Archive: March, 2009

Is document automation the new crackberry?

According to a recent survey of in-house legal technology by Chrissy Burns, Director IT & Knowledge at law firm Blake Dawson, when corporate counsel use document automation, they rate it one of their most “indispensable” applications, second only to free online primary legal information. Yet fewer than 23% of legal teams surveyed actually use document automation. Which begs the question: if so many document automation users find it indispensable, why have so few taken the plunge?

The best answer, and probably the most embarrassing answer for vendors like Exari, is that document automation has a publicity problem. We’ve done too little to make people aware of the application, its impact on transactional legal work and the value it delivers to companies that use it. Shame on us.

In simple terms, the impact is greatest when sales teams and other front office staff are empowered to get a high quality first draft contract via a self-service system. This gives them a faster, more flexible way to get deals closed. And it lets the legal team focus their efforts on high value negotiations, rather than spending most of their time grinding out first drafts. As a bonus, the business is less inclined to see legal as a roadblock, and more inclined to see them as a partner in winning new business.

It’s also interesting to note that document automation and contract management are equally rated on the indispensable scale. In each case, 42% of those who use these technologies consider them indispensable. Not valuable, or nice to have. Indispensable. In other words, once you start using them, and you get hooked on the productivity and risk management benefits, you don’t want to go back.

For those curious to see how other technologies were rated, we’ve reproduced the results below.

First, there are the applications people use:

Percentage-Users(Figure 1 – click to enlarge)

Second, there are the applications people find indispensible:

The warm blanket

Michael Lopp has drafted a FriendDA.

It’s designed for use by anyone who wants to share a (potentially) valuable idea with a friend, but who thinks an NDA is too much.

FriendDA(Click here to view full document)

Don’t ever use it with a frenemy.

3 ways legal departments are cutting costs

The Australian Financial Review (subscription required) reports that a growing number of Australian companies are slashing “their legal spending to offset budget constraints and falling profits.”

And how are they going about it?

  • Different firms/offices
    Telstra has moved some work to mid-tier firms and the cheaper offices (Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra) of larger firms.  And George Weston Foods is planning to give “lower risk, routine work” to smaller firms.
  • Alternative fees
    For Ramsay Health Care, firms wedded to the billable hour will lose work to firms more “financially accountable to their clients.”  GC, John O’Grady, explains that hourly billing “does not encourage excellence, strategic thinking or ingenuity.”  Telstra has also implemented fee arrangements “not based on hourly rates” for some work.
  • New legal panels
    Ramsey Health Care is considering its first corporate legal panel in 2009, while National Australia Bank has already launched a tender for its new panel this year.

Other approaches – Also mentioned in the article were: insourcing more work (Telstra); more staff training on areas of legal/compliance risk (Fosters); and better use of technology (Telstra).

So, what are you doing to cut costs?

Business Banking’s Killer App?

A 2008 Online Banking Review newsletter article, Taking Internet banking beyond 101, contrasted Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s underwhelming new consumer internet banking features (such as finally giving customers the ability to view some information from different account types in one place) with non-bank online personal finance tools like Mint that automatically download, categorise, and report on all of a user’s finances every day, making it simple to reconcile transactions, set budgets and track cashflow.

This got me thinking; surely the banks’ business customers (particularly SMEs) would be able to save a lot of time and money if they had access to QuickBooks- or MYOB-type financial management tools as part of their internet banking.

The customer perspective

If all my accounts are with the one bank, importing data to a separate system each month to reconcile bills, invoices and payroll, and to track cashflow is a huge waste of time when this could all be handled automatically by my bank. And if my accounts are with multiple banks, the one that offers me built-in financial management would certainly make me think about consolidating with them.

My view is supported by Aite Group’s findings in connection with their report, Leveraging the Online Channel to Deepen Small-Business Relationships:

“Because 70% of small businesses consider a bank’s online capabilities when selecting their primary institution, it is essential that banks enhance their online offerings and add crucial capabilities to save small businesses time and add convenience,” [emphasis added] says Christine Barry, research director with Aite Group.

What’s in it for the bank?

1.) Many businesses would no doubt be willing to pay for these benefits.
2.) The rich customer data that these tools capture can be used for all sorts of valuable analysis – for example, to help uncover timely cross-sell/up-sell opportunities.
3.) In the current economic environment, facilitating accurate cash flow management and forecasting for customers will improve their chances of remaining solvent (and being able to keep paying for financial services).

It stands to reason then that smart banks will leverage existing technologies (such as XML) and their goldmine of customer data to improve their online banking systems to the point of being a “must have” for their business customers.