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DMS: Foundation for Collaboration and Efficiency

By Barbara Kunkel, CIO, Troutman Sanders


Barbara Kunkel, CIO, Troutman Sanders

Holding the position as Chief Information Officer (CIO) in top tier law firms for more than two decades has been both a rewarding and challenging experience. Exposure to innovative thought leaders and the opportunity to work with many talented lawyers has probably been the most rewarding aspect thus far. The challenge, on the other hand, is that lawyers are not known for their collaboration skills (e.g., they tend to keep knowledge and personal expertise “close to the vest”) and incentives to develop these skills are hindered by the long-established business model, which is based on the billable hour paradigm–charging clients for time spent as opposed to results achieved or some other value-based metric. As a consequence, there are disincentives to capitalize on the value of collective knowledge. Recent financial pressure, however, imposed on the legal industry as an outcome of the 2008 recession, is disrupting this long-established business model, acting as a catalyst toward alternative fee arrangements based on efficiency and strict adherence to budgets.

Companies that implement processes and systems to leverage intellectual capital dispersed across people and documents are able to better serve their customers while simultaneously increasing margins through efficiency-based cost management. One invaluable tool to help in this process is the document management system. At the base of a law firm's collective knowledge is its document management system (DMS). If implemented with the proper diligence and foresight, the DMS can act as the foundation from which other systems and processes may leverage information, improving collaboration and efficiency across the firm. In turn, those lawyers once resistant to change will learn that transparency and knowledge sharing can actually simplify daily workflows while maintaining profitable margins for the firm.

Some of the benefits associated to a DMS include change and versioning control, indexing meta-data, permission and privacy control, and the ability to quickly locate specific document types for future reuse and repurposing. Sound good? You would be hard pressed to find a business professional out there who doesn’t agree that these are valuable attributes. Furthermore, there is certainly no shortage of vendors available to offer you their DMS, served up with a bit of SaaS. But before jumping in with the first product promised to be the next best thing since sliced bread, it is imperative that you identify and target your business objectives driving the need for a DMS in the first place. Although a particular system might have all the bells and whistles, does your company actually need them? What if there is a comparable product with 80 percent of the features, but meets 100 percent of your objectives at half the price? Don’t forgo your due diligence, both in assessing the available systems and in identifying your business goals.

Once you have selected the appropriate DMS, it is imperative that your project team and the IT department manage the implementation process in a manner that avoids the many impediments to a successful roll-out. First and foremost, you must understand the culture you are working in. Are the personnel resistant to change or are they eager for cutting edge technology? Does the current culture foster information sharing or do people tend to hoard work-product as a prized possession? Company culture and how to address your particular culture must be considered.

When implementing a DMS, it is essential to have an “all-in” policy. Requiring everyone to use the DMS ensures that a high quantity and diverse set of information is maintained, which in turn promotes the perceived usefulness of the system, leading to continued use and future adoption by new employees. Furthermore, sufficient consideration and planning must be done in relation to the structure and taxonomy of your DMS. Utilize workflows and plan for all contingencies. Part of a successful user adoption depends upon the ease of use. With that, it is important that folder structures and the process for setting up and using a workspace is seamless and easy for all levels of users. Planning for the future is also key. Knowing what kinds of search requests, reporting statistics, and data mining may be required down the line should dictate how your DMS is structured and what kinds of information is indexed from the start. And finally, structure your DMS in a manner that accounts for privacy, security, and confidentiality concerns. You WILL be asked by your users about these topics; be prepared to answer and demonstrate how the DMS protects these considerations.

You might be thinking, “wait a minute…document management systems are not new and cutting edge technology; this concept has been around for years!?” Well, you’re right! So why am I focusing on it here? Because, as mentioned earlier, the DMS is the foundation upon which other cutting edge tools, systems and technology are built. Think about it – even if a home has high-speed Wi-Fi, smart TVs in every room, and utilizes Apps and geo-location technology to automatically cool down when you are close to home, if it is built on wet and soggy land using wooden beams, none of that cutting edge technology stands a chance to last. But, if the home was constructed from the outset with steel-reinforced foundation walls and footings made of poured concrete, now all of the add-on tech toys stand a chance to improve the overall value of the home!

How does this translate to the DMS? If your DMS is configured and implemented properly, taking into consideration the aspects discussed above, it can now be leveraged by machine language technology, SQL databases, or cutting edge content management systems. Pre-defined policy rules in conjunction with machine language technology can take a standard document stored in the DMS and embed smart links in accordance with those defined rule sets, integrating external intelligence right into your document. Add i n a SQL database a nd a user-friendly,web-based interface and now you have an additional layer of intelligence that goes beyond the basic key-word searches of your DMS, allowing users to efficiently search for documents at a granular level for future repurposing. All of these fall under the umbrella of knowledge management. Leveraging the plethora of documents and metadata that live within your DMS is exactly what will drive efficiency and reduce costs within your organization, giving you a competitive advantage in the market. These days, especially when it comes to professional services industries, customers have a large pool of qualified service providers to choose from. It is the service provider that can achieve the same end goal better, faster, and cheaper who is going to win that new business.

To conclude, although you might feel that your document management system is old news, don’t count out the vast knowledge that can be derived from the information maintained within it. It’s not necessarily your DMS alone that will distinguish your organization, but it is the creative and innovative ways in which you leverage it!


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