Managing Electronic DocumentsBy Tony Kontzer Print
Professional services firms are implementing automation, mobility and document management systems to expand market share and become more profitable.
Managing Electronic Documents
This combination of factor—more automation and mobility spurred by cloud computing—is shining a spotlight on another area essential to professional services firms: electronic management of documents. Nowhere does this loom larger than in the legal services sector.
For Mark Karnick, CIO of Glaser Weil, a 100-attorney Los Angeles firm, the march toward a paperless environment is in full swing. And while Karnick admits that the notion of the paperless office is so turn-of-the-century, the economic downturn came before the needed tools had reached maturity, and a clampdown on IT spending prevented Glaser Weil from investing in a solution.
However, subsequent advances in the ability to more thoroughly track, search and collaborate on a wide variety of documents have combined with an improving economy to put electronic document management back on the firm's front burner. The need for such capabilities has also been fueled by what Karnick calls exponential growth over the last several years in the amount of electronic data law firms must manage.
"That data has to be stored, indexed and searchable, and it has to be accessible to geographically dispersed users," he says.
Despite the growing capabilities in those areas, Karnick says no one product is able to meet the firm's needs, so his team is working on an integrated system built largely around Hewlett-Packard’s Autonomy, which analyzes unstructured data, and the document collaboration capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint. The resulting solution, which represents a six-figure investment for Glaser Weil, will consist of three components: a robust back-end database, an easy-to-use interface, and effective tools for getting data in and out.
Additionally, with a mandate to steadily replace laptops with tablets and incorporate them into all of the firm's business processes, Karnick has to ensure the electronic document management system is easily accessible from iPads and a handful of other tablets.
Once the new system is rolled out to users later this year, he expects it to save clients money by improving productivity and reducing the number of billable hours spent performing mundane, low-value tasks, as well as to slash the cost of storing paper documents. (The firm will have to retain paper documents with signatures.)
All of these technologies—PSA, mobile platforms and electronic document management—address what Gartner's Fouts says should be the top priority for any professional services firm's IT department: "using today's trends and advances to help the people on the ground doing the work, because those are the people who make you money."
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