A colleague told me a story about a mid-tier U.S. law firm looking to integrate its extant case management system with a new document management system. The goal was to greatly improve efficiency, streamline processes, and reduce costs and therefore increase margins. However, during the integration process, it became clear the two systems had not been fully tested for compatibility, and alarming amounts of data were being lost during the transfer.
The new system also had a steep learning curve, and many users struggled to adapt to the new processes. The vendor providing the new system was slow to respond to support requests, which exacerbated both issues and management concerns. As a result, the integration project fell behind schedule, causing frustration and confusion among users, and it ultimately failed to achieve the firm’s goals.
This anecdote can be seen as a warning--as it’s not an uncommon experience during major case management installations--but avoiding the same outcome as the firm in the story is possible. Having both struggled and sailed through numerous integrations, there are keys for success that outline what is required to seamlessly merge software into a law firm’s existing ecosystem and serve as a guide for the way smart firms should proceed.
Seven Keys to Success
- Conduct a thorough assessment: Before starting the integration, conduct a thorough assessment of the current systems and processes in use at the firm. Ask “what do we have today?” This will help identify any potential roadblocks or issues that may arise during the integration process.
- Clearly define the goals of the integration: Before starting any integration project, clearly define the goals of the integration. “What information/data and software do we need in order to do our work to the best of our ability?” This includes identifying the specific software systems that need to be integrated, the data that needs to be shared between the systems, and the outcomes that the firm wants to achieve.
- Choose the right software and vendor: Choose software and vendors that are compatible with the firm's existing systems and that have a proven track record of successful integrations. It's also important to consider factors such as support, maintenance, and security.
- Plan for data migration: Data migration can be a complex and time-consuming process, so plan for it well in advance. This includes identifying the data that needs to be migrated, assessing its quality for integration, developing a migration plan, and testing the migration process.
- Test and validate the integration: Before deploying the integrated software, it's important to test the integration to ensure data is accurately being used and displayed. This testing helps to validate the expected behavior and that the required outcomes are being achieved. If during the goal setting performance and security specific outcomes have been defined, it is also necessary to test and validate that they have been met. Always remember to record the results as it is sometimes necessary to use them for compliance reporting.
- Train users: Once the integration is deployed, train employees on how to use the new software and processes. This includes conducting training sessions, providing sufficient background materials, and offering ongoing support.
- Monitor and evaluate: After the integration is complete, monitor and evaluate the performance of the integrated software. This includes tracking key performance metrics, identifying areas for improvement, and adjusting as necessary.
Like any IT project, there are well-known pain points—areas which can cause the greatest concerns and impact to the business. Usually this involves the movement of “data lakes”–importing and exporting the massive troves of raw, sometimes unfiltered data points between systems—and the testing of the integrations to ensure the transfer and meet the objectives of the organization and needs of the end users.
Five Core Practices for Importing and Exporting Data
When integrating data between two software systems in a law firm, there are several core practices for exporting and importing the data. Work through these steps to ensure success and avoid problems:
1. Clearly define the data to be exported and imported
Before exporting and importing any data, clearly define the data that needs to be transferred between the systems. This includes identifying the type of data, the format in which it needs to be exported/imported, and any data mappings that need to be established.
2. Develop a data export/import plan
Develop a plan that outlines the steps required to export/import the data, including any necessary modifications or transformations. The integration team should lay out who is responsible for each step, the timeline for completion, and any potential risks or issues.
3. Establish data security protocols
Data security is critical when exporting/importing data between systems. Establish protocols to ensure that the data is transferred securely and that access to the data is restricted as appropriate.
4. Test the export/import process
Before exporting/importing any data, thoroughly test the process to ensure that the data is transferred accurately and completely. This includes testing for data integrity, format, and completeness.
5. Validate the imported data
Once the data has been imported, validate it to ensure that it was imported accurately and completely. This includes verifying data mappings, checking for data integrity, and performing any necessary data cleansing or transformations.
Quality software vendors will work with you to minimize delays and smooth over the challenges inherent in the early steps of adoption. However, to ensure your peace of mind and reduce the chance of issues later, it is recommended to never skip or reduce the effort on the testing, security and validation of the data being moved.
Seven Steps for Integration Success
Testing integrations is central to achieving the expected outcomes for the IT project. Like testing anything, having a plan, understanding what you want the system to achieve and then testing the various scenarios is key. However, as you will see in the detailed steps below, other non-functional areas of testing such as performance and security should not be overlooked. Remember that sometimes the best group to perform these non-functional tests is an external organization that is not reliant on the success of the testing. Smart integration firms have established these testing steps for success:
1. Develop a comprehensive testing plan
Before beginning testing, develop a comprehensive testing plan that outlines the specific tests that need to be performed, the expected outcomes, and any dependencies or prerequisites.
2. Test in a staging environment
Testing should be conducted in a staging environment that replicates the production environment as closely as possible. This ensures that the testing is done in a controlled environment, and any issues or bugs can be identified and resolved before going live.
3. Test data integrity
You must ensure that data is transferred correctly and accurately between systems. This includes testing data mappings, data validation, and data transformations.
4. Test for performance
Integration testing should also include performance testing to ensure that the integrated system meets the expected performance standards. This includes testing for response times, throughput, and scalability.
5. Test for security
Integration testing should also include security testing to ensure that the integrated system is secure, and that data is protected. You should test for vulnerabilities, access control, and data encryption.
6. Test end-to-end scenarios
Your firm has to be able to communicate effectively with all partners, clients, and stakeholders using the data you have. To do this, integration testing should test end-to-end scenarios to ensure that the integrated system functions as expected. This includes testing complete workflows and scenarios to ensure that data is transferred and processed correctly throughout the entire system.
7. Document and track issues
During testing, document and track any issues or bugs that are identified. Doing so will ensure issues are resolved before going live and that there is a record of the testing process.
A final word on stakeholders
It is crucial to involve the stakeholders, both internally across the organization and to key clients and associated firms externally, throughout your integration journey. Without the input of stakeholders, you will not be able to define necessary objectives, gain buy-in or achieve the level of success required to make the integration successful. Make sure you identify your stakeholders which at a minimum should cover the project sponsor, the end users, project staff, support staff and IT staff. But your organization may have others.