On the Road to User Experience Nirvana: A well-designed enterprise legal management platform gets people not only using the system but wanting to use it

Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 16:29

When it comes to law department management software, every technology platform claims to provide a well-designed user experience. Given the complexity of the work and the number of professional roles involved, however, it’s clear that all platforms are not created equal. Linda Hovanec and Jeffrey Loden of Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions discuss below what a winning user experience really looks like, and how Wolters Kluwer is raising the bar in workspace personalization and workflow efficiency. Their remarks have been edited for length and style.

MCC: Please tell our readers about your backgrounds and the work you do with respect to legal management and the user experience.

Hovanec: I’ve been in the legal industry for 30 years and believe it’s important to understand how legal users work. Our product management team works very closely with our clients, meets with them regularly to understand their needs and pain points, and everything we build goes through some form of user validation. We pick a very agile, iterative approach to development and continuously validate along the way. It helps us feel confident that what we deliver will hit the mark. It’s a very user-focused design process.

Loden: I’ve been in this industry for the last five years, but I have more than 25 years of experience working with and understanding customers’ technology requirements – making software efficient, making it productive, and bringing benefits to the user. I’ve spent a couple of years working in our product operations group here, working very closely with clients, making sure that their day-to-day activities happen the way they need them to happen. Most recently, as the product platform director, I’ve been working to make sure our platforms meet the needs of our clients. A big part of that is the user experience, the interactivity that our clients have with our products, to ultimately deliver the value that they need from them – the insights, the ability to complete their workflows and so on.

MCC: Users naturally want and expect a well-designed user experience in their technology tools. What is it about legal management technology that makes a positive user experience particularly important?

Loden: Corporate legal departments do complex work, and some of the enterprise legal management tools reflect that complexity in their screens and workflows. Anytime you have complexity, you’re going to have barriers to completing workflows. Whether it’s pushing the task to somebody else to complete or breaking it up as much as we can, it makes a big difference in a corporate legal department’s ability to complete their workflows efficiently.

I have a great respect for Apple. Their chief design officer, Jonathan Ive, has a philosophy about simplicity. One of the quotes I like is, “There’s beauty when something works and it works intuitively.” That’s the goal we have. We want to make our interfaces beautiful, in the sense that they’re intuitive and simple to use, and that’s reflected in the types of things our users need to accomplish. If you look at a typical knowledge worker, 61 percent of them have to access four or more systems, and as many as 13 percent of them have access to 11 or more systems. When you’ve got that many different systems, it’s extremely difficult to remember how every complex workflow in that particular tool works. It’s important to make the products you deliver intuitive and familiar, so that the user doesn’t need to be heavily trained or worry about forgetting how to do something.

We also know that a large portion of people’s time is spent looking for things. Studies show anywhere from 19 percent to 36 percent of your time, in terms of hours per day, is spent looking for information. International Data Corporation research also shows that people spend hours each day looking for things, but only 56 percent of the time find them. That means that almost 50 percent of the time you don’t find what you’re looking for! All of those inefficiencies are a consequence of the inability to integrate an effective interface with an effective presentation of information and then make it easy for them to get to that tool.

We know that legal department staff members are highly paid, and inefficiency can cost thousands of dollars a year per worker. A good user experience empowers them to work in the most efficient and personalized way possible. One of the other things that is very important to a user interface is its impact on user adoption. You get no benefit from a system if users don’t adopt it. You’re not going to get information into the system that others can use. There are numerous consequences to a lack of user adoption – like inefficiencies and process gaps, and all of those things have an impact on the value of the system you’re delivering. Our Enterprise Legal Management (ELM) technology platform becomes even more important in terms of potential impact if you don’t have that solid user adoption already.

MCC: What is a positive Enterprise Legal Management user experience like?

Hovanec: A positive ELM user experience is feeling like you’re not having an ELM experience at all – in other words, not feeling like you’re in this big, complex piece of software. Part of that is about bringing the work forward to the user – bringing the work that is most relevant to that user to them on a screen and simplifying the screen. There’s so much that, say, a legal ops professional is doing day to day, and we want to help them focus on the task at hand. We do that in numerous ways.

For instance, our technology integrates with multiple software tools, such as Microsoft Office, and brings the work to them in a place where they’re comfortable, like Microsoft Outlook. Contextually intelligent navigation is important – being able to easily move through screens and understand how to get where you’re going. Intuitiveness, of course, is critical. Part of that is just consistency. Some ELM tools just feel very patchy. You may be looking at a different experience on one page versus another page, while the goal is to make it feel like you’re moving through multiple different applications as if you’re just in one place. That’s how we go about creating a positive user experience.

Loden: The user experience needs to be natural, intuitive, familiar, simple. It needs to align with the way users work. We need to streamline the workflow; we need to eliminate task switching. With many systems, you have to jump from one place to the next. It makes it difficult for you to complete the task in one continuous process. You have to provide value at the point of use, so relevancy and usability of information are key to the interface. Then provide the user with the ability to act on that information. Obviously, our systems are there to collect data to provide insights for the business and its processes, so seamless and transparent integration with that system of record or the backend system is critical as well – but it needs to be transparent to the user.

MCC: All providers claim to have a well-designed user experience. When considering legal management technology, what specific questions should legal operations professionals ask to make sure they get a truly optimized user experience?

Hovanec: Anybody can update a product’s look and call it good user design. But you have to go deeper and ask about things like personalization. How can I allow users to create views and create personalized experiences? How can I, in the beginning, configure this system to create specific views for the different types of users that will be in there? You may have an admin, a paralegal and an attorney, and they will have different goals when they’re in the product, so the ability to create personalized views is critical.

Also, ask the provider how they design. How they develop their software. Are they co-creating? Are they working with clients to validate design? Do they meet with them regularly? One of the things we do is have quarterly user groups with all of our clients and validate anything that’s in the works. We validate our road map. We ask them to prioritize with us. It’s really important to understand how a vendor works with their clients on development.

Another thing is how well their tools integrate with your software. How can you blend them together? How do they integrate to create a seamless experience for users, one where the data flows through easily for them?

Loden: Linda touched on this, but it’s important to remember that the technology has to support different personas, different job roles, different activities. For example, a paralegal and a lead attorney are obviously going to have different needs, so the tools should be able to provide the right experience for each persona, whether that’s through the way that you manage, or the way the user interface works. For example, you only expose what’s relevant to that user when they need it, whether you provide apps or small bits of functionality, it is always specific to their job role. Those types of things are an important part of an optimized user experience. It’s not just the experience; it’s the experience for the specific job role or persona that you’re trying to assist in their day-to-day activities.

MCC: How has ELM Solutions put these principles to work?

Hovanec: We’re really excited about our new releases. One of them is a completely modernized Passport user experience. We developed that new user experience with our clients, as I said, validating along the way. We’re really excited about it, because one of the things we’ve validated with them is that the navigation is simpler. It helps them collaborate better internally and with outside firms, and it feels more efficient.

Our new Office Companion for Passport is going to be a game changer in the market. It allows seamless integration with Office products, starting with Outlook and moving into Word and Excel. It lets our legal professionals and other users manage their matters from within Outlook in a way that feels like it’s really part of Outlook, and it brings all the strengths of Passport straight to their desktop through Office. Jeff led the development of this, so he can explain it better than I can.

[Office Companion screenshot (Office Companion_SnipImage2.jpg | Caption: Passport Office Companion brings legal workflows into Microsoft Office, where users spend most of their workday.]

Loden: A big part of Office Companion is certainly matter management, but what we realized as we were developing it, as I mentioned earlier, is that there are different personas within a company who each have different needs. Most of the solutions in the industry today only focus on a small subset of workflows, and we realized that there was an opportunity for us to expand the number of personas, so that more people are able to complete their workflow seamlessly in Office without ever having to go to another product.

Another thing we’ve done is build not just a product but what I would call an app ecosystem. We have the ability to provide apps, or groups of functionality, that roll out easily, and the business users within a company can decide who gets which app, who gets what part of that capability, and it can be done centrally – easily – from the Passport system. If, for instance, my job role changes and I need access to financial management, all somebody has to do is go to Passport, basically give me permission to access that app, and immediately within my Office Companion I now have access to that functionality and that capability, without having to engage IT, without having to go through an exercise of doing a deployment and all these other things. It allows me to publish these apps to users’ desktops directly, and that’s really a game changer – enabling the business to be able to control what their users need and what their users have access to in a way that hasn’t been possible before.

Hovanec: Especially in Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, the corporate legal departments have to work very closely with their IT departments, and they don’t move as quickly. When you have to rely on your IT department to enable something for you – maybe to run it through a security validation – it really slows things down. But with our Office Companion, IT can review it one time. We’ve tested this product with IT organizations and they’re very comfortable with the whole deployment methodology. They do it once, and then from there the corporate legal department can own who sees what app, who receives what app, and even control upgrades, so that as we continue to evolve the Office Companion and release new features, it’s really a seamless upgrade for users without involving IT.

Loden: Our goal is to make our solutions second nature, basically a natural part of the user’s workflow, so that they don’t just complete workflows but also add synergy, allowing users to gain efficiencies and then insights into their operations. When you think of synergies, today if you need some data from your backend system, whether it’s Passport or some other connected, integrated system, you have to go to that system. You have to go through some workflow to get that information. Hopefully, you get it in the format you’re looking for, which is probably some sort of file that you can open in Excel.

Instead, our idea is that you go to Excel and you get the data from right there – it populates your spreadsheet right from Excel. That’s an example of a synergy. Or, for example, you’re in Word and you need to populate data for a contract or for some other document and you need that data from the system. You can go in and drag and drop attributes. You can merge those attributes directly with that document without having to leave Word.

MCC: Linda and Jeff, are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Hovanec: Ultimately, we all know Enterprise Legal Management is complex. Corporate legal departments within Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies have multiple complexities that they have to manage, different integrations, different inputs, different types of practice areas, and the system needs to be able to support that. But it still can be simple for the user and deliver a good user experience. We think that with our new Passport user interface and Office Companion, we’re making that complexity simple and intuitive.

Loden: I would add that a holistic ecosystem with a well-designed user experience reduces frustration and increases efficiency. It’s about user adoption. It’s about getting people to not just use the system but want to use it. It helps them get their job done as opposed to making it more of a chore. That well-designed user experience is the key to taking advantage of the ecosystem that you’ve made available to them.

Linda Hovanec is the Senior Director of Product Development, Core Markets, for Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions. She can be reached at linda.hovanec@wolterskluwer.com. Jeffrey Loden is the Product Platform Director for Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions. He can be reached at jeffrey.loden@wolterskluwer.com.