plans to automate

Think before you automate: What should I do before implementing new technology?

November 18, 2021
Clare Brown

In a previous post, Vable’s Head of Client Success, Emily Baldwin explained how to create and nurture successful client/vendor relationships. When I attended ILTA’s “Think before you automate” webinar, it reminded me of everything that Emily said about communicating with vendors, so I felt it would be useful to revisit her ideas, as well as share the hints and tips from this event. 

Presenters from ILTA, Neota Logic and Karta Legal set the webinar scene by saying “successful and lasting automation projects entail more effort than just receiving a complaint about a process and hearing about a tech vendor”. They discussed why it’s important to slow down, take time, and really understand the organisation’s problems and processes before venturing into the technology marketplace.

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Where does the automation journey begin?

It’s not just the question of automation, the key to workflow processes are the people behind them. With this in mind, the webinar team highlighted two different starting points which will lead to the same automation outcome:

  • The pain point or inefficient process is identified in a pre-existing workflow or highlighted as you start planning for a new workflow. Discussions during team meetings could identify a lot of manual or repetitive work.
  • A new technological solution is identified and demonstrated...how will it change the workflow? What efficiencies does it promise? How will it integrate with your existing technology and processes? How will people react to the new solution? 

How do you select a process to automate first?

Which processes create the most problems? Are there any processes that people complain about most? Are there any annoying processes? It might be tempting to ask yourself these types of questions as a starting point. The presenters agreed that these reasons are not necessarily the best place to start. 

As an alternative, they suggested structured and in depth due diligence.

  • Ask people about their manual workflows! Evaluate current processes to scope out weaknesses. The more analysis you do at this stage, the more prepared you’ll be when you are putting together future business cases for investment and improvement. You will also be creating a reliable baseline for future return on investment (ROI) measurements. 
  • Ask people and learn more about the available technology! This is your moment to explore the possibilities and understand the breadth of options available.

Although it is easy to get distracted by shiny new tech, there is a need for genuine curiosity, interest and knowledge. Make sure you’re signed up for relevant mailings and blogs, attend webinars and arrange no-obligation demos - and now that conferences are taking place again, catch up with people face-to-face. 

After the do’s, here are some don’ts! 

  • Don’t choose a mission-critical process straight away. Anything that is client facing should be avoided.
  • Don’t choose something which is heavily integrated with other software. Sharing data across new systems can be complex and not to be undertaken lightly.
  • Don’t choose a process which has no clear endpoint. Although everything will connect eventually, take things step by step and everything will evolve gradually. 

What about Current Awareness automation?

Taking into account all the questions raised so far, have you considered the implementation of a news monitoring and current awareness platform? It’s a perfect place to start; current awareness provision is - largely - an internal service, it’s manual and overly time-consuming, and involves a clear workflow. There is also an elegant technological solution!

Content aggregation saves the knowledge team time

Case studies are important in the “think before you automate” process. Bedell Cristin’s knowledge and information team automated their current awareness and shared their story.

The key drivers for the project were as follows:

  • to reduce team time spent aggregating and reviewing legal, news and market intelligence sources
  • efficiently disseminate content updates to teams in other time zones at times to suit them
  • support their thought leadership programme and business development activities

Lucy Wright, Knowledge Analyst, worked on the initial implementation of the project, and said that "scanning 90 plus websites daily was a full time job. We were keen to automate this process and create a more targeted solution for ourselves and our clients, whilst retaining complete control over sources, content, and curation".

Content aggregation transforms knowledge sharing 

Catherine Cadman, Bedell Cristin’s Head of Group Knowledge, acknowledged the success of the automation project across the firm - and beyond. She said that Vable has transformed their ability to share key business content efficiently. Automation of time-consuming manual workflows has enabled them to focus on other more valuable aspects of their global knowledge strategy.  

The final “do” that Vable recommends is - choose a process that will show a clear win. You want everyone to see the benefit of your workflow automation.

Need more transformational inspiration?  ►

Which kind of process automation is right for you?

The webinar outlined a number of different types of process automation. Library and information professionals need to be acquainted with these technology terms when in discussions with legal operations teams. I’ve designed this to be an introduction so that you can explore further:

Workflow Automation - this is the process of using rule-based logic to launch a series of tasks that run on their own without any human intervention.

Business Process Management - BPM is a discipline that uses various methods to discover, model, analyse, measure, improve and optimise business processes. It encompasses people, systems, information and everything that supports a business strategy.

Robotic Process Automation - RPA is a form of business process automation technology based on forms of artificial intelligence (AI). With its focus on AI, it’s suitable for automating simple, repetitive tasks and it's quick to deploy across an organisation. 

Digital Process Automation - DPA is another form of business process automation technology. DPA is not intended to fully replace tasks completed by humans, so it differs from RPA. They serve different but complementary purposes within an organisation and are often used together as part of an organisation’s overall BPM strategies and initiatives.

The success of the implementation depends on choosing the right process automation for the task. In most business applications, there will be a combination of approaches. After all, the beauty of Vable is its ability to combine the best of tech and human intervention. 

What is the difference between platform solutions and point solutions?

The webinar concluded with a summary of the differences between platform and Point solutions, concepts with which we are generally familiar. As a reminder, here are the basic comparison points. More information and examples are given in this excellent Hubspot document

Platform Solution 

Point Solutions

Larger investment up front, integrated end-to-end business processes throughout

Quick, low cost solution for a specific use case

Custom solutions as required, scalable and flexible

One size fits all

Potentially may not have “best of breed” functionality

Expertise, deep functionality

Ability to innovate and adapt to market changes

Additional point solutions are required for new use cases

Full integration across the business, making full use of API technology

Limited ability to integrate with other systems

Lower maintenance costs as a result of a single technology stack; long term commitment required

Long term maintenance might affect ROI

 

As you can see, “thinking before automating” is an essential step on your pre-project plan. Vendors are happy to take you through any part of the discovery process, after all, the more transparency and openness between the various parties, the better. Managing expectations is key in building relations between vendor and client. 

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