Your staff has been tasked with finding your legal department the ideal automation platform for your unique needs. Ask yourself, how will your legal staff even begin to research all the different automation platforms’ pros and cons? Demos may give your staff some ideas about what they need, but it’s hard to determine the possible drawbacks.
It is likely that your staff will find that all of the tools look similar, and appear to do the same things. Vendors make it all seem so easy to build apps on their platforms and tout how their customers achieve exceptional gains, even when it may have taken them years to get anything meaningful deployed.
We have been working with LCNC platforms for almost three decades, and none of these problems are new. Evaluating iBPMS, Workflow, and LCNC has been going on since the early 2000s. To put it simply, legal departments are the latest group who are realizing that they too, will benefit greatly by process improvement, innovation, and automation.
So, the story continues. What should we buy? What do we already have? What can we get working sooner rather than later? What kind of battles will we enter into with IT? With all the options, what platform will best serve our needs? Some departments have gotten their selection right, but many more are struggling with the wrong platform.
Time to value should be a key performance indicator. If departments can gain benefit sooner, they can begin to flatten the department’s cost curve. Legal departments struggle to gain and sustain momentum, through no fault of their own. They have many divergent priorities, limited budgets and typically, staff only has a basic understanding of the technology landscape.
The IT department pressures all other departments to use their in-house developer resources and existing platforms. This leads to long, overly-complicated, and costly IT projects, and little or no control of the outcome.
Vendors tout incredible successes that “can also be obtained by implementing our latest widget.” This may be fine for one or two work processes, but for countless reasons, these types of automation initiatives quickly run out of steam.
Industry leaders, consultants, and influencers provide some assistance with pointing folks to various vendor solutions, but they too do not always have a complete understanding of all of the platform options, capabilities and limitations. Like anything, it takes a deeper analysis of your overall approach and what the platforms will need to contain to become the cornerstone of your IT stack.
While no platform is considered perfect, the following top 10 decision criteria are vital when selecting your department’s LCNC automation platform.
1. Citizen Development
One of the department’s primary objectives is to be self-supporting, and reduce IT dependency. Many workflow tools enable non-developers to build applications, but that is only the first part of the equation. What appears to be a simple process of dragging and dropping your way to a new application turns out to be anything but.
Limitations with most workflow tools create the need for the development of custom elements, requiring a resource with a deeper technical skill set. Just recently, we heard a familiar complaint: “I can’t get my people trained on the tool because it isn’t simple enough, so I am stuck building and maintaining everything the department needs.”
What the ideal scenario looks like – The ideal platform is simple enough to use by non-developers but has enough sophistication that enables the non-developers to address more complex scenarios on their own. A platform that is supported by robust data storage and has native integrations with common platforms used within the department, and across the company.
Citizen development can provide the best path forward for the department’s automation initiative. Done right, and when built on the proper platform, the department can leverage its own resources to design, build, and maintain solutions. The wrong platform can lead to slower time to value, lackluster adoption rates, greater dependency on IT, and increased maintenance costs.
Departments are evolving, and the solutions deployed need to stay in lockstep with their ever-changing requirements. Applications that are built by the IT department are often out of date as soon as they are deployed. Most developer-built or service platforms don’t provide the level of agility needed to support continuous improvement, and thus, most still run versions that do not reflect the most optimal process.
Part of this challenge is technical. Applications that compile code are difficult to modify without causing issues within the application, and or applications that support it. The other part has to do with what happens to existing instances when the application is upgraded to a new version.
What the ideal scenario looks like – A platform that is agile enough to quickly modify an existing version of an application as often as it’s needed. The updated version leverages an architecture that does not compile code and thus, does not negatively impact existing application features and related applications. The instances that run on the new version coexist with instances that are running on earlier versions.
If your applications are built with compiled code, you are limited from many perspectives. The goal should be to adapt as needed. You do not want to be in continuous development cycles, maintaining what has been built. Extreme agility, provided by only a small number of vendors, drastically reduces the effort needed to stay current and deliver the best user experience on a continuous basis.
3. Centralized Collaboration
The “Legal Front Door” is often the goal but is rarely achieved. Instead of sending emails, users want to collaborate and need to know where to go to do that. They need a simple way to make requests of the department, and they want to know that someone will take prompt, appropriate action on their request.
Some departments have SharePoint and users can search for many supporting documents. Documents may be sorted, grouped and categorized with a taxonomy, but it is still all too common to hear the redundant questions: How do I find something? Who do I need to see to do this or that?
Applications built for the department cannot often be readily found by people needing to request something from the staff, which leads to more back and forth outside the system, or the user giving up and bypassing the system altogether.
What the ideal scenario looks like – An easy-to-use portal that combines a listing of all of the applications that are available for collaborating with the legal department, a unified task list that consolidates user tasks when collaborating across multiple applications, simple intake forms and chat bots for minimizing the effort needed to make a request, ways to monitor the progress of the request, as well as a history of all the requests that have been made, and robust analytics that are readily available to people that steer the department.
In order to address user requests faster and more accurately, the users first need to know how and where to make requests. Their requests need to be structured so the request can be triaged with minimal back and forth. The staff needs to be able to field all diverse types of requests from a single platform, based on their role, without forcing the user to jump from application to application.
When done correctly, there are drastic gains in efficiency, significant reductions in cost, and drastic improvements in customer satisfaction.
4. Corporate Legal Department Alignment
Most vendors say, “you can build this, or you can build that”, which is true to a degree. The bigger challenge is getting things done in a timely fashion. Building the applications is only one part of the challenge, assuming the workflow tool or services platform can do that part somewhat effectively. With any project where you are starting from scratch, there is the need to gather and document requirements. With LCNC development, done on the right platform, requirements gathering can equate to nearly the same effort needed to build the application.
Legal departments have limited resources and, in most cases, are already focused on many different priorities. Taking valuable staff’s focus away from these priorities for long stretches of time to provide their subject matter expertise
, can be a challenge.
What the ideal scenario looks like – The platform should include a set of pre-built applications that are common for most legal departments. These applications only require a short gap analysis to determine any deviations between the base system and modifications needed to meet a particular department’s requirements.
Significant momentum can be achieved when multiple applications are deployed quickly. As user adoption increases, the appetite for additional solutions increases. The portal aligns with self-service needs, department service offerings and effective collaboration, which transforms the organization away from cumbersome email and spreadsheet request processes.
5. Runtime Management
Glaring differences between LCNC platforms show up after the solutions are deployed in production. Almost immediately after the application has been rolled out, an issue arises with one of the users, and the administrator needs to triage. Due to limitations with most platforms, they quickly find that there isn’t much they can do.
Most platforms don’t allow a rollback if there is a simple input error while building an app. Most platforms don’t allow skipping steps if the process activities are not applicable to that particular running instance. Most of the time, the user is told they must start their request over from the beginning.
What’s worse, if the application is the problem and if it was built using platform-compiled code, a brand-new development cycle must be started to correct what isn’t quite right with the application.
Most platforms only support a small number of process patterns. The ones mentioned above are just a few. It is important to understand that the fewer process patterns the platform supports, the more code is required to achieve ideal functionality, and the more difficult the app is to support.
What the ideal scenario looks like – A true test of platform capability is, can it run multiple versions of the same application without conflict? An example of how critical this is: the application has been deployed and the department is currently running five hundred instances. You decide to roll out an enhancement. What happens to the running instances when the new version is deployed? Most workflow app builders do not have a solution to address this. They clearly don’t have a mechanism for having the two versions to peacefully coexist and rarely do they have the capabilities to migrate the running in-flight instances to the new version.
The department can’t be burdened by maintaining the solutions it deploys. There will be user errors. When that occurs, the platform needs to be supported efficiently, using a more sophisticated set of runtime management capabilities. The difference in platform selection will impact support costs and user satisfaction.
In our experience, the number of applications that are deployed on a platform levels off after just a few, when the users are negatively impacted, and or if the applications are too burdensome to manage.
Most systems are either too big or not robust enough to address immediate and long-term department needs. Enterprise service systems require too much IT involvement, while workflow tools work fine for simplistic use cases, but don’t perform well in complex, high volume scenarios.
Many vendors that have entered the legal department automation market offer service solution platforms that are not truly LCNC, but IT likes them because they scale without limitation and IT can control them. This is acceptable for departments that only want to deploy an application here and there and are fine with being at the mercy of the IT department.
On the other side of the spectrum, most workflow tools don’t scale, they become isolated applications with no governance, and are limited by all of the issues mentioned above from a runtime management perspective.
What the ideal scenario looks like – The ideal platform must offer a balance of all the following – True LCNC that supports citizen development, and at the same time easily scales without limitation, and can be effectively managed at runtime.
After the first couple of applications are deployed, the impact is clear. Platforms that are too simplistic will lead you into a support nightmare while solutions that only IT can support lead you nowhere anytime soon.
7. Data Tracking, Reporting/Analytics
We constantly hear that department heads want better and more robust analytics but, with the exception of outside counsel spend tracking, the data isn’t available. Tasks are typically managed by email and spreadsheets. This, coupled with the department’s use of siloed applications containing several versions of the same data, and the lack of process related information, makes it impossible for measurable change.
What the ideal scenario looks like – Platforms must be capable of three primary things: First, the applications built in the platform need to compile a detailed audit trail of process-related data for each running and completed instance. Most workflow applications do not provide the level of granularity needed for an accurate representation of key performance indicators (KPIs).
Second, the platform must enable a way to easily integrate with existing department applications in order to make collecting the data simpler, but also to obtain transaction information that supports the specific KPI.
The final and most sophisticated capability entails providing the capability to not only integrate with key legacy applications, but to “envelope” them with process automation. This leads to the most effective way to harness valuable process-related information for all systems that are leveraged throughout the department.
Adding disjointed workflow applications with random databases has a negative impact on what department heads are striving for. Large service-based platforms limit the ability to combine data from multiple sources, and even if they could do that in a simple manner, the result wouldn’t be achieved for years.
Unified applications capable of stitching together disparate systems and storing data centrally enable more comprehensive data analytics, creating a huge positive impact.
8. User/Role Management
Universal role-based security is either completely missing or is severely lacking in most workflow automation platforms. Who is capable of seeing and doing what within the applications is often left to the developer to build in. Anything sophisticated typically requires quite a bit of coding.
Say an application is built by one of the department staff. What must be done to have that application comply with the company’s security and governance standards? How capable is the staff person at defining and building that into the application?
This challenge is why IT feels so strongly that they should be the only ones to build applications, and why they choose a platform with enterprise grade user/role management capabilities.
What the ideal scenario looks like – Legal departments must look closely at how — and at what levels — permissions are managed within the platform they select, including integrating single sign-on (SSO) and with commonly used user data sources.
This is another example where purchasing a “simple to use” platform ends up costing the department time and money. These applications frustrate IT because special setups are needed to make the department’s applications run correctly. Rogue application deployments create security risks for the company, and are not easily supported.
9. Integration Capabilities
Most platforms today leverage common services that integrate applications, or Application Programing Interfaces (APIs). The fact that they can push and pull data between applications is one level of integration. Relying on an API, however, still requires a developer to write code in order to leverage the API.
What the ideal scenario looks like – The next level of integration, which few platforms support, is what we call “platform aware” integration. Having native platform-aware integrations for common legal applications drastically reduces the need for coding. For the person building the application, this looks like a standard set of activities that understands how things need to work in the application, and doesn’t require someone having to code the functionality from scratch.
The more platform-aware capabilities that are available for the person building applications, the better. This simplifies the development process, enabling non-developers to build applications, and in a much shorter time. The activities being pre-built and tested by the platform vendor also make the applications more stable.
Cost should be considered from many perspectives. License costs are often murky when it comes to wide deployments and usage volumes. Vendors offer their platforms in many different models and configurations. From a license perspective, avoid per-user configurations. It is always best to ensure that an unlimited number of users can access the applications, and the platform can be spread across the number of use cases where it will provide value.
Development time and who the developer is varies greatly amongst all of the platforms. Your platform choice will have the greatest impact on how, how many and how much cost will be incurred.
Support costs also vary widely amongst all of the platforms. Your platform choice will have the greatest impact on who is capable, how robust the support can be, and ultimately how much it costs to support supporting your initiative.
What the ideal scenario looks like – Ideally, the fastest implementation, simultaneous unlimited users, fewest requirements for professional development or IT involvement, and ease of use, enables the fastest time-to-value and highest return on investment (ROI).
Automation platform selection is critical in helping legal departments. Take it from us, we are banking our company on it…
Of course, there is much more that you should consider before selecting your department’s automation platform. We suggest establishing your own criteria, using as much from the article as possible. As part of your evaluation, we recommend that vendors provide real-life examples of the proof points necessary for your circumstances.
We have assembled a Platform Selection Criteria Evaluation document. Please feel free to contact us if you would like a copy.
Thanks for reading!