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Document Management: Distinguishing Features

Brian Podolsky

3 min read

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Note: The article below, written by Brian Podolsky, originally appeared in the June 2013 Issue of Legal IT Today. It is reprinted here with permission. Please visit Legal IT Today to subscribe and read more from the legal technology community.

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Looking at the landscape of document management systems (DMS) in the legal industry, one can get a sense of what’s important and driving the need for advanced features. As law firms have matured in the electronic age, many firms now have 20 years or more of digital content in their enterprise. The growth of this content is outpacing the need for new features. Email management has become a major issue. Whereas in the past email was considered a vessel for delivering product, it is now often the product itself. And the need to properly store, preserve, and retrieve email messages is growing more important year by year. The larger the amount of enterprise content, the higher the need to archive records and keep active work-in-process library tidy. This has resulted in DMS vendors making steps to improve the ability to save emails from Outlook directly into the DMS, as well as introducing archival modules with tiered storage capabilities.

But what sets some DMS products apart? The higher-end solutions have introduced server-side processing of emails directly between Exchange and the DMS. This not only allows for larger bulk imports, but also allows the attorney to synchronize an Outlook folder with a particular client/matter in the DMS. They’ve also moved their focus to a broader suite of fully integrated products or modules that will handle archived content and records. The way they see it, the marketplace is saturated with DMS products, but the market share for records management and email management has plenty of opportunity to grow.

One area that has drawn interest from boutique or small-to-midsize firms is the cloud. The supporting infrastructure has long been a requirement of feature-rich, three-tier DM systems. For several years, it seemed the only options in the ‘DMS in the Cloud’ space were web-based platforms that lacked the traditional look and feel that many legal DMS users have become accustomed to. However recently, nearly all the traditional DMS vendors have offered their full functionality in a hosted environment. Now, these boutique firms can take advantage of the higher-end features and integrations without the need for expensive on-premise hardware infrastructure. Of course, with the cloud comes the risk of connectivity outages and the overall cultural comfort level of having the firm’s content hosted on third-party storage systems.

The risks involved in storing enterprise content in the cloud bring us to the ‘Dropbox problem’. Unless you are blocking traffic on your firewall, your attorneys are using Dropbox or other consumer-based file sharing services. DMS vendors and law firms have realized it is time to bring file sharing within the enterprise. Some DMS vendors have created their own file sharing platforms that are tightly integrated with their core products. Furthermore, other large industry solution vendors have introduced enterprise collaboration platforms. And many of these now integrate back into various DMS products. It’s turning into an arms-race to develop the most feature-rich platform with simple integrations into the DMS to allow users to send, share, and collaborate on files without resorting to email attachments.

As content is growing and the need for additional feature sets hits your firm, there are plenty of options available and choosing the correct one may seem a daunting task. Ensure you take enough time to review the alternatives, and schedule demonstrations to see solutions first-hand. If there’s an evaluation trial, sign up for it. Then, when your solution is in place, be sure to run reports or queries to find out just how much or little it is being used, and understand the usage levels relating to of particular features, and make adjustments as necessary.

Brian Podolsky leads the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Practice Group in the New York office of Kraft & Kennedy, Inc. He has extensive experience implementing and supporting Microsoft Office, Autonomy iManage, OpenText eDOCS, and Worldox document management systems, as well as third-party integrated add-ons. He drives Kraft Kennedy’s research on the latest ECM technologies and provides guidance and best practice standards to clients implementing ECM solutions.