Law firms use multiple technology systems – practice management, case management, customer relationship management, document management and many more. Each system delivers standalone functionality, but to truly reap the benefits of the various technologies, integrating them to create a seamless flow of data through the organisation is pertinent. Such an approach ensures data accuracy and helps to collectively optimise the individual systems to deliver business efficiency – and maximise the return on IT investment.
We are often asked to help firms link the practice management system to the organisation’s document management solution. Aside from facilitating a ‘single version of the truth’, the approach eliminates duplication of effort. There’s no merit in one user creating a new matter in the practice management solution and another generating the same entry in the document management solution to store the documents when the two can be easily integrated.
If you’re integrating your document management system with another solution, here are some considerations:
Planning planning planning
Understanding the firm’s current business process workflows is a good place to start. This will enable you to determine the objectives of the integration and what the end project must look like, ensuring smooth roll-out and timely implementation. For instance, following an upfront workflow analysis, identify and transcribe on paper if there is a breakdown in the automated flow – i.e. instances where manual intervention is required to complete data-related processes. You’ll then be able to take measures to accommodate those processes within the appropriate workflows as the solution is devised.
User needs are paramount, FULL STOP. They must see the tangible benefits of the integration, so spend time identifying their requirements. For example, will pulling data from a single system be sufficient or should data be bi-directional? It’s all very well building a workflow, but if users need to update multiple systems with the same information, the implemented integration just becomes just an additional cost. User experience must be seamless between the document and practice management and/or other systems – hence eliminate multiple log-on screens. Not only is it distracting and impacts data accuracy, it diminishes productivity.
Cost and goals alignment
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution. There are commercial solutions that deliver a proportion of integration between systems, but if your goal is seamless integration across systems firm-wide; bespoke development is required. So a cost-benefit analysis is advisable.
Bespoke development comes at a premium. Designing, writing, testing, delivering and supporting an application created for your firm alone is expensive. Future development of the solution can be costly too, especially as the technology being integrated with can evolve at a rapid pace. The cost of maintenance and support is high as proprietary technologies develop at different rates, in turn increasing the risk of the bespoke solution becoming unsupportable in the future.
On the other hand, off-the shelf solutions designed with specific integration in mind are comparatively economical to deploy, configure and support. The onus of new releases, product development and updates rests with vendors to provide in a timely manner.
Choosing the right solution (that aligns well with the technology and business objectives) from the right supplier (who has the technical expertise, experience and backing of the solution developer) is likely to ensure a successful, cost-effective and
The ‘right’ supplier
Whether purchasing an off-the-shelf solution or commissioning bespoke development, the supplier greatly impacts the success of your project. When evaluating suppliers, ask them how many similar integrations they’ve done. If you’re going down the bespoke development route, inquire if the solution vendor has integration experience for each application’s API. For instance, as an iManage Work partner, we have the Software Development Kit. It allows us to integrate correctly and produce code which doesn’t affect the software support agreement with iManage. Also, because we use approved methods to integrate the product with other systems, data integrity is ensured.
It’s advisable to take a strategic and long term approach to standalone systems integrations. Choosing the right solution (that aligns well with the technology and business objectives) from the right supplier (who has the technical expertise, experience and backing of the solution developer) is likely to ensure a successful, cost-effective and on-budget project.