Choosing a document management system – A guide for General Counsels

What are the factors which should influence General Counsel’s choice of a new document management system (DMS)? In this article, Tikit outlines the criteria which matter and suggests that the new workplace environment is also very important. How should General Counsel (GC) go about choosing a new DMS? The place to start is by looking at the context in which the DMS will have to function. It’s clear that the corporate legal environment has changed and is continuing to do so quite rapidly. We will begin by looking at those changes and how they affect the criteria for selecting
a DMS.

The changing world of work

As mentioned above, the first point to note is that things are not only changing – they always have – but that the pace of change is accelerating. So what? Well, as a result, GC now need to become more adaptable and agile, and it’s advisable to choose technology that will adapt too. It would also be smart to choose technology which supports your own agility.

Next, an important and inexorable trend is that the amount of data is exploding. Consequently, GCs and the organisations they serve, will see an exponential increase in the volume of data flowing in and out of the business. People will increasingly struggle to cope with the volume, and will need robust systems to handle it. Specifically the number of emails received daily will be oppressive. So people will be looking for help with reducing the volume and with filing emails.

It’s already underway, but the popularity of remote working is only set to grow as technology makes it more and more feasible. As people are less and less tied to the office and the office phone, work will take place in a wider variety of places and at a wider variety of times of day. It’s perhaps a bit obvious but you do need to
adopt technology which accommodates and enables this expectation.

We’ve also entered an era in which professional criminals make a very good living from stealing data and extorting organisations. So technologies must hold data very securely, but at the same time make it selectively available as and when work product needs to be shared to complete tasks efficiently. You also need the ability to limit, control and audit people’s access and have the capacity to limit the amount of shared material to the absolute minimum at all times.

Finally, we’re entering the realm of the digital workspace. It means that people will increasingly expect to experience a core workspace which is consistent in look and functionality irrespective of the user’s location or the device they’re using. They’ll expect digital files which are complete: ones where documents, emails and ancillary pieces of information are all in the same place. Moreover, these files will be accessible in full – permissions allowing – from any device, in any location, at any time. People will expect that all the tools and services they use will be integrated onto the same platform, so there’s no jumping about from login to login, and that data is only ever entered once, with the level of platform security remaining consistently high irrespective of location or device.

How to select a DMS in the new landscape

The most important factors when selecting a DMS are security, compliance and governance, because in today’s world they are all mission critical. GCs routinely handle their organisation’s most sensitive information, whether it’s customer data, IP, commercially sensitive data, transactional information or other information which in the public arena would have a seriously detrimental impact on the organisation’s reputation. With this in mind, your IT department will want to audit any new software applications being introduced and will want to see industry-leading security technology – things like dual custody encryption and unique cipher keys. You should also be looking for systems which enforce governance best practices, such as segregation of duties, removable media disablement and audit trail logs. And ones which enable end-user activity to be controlled and monitored, so users can only access and share the data they’re authorised to see. You should
look for ethical walls to be in place and Data Loss Prevention software to be part of the package.

Also bear in mind that some technology approaches increase security risks. For example increased IT complexity and business dependence, single points of IT failure, and public cloud computing
where there’s a possible increase in vendor concentration. These approaches need to be avoided. Conversely, approaches which reduce risk include DMSs which incorporate end-to-end encryption as standard and include product platform encryption and DDoS mitigation. Cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technology decreases most cyber risks.

Next, GCs should look for systems which enable collaboration. This is something which will streamline workflows, produce efficiencies and increase security, specifically by eliminating the need to send emails with attachments back and forth. You should be looking for DMS platforms where secure, real-time, matter-centric collaboration can happen efficiently and without clutter. Access and distribution should be controlled, while integration, with all the standard tools, is built in. Again your IT department will want to check that system security, while collaborating, is robust, with no weak links.

Usability and the capacity to integrate with other systems are also important features. For example, lawyers need the capacity to store all types of document, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, OCR, and email. Systems need to integrate – again to the IT department’s satisfaction – with other core applications such as Office 365, and financial and CRM systems.

Systems have to be supremely usable and genuinely transform productivity. For instance, any DMS worth its salt needs a powerful keyword search capability and predictive filing. It should also have monitoring tools to see which users are accessing which documents, versioning tools which track edits to documents and recover old versions, and not least, controls regulating when outdated documents can be deleted. This kind of rigour will ensure that General Counsel operates with consistent efficiency.

GCs want to attract and retain the best talent so should ensure that any new systems enable any time, any place, any device accessibility. This can only happen with device-independent cloud computing, meaning that as long as a lawyer has a browser and an internet connection he or she can get on with their work wherever they want to be. This degree of accessibility also depends on seamless document access from any location. It’s enabled by the aforementioned consistent user experience and is only viable where there’s ironclad security.

System scalability is last on the list, but still important, and what you get by default with cloud-based SaaS platforms. It incidentally means that even the most sophisticated DMS is an entirely attainable and cost effective option for in-house counsel no matter its size, because you’re only ever paying for the number of user licences you need.

Bringing IT with you

Naturally, GCs can only adopt new technology with the cooperation of their IT department. Cloud-based systems have significant advantages when it comets to getting IT departments on board:

Cost: With a cloud-based DMS, there’s no CAPEX to budget for. Likewise, there’s no infrastructure to provision or maintain.

Security: As mentioned above, your IT department will want to be satisfied that any new DMS platform will meet their IT security standards. Fortunately, today’s cloud-based platforms are very secure. For example, NetDocuments, which Tikit supplies, has a high level of advanced security. Its native cloud platform has built-in certifications, third-party testing and is audited against the
requirements of ISO/IEC 27001, ISO 27018, SOC2, SOC2+, HIPAA and SEC. NetDocuments clients “inherit” these high security and compliance standards.

Integration: Your IT department will want to be confident that any new application is going to be compatible with and integrate effectively with existing systems and that the on-boarding processes will not be disruptive or resource intensive. We can’t speak for other vendors, but in the case of NetDocuments, Tikit itself integrates the DMS platform with all the relevant cloud-based
and on-premises technology that the GC team is using. Since it’s a cloud solution, nothing needs to be installed on premises. Consequently we need very little input from your IT team and can get you on-boarded fairly quickly.

Ongoing maintenance: Your IT department will want reassurance that any ongoing requirements for IT support or upgrades won’t be laid at its door. Again, in the case of NetDocuments from Tikit, our Technical Support Group provides 24/7 Help Desk as part of the subscription fee. Meanwhile, NetDocuments releases new product features and enhancements on a regular basis, however upgrades are performed automatically.

Bear all these parameters in mind and any GC team will be well-placed to choose a fit for purpose and future-proofed new document management system.