Why Bother with a Document Management System (DMS)?

Document Management System

Why Bother with a Document Management System (DMS)?

Not all firms approach document management in a strategic or sophisticated way. But is yet more technology adoption really the answer? We explore the conundrum, asking Mubashir Mian all the tricky questions.

Mubashir, let’s get back to basics: Tell me once and for all, what’s the difference between a dedicated document management system (DMS) and the document management element of a case management system (CMS) or practice management system (PMS)? 

The key difference is how it shapes the approach of your firm. Case and practice management systems are all-in-one solutions that do everything to a basic level. The attraction is you have one place for time recording, billing and even some light document management. However, in terms of maturity, the elements of each function might not be good enough for what I call ‘extended’ scenarios.  If you take document management, within a PMS you might get a great storage facility, but what about when you want to view a document at home, late at night, or find data should there be a power cut? 

The question to ask is: What does a particular DMS give me over and above what’s included and how will that add value to my work? So things like, “Does it give me better access – when and where I want it?”, “Is there document collaboration functionality that would be useful inside and outside of my organisation?”, and, “What are the security and governance arrangements for my data?”

OK, but we seem to be managing our documents just fine – am I missing something? 

Agreed, a DMS isn’t for everyone. If you just want basic document storage, 9-5 access and only on work devices, you could be fine. But, most growing and successful firms don’t operate like that anymore. A firm’s documents are an important asset and the majority of firms can benefit from taking more care and giving more focus to their management. Flexible working is becoming a regular part of the working life, so technology has to be used to keep us with this trend. 

Isn’t it just more software making tasks more complicated than they need to be?

Not Particularly. You’re using software already – having a DMS integrated into your other systems of working will reduce the number of mundane tasks because a good DMS is designed to operate within and to enhance your existing processes.  A DMS is designed for handling your documents; you’ll spend less time finding and saving documents and emails; there are less clicks for every action; there’s automated background processes to file content; and even predictive technology to anticipate your next move. 

OK, so what about the business case – how does it impact the bottom line?

Well of course that depends too. If you look for a cloud DMS then the running costs and total cost of ownership are no longer barriers – because you pay as you go. You’ll improve efficiency and consistency because of the structured environment and automated governance. With the whole firm on board, everyone becomes more productive and efficient and there’s a significant knowledge management benefit. 

From the IT department viewpoint, why should we bother having a separate cloud Document Management System (DMS), how does it benefit? 

I used to work in a law firm. I spent a lot of time looking at server lights. With a cloud DMS the infrastructure and service is in the cloud. The IT burden is significantly diminished – in terms of cost and, importantly, risk. The IT folk wave goodbye to server infrastructure tasks, software and hardware maintenance, disc recovery, hosting issues, the list goes on and on. The mundane can be swapped for more meaningful higher value activities like working more closely with your core business to help them derive value out of technology – rather than administering and maintaining IT teams can be customising, simplifying and collaborating. 

I’m worried about integration between my CMS / PMS – can it really be seamless? How? 

This bit is really important. Being able to integrate with any PMS is key to making a DMS a success. Pulling out the client matter data is the basis of what you are trying to do. Make sure your provider has integration as a top priority too.

Think of integration as broadly as possible. This is my PMS- what can I hook this up to? How can I integrate to extend the DMS, what modules and applications can I use to augment it? What a DMS gives you out of the box is comprehensive but you need to think beyond the information you can load into DMS, towards the elements of your CMS. For example, imagine, seeing comprehensive matter information, all your documents and emails via a simple tab, not having to leave the DMS at all. Work towards having a holistic and visual view of the matter, from all perspectives. 

Is a cloud DMS more appropriate for a large firm or a small one? 

Both! For all firms, it creates a culture of consistency and efficiency and with cloud it means firms of all sizes can compete based on their services not their tech. 

I’d say cloud DMS is ideal for a firm without the budget or bandwidth for full time IT because you only own what matters but you inherit all the benefits of the system. The level of obligation and automated governance and security is far superior to what small firms are able to achieve – with none of the work. It means they comply with certification and can be clear about where their data is held. 

I think, coming from a large firm background, the fact that a DMS has been designed specifically for legal means it’s relevant and useful and that helps with trust. Additionally, a true cloud DMS means inbuilt future proofing, automated updates – there’s no waiting for a patch with the task of releasing it to users… these things are automated and done quickly. Removing that maintenance overhead is a huge benefit for large firms with 1000s of users and IT teams can focus on those higher value tasks. 

How can I convince my firm’s leadership that we need a separate DMS? Why should my firm bother to pay for yet more software? 

That’s a cheeky one. Well, do you want your firm to grow and adapt and succeed?  People want flexibility and efficiency. I’d say a cloud DMS is part of the solution, it will help you create working practices that attract new hires and help you deliver better client service. 

What’s today’s must have feature?

 Mobility is a must. Accessing matter data across devices, networks and time zones. You need the flexibility to cope with all kinds of scenarios. 

So, how do I find the right DMS? What should I look for? 

Competition is tough, so network, go to events explore and get to know the landscape. To be honest you’ll find that many DMS products are neck and neck on many counts. You need to make sure you really understand what specific functionality your firm or department needs without questions. Then, consider uptime and support – understand what’s really going on and whether there is an implementation partner that suits your firm. Above all, I would, of course, recommend true cloud, a cloud where there is one instance of the same system, so that all everybody benefits in the same way and each and every customer will matter equally to the vendor. 

If you have more questions for Mubashir, you can connect to him on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/mubashirmian/  

Mubashir Mian, NetDocuments


NetDocuments is a cloud-based, legal technology services solution offering state-of-the-art machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities. NetDocuments enables 2,500+ global customers with a single, scalable cloud-based platform for securing and collaborating on documents, emails and real-time conversations.

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