We are far enough into the life of LegalTech and the adoption of broader technologies into legal practise that many firms and in-house teams have a whole suite of tools, applications, and database systems. While the use of these tools has often been spawned by desires of making manual processes easier or faster, a new problematic phenomenon has posed itself: old manual processes being replaced by new manual processes. It sounds strange to say this, but there is quite a lot of substance to this issue. You are given some data from your eDiscovery platform, and then you have to spend a few hours reformatting it for further use, be that a standardised database or another application.
The issue at heart is that what might start off as a comprehensive digital transformation scheme might end up not saving you the amount of time you expected to save, or doesn’t make your work life as much easier as you expected it to make. Often, the issue isn’t the shortfalls of a particular software, but the lack of integration (or framework for integration) between these systems.
What do we mean by integration?
Integration can take many forms, but the core idea is for Software B or Database Y to be able to read, digest, and functionally make use of information coming out of Software A or Database X. It’s easier to think of this by way of example. Let’s say you use Box, or Dropbox, or Google Drive for cloud file storage of Word documents and you want an application to pull relevant data out of it and present it in an Excel spreadsheet. An integrated system would be able to pull files straight from the folder (perhaps even analyse names to find relevant documents), put it through its process, and export it all nice and neatly into an Excel spreadsheet. Another example would be a document automation app. These sorts of applications can be incredibly useful to quickly develop and red-line contracts and other documents, but the ‘time saved’ is hugely reduced if the information has to be manually inputted to some extent (general variables such as name, date, etc.). With an integrated system, you could pull these bits of information – and much more – from pre-existing databases. Clearly, the integration can pertain to data input as well as output. Further, end-to-end integrated systems can provide for seamless processes across a multitude of practise areas and workflows.
How does it work?
We could here delve into some jargon and lose the key points, so we are going to avoid that. But just to reference what tool integration uses, we will be talking here about APIs (Application Programming Interface). An API is a software intermediary, allowing one application to talk to another in terms which the other application understands. Some APIs are freely available, while others may require subscription costs. When referencing databases, it also allows for one application to access information from another application. Security risks are low as commonly used APIs encrypt data in transit. And that’s about it. It sounds incredibly simplistic, but can be one of the most important aspects of a digital transformation program. Connect with internal databases, CRM systems, email, text, other existing tech solutions, and much more.
Why does it matter?
Integration is what makes your tech suite an actual suite. Otherwise, you just have a variety of software applications that do their own thing, and that’s about it. It is also important to mention that we aren’t talking about integration with complex tech solutions alone. Practically every workplace will use Microsoft Office, and integration with databases or applications allows for you to use these tools more fluidly, quickly, and easily.
Appreciation for integration also helps with making your ROI points to your business. New tech investments are of much greater value when they work with your pre-existing software systems. It can also provide greater value to previous investments.
The phrase ‘seamless’ is used on practically every tech vendor website, and its value has become rather diluted. But reconsider that phrase in this context. Ultimately, you usually have all the data you need before you start the next step of a process. Why make that bridge a manual task?
What can I do?
Firstly, establish what APIs, connectors, and other integration solutions are already available. There’s a high chance that much of your tech stack could be integrated very easily, for little to no cost.
When venturing out into the tech marketplace for a new solution, make sure to ask questions of the tech vendors. What are their integration capabilities? What about integrating with X or Y system which you use frequently? Do they update and bring new integrations to the table? Develop a dialogue from which you can ensure that your digital transformation delivers true value.