Sunday, May 22, 2011

Key Vendor Evaluation Questions

What are some of the important questions and followup questions to ask a legal extranet provider when considering their services for a customized system? Here are a few.

How quickly can you implement my system?

Everyone is going to respond "within a day". But then you need to drill down to figure out what actually is done within a day. Is it a generic, vanilla system with all your customizations to come later? Most likely. It's important to identify exactly what it is you get within various periods of time.

What is the impact of customization on future releases?

You will want to understand if all the changes you are requesting will be rolled into future releases of their software. All too often, a company will make a bunch of changes in a release which can not easily be ported forward. When this happens, the customer is "stuck" on their current release. Sometimes this is just a matter of convenience, like getting new features which are "nice to have". Other times, systems might not work if you don't move to a new release. Clients need to understand how their changes will be migrated forward.

Does the same question apply to for loaded data?

Absolutely. If the software vendor implemented tons of database level changes (new tables,, fields, client specific picklists, etc.) that might be another barrier to moving forward to a new release. It is very important to discuss this if you are loading a slew of data into a system which you expect to using for several years.

Will the system work in all browsers?

More and more, we are seeing multiple browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome) and multiple devices (computers, iPads, phones) used to access internet based systems. You'll need to be sure what you are purchasing works on your devices (e.g. don't implement FLASH if you have Apple devices). Ideally, a vendor will be using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or some other strategy to render the appropriate screens to individual devices. But you need not be concerned with the specifics, just ask the question and test the systems on all your devices.

Do you understand the legal area?

So many extranet companies are really just generic software providers. It behooves a client to find a vendor who is the business of building collaboration systems for lawyers, law firms and legal matters. They will speak your language and understand your needs.

Do you have what is takes to support my large litigation needs?

If you are managing hundreds or thousands of matters, you need a professional-grade system. You need a top tier database to power the system, the vendor needs to be able to provide you with a broad set of fields to track information (field formats like text, dates, currency, drop-down boxes, checkbox yes/no fields, many others), the system needs to be configuable so that new fields can be added query, there should be a user-facing reporting tool and reports need to be outputted in a variety of formats (screen, Excel, PDF), etc.. Be sure whatever tool you select can track all the fields and the volume of records you expect to store.