OM Feature Operations Management

Making Your DMS Migration (Relatively) Painless

Document management systems (DMS) are mission critical for firms. It’s understandable why the thought of implementing a new system or upgrading your current one can make your heart palpitate.
Jobst Elster

For all the questions, issues and pitfalls associated with DMS implementations, there is an equal abundance of best practices, proven tips, recommendations and success stories that will help your firm not only survive your current DMS install but hopefully make it thrive.

Jason Scott is a Senior Business Consultant with Tikit and has worked on 200-plus DMS firm implementations across the globe. His advice comes down to several key phases. “Plan it, design it, build it, test it, communicate to the business what ‘it’ is, learn it and then roll it out,” he says. He also emphasizes the importance of having clear objectives going into any migration project, and, at the end, ensuring all objectives have been met. “This might sound trite, but you’d be surprised how often objectives don’t match up.”

To help navigate this process, we reached out to some of the leading minds (and hands) when it comes to legal DMS implementations, migrations and upgrades. Our panel consisted of 21 experts, with a total of 2,848 law firm DMS projects under their belts, representing 16 of the leading DMS implementation, support, training, design, configuration and software solution providers. We asked them to complete a short survey focused on DMS deployment types, DMS implementation provider selection, tips for successfully navigating a DMS upgrade, and top reasons why DMS implementations (still) fail.

Let’s dig in to the results.

In order to provide an adequate technology baseline, we asked our experts — who collectively serve a broad range of small, medium, large, mega and global firms — to state the type of DMS projects they had been involved with over the past 12 months. A total of 95 percent had worked on cloud-based DMS implementations followed by 71 percent working with on-premises DMS to cloud upgrades; 57 percent worked with on-premises implementations. Above all else, this reflects a trend that has been almost a decade in the making — law firms of all sizes are embracing the cloud, especially when it comes to their document management needs.


The first order of business is critical: selecting and vetting the right provider. According to our expert panel, the top five attributes and qualities to look for in a DMS implementation partner include the following:

  • Reputation (86 percent)
  • Peer feedback/what are other firms saying (76 percent)
  • Track record (71 percent)
  • Overall value (67 percent)
  • Cloud experience (57 percent)

Additionally, several respondents cited the importance of finding a technology and business partner that is knowledgeable in the areas of information governance, change management, system design and user experience — and possesses the technology certifications and credentials to back it all up.

Change management is especially key so that the staff sees the migration through a holistic lens. Another reason consistently cited for DMS implementation failure is that the lack of change management and the overall perception that they are dealing with a technology, not a business, issue.

“IT-led projects focus only on the technical conversion issues,” making the point that a myopic, IT-only view might make it more difficult to effect broader change, notes Michael Georgopoulos, eSentio’s Director of Document and Information Management Systems.

Viewing it only as a technology project fails to see the larger picture of how the system impacts business for the entire firm. It can also make another critical factor for success that much more difficult — leadership and staff buy-in.

“Be sure to involve your attorneys and staff in some of the user interface and workspace designs, to ensure their workflows are considered and their ideas are heard,” says Brian Podolsky, Practice Leader at Kraft Kennedy.

Matthew Marcinek, DMS Team Manager and Solutions Architect at All Covered, feels strongly about leveraging data found in existing systems and analyzing the data at hand to make informed decisions. “Above all, perform a pilot migration with the firm’s data. This will allow the firm to see the results of their design and the migration process to confirm it is what they expect.”

Others stressed the importance of user adoption, DMS usability and designing DM systems with adoption at the forefront. “With cloud services, the focus is now on designing for adoption and getting full value from the platform,” says Joshua Fireman, Founder/President of Fireman & Company. “System design should involve IT and KM [knowledge management] and include input directly from lawyers.”

Related to user adoption is user training. Most survey responses mentioned the need for training throughout the entire process, even before migration gets underway … and well after it’s been implemented. “People are not going to just know how to use the new program. Be sure to provide sufficient ongoing training for your team,” Debbie Foster, a Partner with Affinity Consulting Group. “Training is not a onetime event.” She specifically cites training as a definite DMS success factor.

As evidenced by our expert conversations and survey feedback, communication breakdowns are more often than not the source of DMS projects gone bad.

According to Jeff Alluri, Principal and Vice President of Consulting with Element Technologies, DMS needs and the overall business case are not always clearly spelled out. “The message as to why we are choosing a DMS needs to be clearly understood by everyone within the law firm,” says Alluri. “With that being said, communication both internally at the law firm and externally with the selected DMS vendor is vital, and many times one or both of these are dropped or there is simply not enough of it.”


OK, so much of what is wrong with DMS projects is most definitely also what’s right. Approach each project with a well-thought-through plan; over-communicate objectives, expectations and outcomes across all project constituents; pull in your lawyers early and often; test and test again; and make your most vocal firm partner your DMS project champion.