Guiding Principles for Selecting a New BPM Solution

Introduction and Background

The use of Business Process Management (BPM) systems to automate and streamline operations is an increasingly critical consideration for law firms. Core processes such as new business intake, conflict clearance, check requests, new employee provisioning, lateral intake, and expense management are examples of high priority focus areas for BPM. In fact, Hyperion’s 2014 benchmarking report of law firm CIOs, entitled Business Process Management for Law Firms, found that a majority of firms would be evaluating New Business Intake (NBI) systems for upgrade within the next 12 to 24 months.

The situation for many firms, however, is complicated. Today’s market presents a complex landscape of entrenched legacy workflow tools, embedded point solutions, and a quickly emerging set of new BPM providers. On top of that, for many firms with legacy applications, their NBI systems often include older, unsupported platforms that were implemented years ago; and in some instances, these systems have been “end-of-lifed.”

As such, we find that many organizations are using their BPM assessments as an opportunity to evaluate all options, including a much broader set of enterprise-capable BPM solutions that have come to the legal market.

Guiding Principles for Selecting a New BPM Solution

The process for selecting BPM solutions can often be confounding. While IT groups are familiar and comfortable in working with solution providers, few have experience in the rapidly evolving market for BPM software technologies. Law firm process stakeholders, be they IT, finance, firm, or practice managers, must be directly and actively involved to ensure the unique requirements of BPM are properly represented.

In approaching a selection initiative, we recommend clients consider the following guiding principles.

Start with a Well-defined Set of User Needs and Requirements

Law firms often pursue process improvement projects based on particular issues or objectives. To initiate a selection, however, we encourage clients to start with a well-defined set of user needs and requirements before considering solution options.  These requirements must be developed by surveying and collecting input from the full range of stakeholders. The requirements provide focal points in making a structured, deliberate, well-reasoned selection decision. Additionally, the requirements gathering process invites the various constituencies to engage together in the change process.

In defining requirements, the focus should be on business process and outcomes. Any new solution must be tightly aligned to desired improvements in business processes and to how the organization works. While it can be time consuming, the investment in assessing your firm’s processes and then properly using your analysis to drive the solution selection will pay off significantly.

From a technical perspective, firms may often start their requirements definition with a specific solution in mind. While purists will advise against the influence of preconceived solutions, we find that interest in a particular solution can be helpful in framing the requirements definition. Be cautious, though, to prevent the requirements from becoming too narrowly defined or tailored to the model solution, which can lead to an imbalanced selection.

For BPM solutions in particular, take the time to determine and understand:

  • What applications need to interact with the new system?
  • What are our internal resources?
  • How does the use of BPM at an enterprise-wide level align with our strategies for growth and risk mitigation?
  • Perhaps most importantly, assess the history of how you have utilized your current BPM platform and what value you derived from it. Then analyze how you want to build on that history. This process will define the criteria you use in the system selection process.

This due diligence will define your requirements, goals, and strategies for the system selection process.

Understand Your Organization and Change Management Considerations

For most organizations, a new BPM solution will mean making significant changes to their well-established work processes or converting from an existing, engrained system. The mandate for change is rarely unanimous, with different priorities, viewpoints, and needs existing. For some, the comfort and familiarity of status quo can be hard to relinquish. As such, it is critical that the selection process properly includes a broad range of stakeholders and gives a voice to those who will consider themselves most affected. By identifying and inviting the parties impacted by the change into the process, clients may be able to ameliorate future resistance to change.

Develop a Thorough Understanding of the Solution Market and Options

Product marketing and tools can be confusing. While the buzz surrounding BPM is quite strong, law firm adoption rates and expressions of desire to use and extend BPM leave a critical question to address: beyond NBI, do you really know what you are buying? The major pain-point that drives the desire for law firm BPM is indeed NBI. No other legal workflow is broader, more complicated, or touches more systems – all law firm workflow processes and requirements essentially emanate from it. Yet beyond addressing automation and risk mitigation, what long-term benefits or architectural features do you gain? How will the vendor build and support the platform? Some solutions rely on a strong brand name but a relatively immature toolkit. Others enjoy sophistication but relatively little market traction. Thus, it is important to research openly, thoroughly, and fairly, based on pre-defined key solution components, in order to delve beyond the marketing machines and fully understand the products themselves.

Use a Formal, Structured Selection Process—but Be Efficient

As the importance and expense of BPM solutions have increased, the use of formal, structured Request for Proposal (RFP) selection processes have become fairly routine. The use of a RFP process is important to ensure consistency in the assessment and a certain level of fairness in competition for the business. However, we have found that the use of overly complex RFPs can be counterproductive and unintentionally lead to poor selection outcomes. This is particularly the case where the form of the RFP is misaligned with the requirements of the business and the capabilities of the solution market.

Develop a Solution Provider Short List

This process will allow you to minimize effort and confusion and to build focus into the process. This also provides you the opportunity to start forming personal relationships with the product sales and support representatives. As with any system selection and implementation, the intangibles are as important as the products themselves. How responsive will your new BPM partner be when support needs arise or problems threaten system integrity? Will those representatives be a good fit for your corporate culture and feel like partners? These questions should be addressed internally as part of the selection process.

Script Your Product Demonstrations

Present prospective vendors with an identical use case to drive their presentations. How would each of your prospective vendors respond to a (not so) hypothetical business need? How would they tackle a specific scenario in which workflow and automation will be a determinative factor toward success? Prepare to vet each of the vendors on equal footing by presenting a thoughtful, detailed use case for each to use in their product demo. Determine how clearly the person performing the demo presents the problem and demonstrates the solution. Look for a clear understanding and interpretation of the scenarios you request—and make note of less than appropriate responses.

Understand Product Development Approach and History

Solution providers are an important source of new thinking and advances in BPM and process automation. Clients should expect their solution providers to offer a consistent flow of innovation. Unlike the stock market, a solution provider's past performance should be an important indicator of future results. Solution providers should provide a product and service history, and a road map for future releases. Clients should also understand the process of defining enhancements and how solution providers make those enhancements available. Importantly, clients should understand whether new enhancements are included as part of the provider's licensing or support agreement.

Closely Scrutinize Vendor References

Client references are an important yet often overlooked part of the selection process. While perceived market reputation, company size, and market share are important indicators of general viability, the insights and perspectives from a vendor's customers can be invaluable in assessing solution fit. References will provide added perspective and should allow clients to ask questions and gain a better understanding of working with the vendor. Crucially, references can also provide you with insight into how the vendor responds when all is not wonderful and disruptions during implementation or post-implementation arise. In many instances, vendors welcome the chance to demonstrate their level of customer service, responsiveness, and problem-solving ability.

Establish a Reasonable Implementation Plan

Once you have selected a new system, build a comfortable timeline into your project plan for implementation and rollout – 8 to 12 months is reasonable. Many factors influence a BPM implementation timeline. Be careful, though, not to underestimate the complexities associated with the migration of your existing data, integration into various systems, and the testing and review necessary for something of this scale. Historical reference tells us that resources will be pulled and data integration and information flow scope changes will happen. Setting proper expectations—of stakeholders and project staff—will serve as the determinative factor of success.


Hyperion Global Partners is a premier global consultancy to legal and professional services organizations. Our Hyperion Research group provides independent market research and advisory services, including unparalleled insight to the leading trends in legal strategy, operations, and technology. We work with law firms, law departments, and other legal services organizations to make intelligent, fact-based decisions about how to improve their operational performance. We also work with solution providers, including software vendors, professional services groups and consultants, to better understand the latest market trends and the needs of their customers. Click here for more information.

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