The hype and buzz surrounding artificial intelligence, lawyer robots, machine learning and predictive analytics in Legal is often times unbearable. Especially, when compared to the legal reality that this type of early adopter, nouveau tech is still in its infancy. Contrast this to document management systems (DMS), one of the most traditional, standard, yet mission critical applications within any law firm.
In this edition of "Legal Influencers Weigh In" we go under the hood with DMS. Specifically, we will drill down and deep on a recently completed DMS implementation survey and share commentary from some of legal's sharpest DMS minds. Also, anyone reading our corresponding feature ["Making Your DMS Migration (Relatively) Painless"] in the July/August issue of Legal Management will hopefully be able to connect the dots when it comes to DMS success and failure.
On premise, client-server DM systems have been around legal for 30 years and even native cloud-based solutions date back to 1999. Yet, still, after all this time one of the biggest challenges law firms as well as their legal technology business partners face is successfully navigating the DMS implementation, be it a new purchase, swap out or existing system upgrade.
Problems arise and DMS implementation survival is at stake, whether implemented internally by the firm; in collaboration with a business partner; fully outsourced to a DMS implementation partner or left up to the DMS vendor and their full service (from sale to implementation, training and firm ‘go live’) delivery. Why is that? What forces are in play that makes the DMS upgrade/DMS implementation the perpetual pain in legal IT’s, and especially firm users’, you know what?
Who better to ask then the experts? For the purposes of this post and my Legal Management DMS feature, I reached out to the leading minds (and hands) when it comes to legal DMS implementations, migrations, upgrades and the like. Our panel consisted of 21 experts, with a total of 2,848 law firm DMS projects under their belts, representing 16 of the leading DMS implementation, support, training, design, configuration and software solution providers. We asked the panel to complete a short survey focused on DMS deployment types; DMS implementation provider selection; tips for successfully navigating a DMS upgrade; and top reasons why DMS implementations (still) fail.
Looking toward the cloud
In order to provide an adequate technology baseline, we asked our experts, who collectively serve a broad range of small, medium, large, mega and global firms, to state the type of DMS projects they had been involved with over the past 12 months. 95% had worked on cloud-based DMS implementations followed by 71% involved with on-premise DMS to cloud DMS upgrades versus 57% busy with on-premise implementations. The bottom-line ... law firms of all shapes and sizes are embracing the cloud, especially when it comes to DMS.
DMS selection survival
Selecting the right DMS service provider is nothing to scoff at. Its critical firms do their due diligence and ask the important, sometimes uncomfortable questions before it’s too late. According to our expert panel, the top five attributes and qualities to look for in a DMS implementation partner included: reputation (86%); peer feedback/what are other firms saying (76%); track record (71%): overall value (67%) and cloud experience (57%). In addition, several respondents cited the importance of finding a technology and business partner that is knowledgeable in the areas of Information Governance; change management; system design; user experience; cloud-based security, and possess the technology certifications and credentials to back this all up.
DMS implementation success
When asked to provide vital tips for navigating a successful DMS implementation, some of our experts focused on the importance of project planning, overall communication between firm and business partner teams, and achieving executive project buy-in. Kraft Kennedy’s Brian Podolsky, it's NY office Practice Leader, takes the notion of buy-in a step further: “Be sure to involve your attorneys and staff in some of the user interface and workspace designs, to ensure their workflows are considered and their ideas are heard.”
Others stressed the importance of user adoption, DMS usability and designing DM systems with adoption at the forefront. “With cloud services, the focus is now on designing for adoption and getting full value from the platform,” stated Joshua Fireman, Fireman & Company’s founder/president, and a recognized thought leader in areas such as knowledge management, change management and system design. “System design should involve IT and KM and include input directly from lawyers.”
Related to user adoption is user training. Most survey responses mentioned the need for training, pre, go live, and post, and the necessity to increasingly plan and budget for additional training to support the firm’s DMS ‘go live’.
Jason Scott, Senior Business Consultant with Tikit, and a track record of 200+ DMS firm implementations across the globe says it best: “Plan it, design it, build it, test it, communicate to the business what 'it' is, learn it and then roll it out.” He also emphasis the importance of having clear objectives going into any migration project ... "there should be a structured process in place to manage the implementation with clear objectives. and at the end, ensuring these objectives have been met. This might sound trite but you’d be surprised how often objectives don’t match up."
Matthew Marcinek, DMS Team Manager & Solutions Architect at All Covered, feels strongly about leveraging data found in existing systems and analyzing the data at hand in order to make informed decisions. “Above all, perform a pilot migration with the firm's data. This will allow the firm to see the results of their design and the migration process to confirm it is what they expect.” Marcinek agrees with Fireman regarding the importance of design: "The most important step in any DMS Implementation is the Design."
Mike Sanders, Senior Solutions Expert with NetDocuments, has 200+ DMS implementations under his belt. His advice ... "become familiar with best practices of the new system and how that may change some of your current processes." Beyond that, test, test, test before going Live." According to Sanders’ colleague JB Trexler, NetDocuments' Senior Director of Professional Services, DMS implementation success is typically based on … “1. Project support and communication from the top-down; 2.Know your data and clean it up/plan accordingly; and 3. Spend the correct amount of time on workflow and security.”
Failure to communicate
As evidenced by our expert conversations and survey feedback, communication breakdowns are more times than not the source of DMS projects gone badly. According to Jeff Alluri, Principal, VP Consulting with Element Technologies, DMS needs and the overall business case are not always clearly spelled out. “The message as to "why" we are choosing a DMS needs to be clearly understood by everyone within the law firm. With that being said, communication both internally at the law firm and externally with the selected DMS vendor is vital, and many times one or both of these are dropped or there is simply not enough of it.”
Jennifer McComb, a consultant with Software Analysis Corporation, also doubles down on the importance of communication. “Lack of communication is reason #1, #2 and #3 why DMS implementations often fail. Remember, your implementation person can't work in a vacuum. Make sure the people who will be actually using the product have a say in its setup. And, remember, implementation doesn't end at go-live. Be available for follow up.”
Another “why DMS implementations fail’ argument made by several of the surveyed DMS experts focused on the lack of change management and the overall perception that “we are dealing with a technology not a business issue.”
Adds Michael Georgopoulos, eSentio’s Director of Document and Information Management Systems: "IT-led projects focus only on the technical conversion issues” making the point that a myopic, IT only view might make it more difficult to affect broader change. Viewing it only as a technology project fails to see the larger picture of how the system impacts business for the entire firm. It can also make another critical factor for success that much more difficult — leadership and staff buy-in.
Finally, lack of planning, regardless of where it starts, can bring down even the savviest and brightest technologists and product experts, and, most cutting-edge technology.
The future is now
As I wrote in Legal Management, so much of what is wrong with DMS projects is most definitely also what’s right. Don't cut corners, plan accordingly, create a 'buy-in' culture, test until the cows come home, (over) communicate, and when you think everyone's 'up to speed' on the DMS, offer up more user training. and more hands-on DMS KM transfer.