”

Stay close to the folks you looped into the brainstorming phase and ensure they get hands-on with your solution as it’s in development. Invite their feedback and put it into action wherever possible. It might mean a lot of effort and fine-tuning, but it’s sure to pay off in the end.

Bonus Tip: Share your excitement about your creation.

After putting so much thought into your solution, don’t be hesitant to put it in the spotlight.

For one thing, you’ve earned the right to share what you’ve accomplished—and the creativity you put into it.

Take Daniel’s excitement for how Athenagy got its name: “The name pays homage to Athena, the Greek goddess of knowledge and wisdom, since that is what we are emulating,” Daniel shared about his inspiration for the app. “If you put together Athena's name with the word ‘technology,’ you get Athenagy.”

Nuggets like that showcase the attention to detail and the thoughtfulness that will make your app not just useful, but memorable—and marketable. Giving your application pride of place, evangelizing it across your firm and client base, will encourage adoption—which will ultimately make room in your organization’s budget and priority list for its continuous improvement.

Submit Your App for a 2021 Innovation Award

Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.