What does “integrated” mean?
A good lawyer defines his/her terms, hence a technology expert should define the term “integration” and the levels thereof. Case Management and Practice Management programs talk about “integration” with other programs, whether they be email programs, document management programs, or billing and accounting programs. A good lawyer defines his/her terms. “Integration” is a feature. And yet, not all integrations are equal. Some are better than others. Even in the same firm, integration can have different meanings.
In deciding whether (1) two products are integrated, and (2) whether this integration is of value, is a matter of “managing expectations”. True integration occurs when two programs share the same database entirely. This is the type of integration between Time Matters and Billing Matters, or Tabs and PracticeMaster, or ProLaw Front Office and Back Office. When a single vendor controls both programs, it is possible to have “consolidated data” so that an entry of a client for “case management” purposes is also the entry of a client for “billing and accounting” purposes.
Microsoft and Novell espouse “directory services” whereby programs share a common user-database of approved users. This works for security purposes (see use of Windows authentication for SQL server login and many other programs). However, this does not work in the much more data-intensive programs like billing, accounting or document management where the data is stored in separate databases.
So this gets me back to what does “integrated” mean. The answer depends on where you stand:
- As the Account supervisor, you want to enter a Contact as a client in your Billing program, and have them appear as a client in your iManage program and as a client in your Case Management program. If these programs come from 3 different vendors, contact information is stored in different data tables, and a “link” needs to exist between the programs.
- As the Attorney on the account, you want to create a document in your word processor, same it to your DMS (e.g. iManage) and then be able to see it listed on your matter in Time Matters.
- As the Paralegal on the case, you need to be able to review and sort a bunch of documents and notify the attorneys of any significant items that need their attention. You will likely be reviewing and reprofiling scanned documents in the DMS, and then seeing them on the document tab.
- As the secretary, you may be concerned about the Firm calendar, and want all the entries in Outlook to populate back into the Practice Management program.
Each of these items has a different “scope” of integration. Some of these items require user training. Other may require development of custom applications or dual entry of data. In reviewing claims of integration, do your due dilligence and check out the scope and manner of integration.