In Get the Picture yesterday, the Wall Street Journal explored the application of visualization software to gaining a better and deeper understanding of business problems. I wonder if law firms could use the type of visualization software the article describes to manage both their business and their knowledge. 

The article explains that a range of businesses – examples include a mobile phone vendor, pharmaceuticals maker, and corporate bond trader – use visualization software from vendors such as Fractal Edge, Antartica Systems, Panopticon Systems, and Inxight Software to visualize business data. By taking large quantities of data and displaying them visually, business managers are better able to spot trends, analyze workloads, and identify exceptions.

While it would take some experimentation, it strikes me that law firms could use visualization software. On the management side, firms face large quantities of data, both about their clients and their timekeepers. Perhaps visualization software would help quickly identify clients with payment problems or associates with too much or too little work. It might also help identify trends in the business by practice area. On the substantive side, many firms have created taxonomies to help manage knowledge. Applying visualization software to the number of documents by taxonomy node (perhaps including data about authors) would help identify areas “to mine and manage” for knowledge management purposes.

Visualization techniques are already in use to analyze the large volumes of data generated in electronic discovery. For example, vendors Attenex and Cataphora both provide interesting visualization tools to help understand, manage, and sift through e-data.

I would be curious to hear from readers if they know of any examples of visualization software used to manage firm business or knowledge.