I recently reread the original version of my 2013 “How to Select an ERM Provider” paper and thought that as most of the points remain valid it would be useful to publish an updated version. Here it is!
Electronic Resource Management (ERM) systems are designed to help manage your electronic subscriptions. They are also referred to as resource metering systems, online cost recovery tools and online resource management solutions. From usage monitoring through to cost charge back, there are many different flavours of ERM system offerings in the legal technology market.
Selecting an ERM provider for the first time or reviewing alternatives to your current provider can be a daunting task. This document lists the topics most often mentioned by firms we’ve engaged with over the past ten years and should assist you find the most appropriate vendor for your needs. Our clients range from large global firms to mid-sized regional firms.
Purchasing and implementing an ERM system is the start of what should be a long and mutually beneficial partnership between your firm and the ERM provider. It is important to feel the provider values the relationship and will continue to ensure you are well looked after in the short term and over the longer term as your requirements change.
The topics have been grouped as follows:
- Organizational – getting to know the vendor
- Customer service – how well does the vendor support its customers?
- Functional – going beyond the standard feature set
- Operational – what are some of the regular daily/monthly issues?
- Technical – how are the products built?
Organizational – getting to know the vendor
1. Trust your peers
The best way to determine whether the vendor “walks the talk” is to speak to existing customers to learn from their experiences. Does the quality of service remain high after the initial purchase and is the vendor proactive in helping you realise your return on investment?
2. Look for vendors that value partnership
Through conversations with existing customers ensure the vendor is focused on the long term relationship as much if not more than on the short term sale.
3. Determine whether the vendor is growing or in decline
Find out whether the vendor is currently in a growth phase or whether sales are declining. If possible, find firms that have switched from one vendor to another and understand the reasons for switching.
4. Partner with vendors that demonstrate vision and thought leadership
Ask the vendor to demonstrate they are keeping up with industry trends and to describe areas in which they innovate in advance of market changes. Have customers continued to invest in their solutions over time and has the vendor adjusted their product suite based on customer feedback?
5. Determine whether the provider is recommended by information vendors
Is the organisation recognized and well thought of by the large information such as Westlaw and Lexis?
Customer service – how well does the vendor support its customers?
1. Value customer retention
Establish levels of customer retention. In addition find out whether clients have successfully rolled out the vendor’s products to a larger audience than the initial implementation. Find out whether existing clients have purchased further modules or products from the vendor reflecting high levels of customer satisfaction.
2. Ensure the client services staff are knowledgeable
Ask to speak to one of the customer service staff during the review period. Ask for a list of the common support issues/questions/tasks that occur for other similar clients.
3. Expect an automated support ticketing system
Ensure the vendor uses an automated support ticketing system and ask for a tour or demonstration of the system during the review process.
4. Review the help material available
Ask for a list of the most commonly used help resources. Ensure the vendor provides training documentation and training videos sufficient to study and learn the system(s) at your own pace.
5. Enquire about user groups
The vendor must have an active user group that affords clients the opportunity to meet in person as well as share ideas over email, conference call or online forums.
6. Use a formal project management methodology
Request a copy of the vendor’s implementation/adoption plan. Ask whether the vendor provides a project management portal which can be used by your library, IT team and the vendor implementation team to chart progress of the implementation.
7. Establish if the vendor is willing to share their development roadmap
Is the vendor willing to share their development roadmap with you and better still do they have a process through which your input will be incorporated into the plan?
Functional – going beyond the standard feature set
Over and above the standard set of ERM system features, the following functional areas are increasingly important.
1. Insist on full browser support
There’s little point buying a system that won’t cover the browsers your firm uses now. Find out whether the vendor’s product(s) support the major browser types; Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome.
2. Determine the product’s mobile research support capabilities
With smartphones and tables becoming ever more popular business devices, it’s important to ensure that the ERM providers’ products support mobile research.
3. Discuss the vendor’s ability to support data protection legislation
In certain European jurisdictions it is illegal to store personal employee data including research usage information. If your firm has European offices ensure the ERM system allows you to store usage in an anonymised format to meet data protection requirements, while retaining the ability to report on research usage.
4. Check for support of offline browsing
With reference to usage monitoring ERM solutions, ensure the system is able to record usage if research is being performed while disconnected from the corporate network.
5. Test whether the product can easily support intranet resource tracking
Ask the vendor to demonstrate setting up a new intranet site tracking, including reporting on details like searches and documents viewed to see how easy it will be to add your intranet as a tracked site.
6. Itemise detailed metrics on the sites that count
Decide on the type of usage data you require such as documents viewed, modules used, searches run. Ask the vendor to demonstrate capture of this data on the heaviest used resources like HeinOnline, Lexis, Westlaw and CCH Intelliconnect.
7. Confirm the product is able to automatically import vendor charges
The ability to automate and schedule the import of vendor charge reports from the likes of PowerInvoice and QuickView+ is increasingly important. ERM systems that can integrate this vendor charge data into their reporting structure add a rich set of features used to produce management reports and targeted training attorney alert emails.
8. Discuss how the product can block or warn researchers when accessing excluded content
Look for a system which allows you to warn researchers accessing excluded content in Lexis.com, Lexis Advance, Westlaw.com and WestlawNext. The information publishers are hesitant to provide control mechanisms to limit excessive excluded content costs, if this is an area of concern ensure you choose an ERM that comes with an excluded content workflow control module.
Operational – what are some of the regular daily/monthly issues?
1. Clarify how easy is it to install
Find out how long it will take to install the ERM product and understand what goes into regular maintenance. Don’t take the supplier’s word for it, ask for technical references at existing clients.
2. Demonstrate adding new websites without assistance
Key to the ongoing success of an ERM system is its ability to be kept up to date. Ensure that the provider allows you to add new configurations from a central template library without assistance, thereby avoiding any vendor bottleneck.
3. Ensure the solution is scalable
Can the vendor system scale to support large implementations (national and/or international) without adversely affecting attorneys and/or researchers? Ask for specific examples of distributed implementations and ask whether performance has ever been adversely affected at client sites.
4. Discuss how the system handles new versions of Firefox and Chrome
If the product supports Firefox and Chrome, how does it account for the rapid release cycle of these browsers? Does the software needs to be reinstalled with each new browser version or is there an intelligent update mechanism in place to limit the impact on your IT team?
5. Ensure the vendor has a strategy for dealing with website changes
When discussing a Usage Monitoring and/or Client Validation ERM systems, to remain useful the system needs to keep track of website updates. Ensure the vendor uses an automated update system which doesn’t rely on you to make configuration changes.
6. Agree the process to add new or customise existing reports
Reporting requirements change over time, ensure the vendor has a valid strategy and delivery mechanism for new reports.
7. Discuss new product release cycles
How often are new product versions released? How are these delivered? Is there any cost to upgrade?
8. Determine whether the vendor is able to migrate data from existing ERM systems
If considering swapping one ERM system for another, find out whether the vendor offers a configuration and usage data migration service enabling you to maximise the return on the investment you’ve already made.
Technical – how are the products built?
1. Establish whether the supplier understands the complexities of legal IT
As much as possible seek to gain confidence that the vendor’s implementation and development teams have a solid track record of working with private law firm IT departments. The recommended approach is to ask for IT references at existing clients which can and should be contacted by one of your IT team.
2. Discuss the client’s development technologies
Are the products built using industry standard technologies supported in your environment? Commonly supported technologies include the Microsoft platforms such as .Net and SQL Server.
3. Enquire whether the provider supports a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution
Is the solution available as a SaaS offering resulting in little or no involvement from your internal IT team?
4. Determine whether the product is built to support automated package deployment
If the system will be installed in your environment, has it been built in a way that supports automated software distribution, as favoured by legal IT teams?
5. Review available technical documentation
Is the vendor able to provide a sufficiently detailed set of technical specification documentation to pass on to your IT team?
This checklist will help you better understand a potential vendor’s offering, easing the selection process and perhaps saving you from making the wrong choice.
Peter Borchers, Managing Director