5 Major Things to Consider When Switching to a New Practice Management System

As a software consultant, I often work with firms who have decided to move on from their existing practice management software to a bigger, better and at times quite similar system. The reasoning behind the move varies from firm to firm, but popular causes include the desire to move to a cloud based system or due to a solid product demonstration. During our vetting process, we work with decision makers to understand the reasoning behind the switch and also to discuss considerations when implementing new software in its place. Let’s review the top 5 topics for you to consider before migrating from your existing system.

1) Reason for Switching

The reasoning behind a firm’s decision to move from their existing software will help shape the next steps of a proper software rollout. Rather than moving because of the newest bells and whistles on the market, firms should always begin by considering why they are proposing to move on from the existing systems. Pain points of software are natural and the development track of a competitive program can often inspire a firm to look elsewhere. Your software today may not have stood the test of time and your office could be missing out on software that is a better fit.

Recommendation: Schedule a workflow analysis from a software consultant to review from the top-down how each role and firm member is using your existing program. Often times a refresher training course or introducing a new add-on can resolve large scale issues. Getting a baseline of where your firm members stand today with its existing technology is an ideal starting point.

2) Converting Historical Information

Converting your legacy data is a very complex and extensive process. I have heard it described by experts in the field as ‘dirty’, ‘messy’ and also frankly ‘exhausting.’ If a vendor or technical support team is offering a conversion service, they are planning to place some of your data into the new software solution (often not a full mirrored copy). Think of the round peg and square hole analogy – conversions attempt to move years and countless hours of manual entry into a foreign database. Firms must consider their existing customization and legacy details, for example, that case form that is unique to your office is not necessarily built into the new software, making it difficult to transfer. Historical details built into audit logs, notes or unique features often do not translate in a conversion meaning conflict checks or case records are not necessarily complete or that the office may need to rely on both the old and new system for some time.

Converting from an existing software solution is not impossible, in fact our application development team has years of conversion expertise. Firms should just be prepared for additional effort on their end for time spent reviewing records, approval of conversion testing and discussing their ideal conversion style. Another consideration is downtime; can your office afford to be out of your existing system for any span of time? Typically during a conversion, the existing database is given an end date and time where the database will never have new information entered and the developers can begin working behind the scenes to transfer that information over. Conversions can happen in a variety of flavors and successful ones include time, energy and project management from both the consultant and the firm.

Recommendation: The key to a successful conversion from a firm is to retain a clear and documented mapping of which items will transfer, in what format and the timetable needed. Review of the conversion and testing need to be planned for by firm members on the project team lead. Lastly, ask for samples and referrals of similar projects.

Check out a success story of one firm we converted from Time Matters to Amicus Attorney with little downtime.

3) Training

A successful software rollout and migration from an existing program revolves around full firm training. Firm buy-in truly stems from training and establishing a comfort level with the software, Team members must feel empowered and excited for the new system while provided with role based training sessions. This includes how their daily activities will change, new firm processes and the tools to improve their everyday workflow. Keep in mind, training employees will leverage the return on investment and often reduce technical support needs after the installation. Training is the key differential between a successful firm adoption and a firm no longer interested in their software.

Recommendation: Schedule firm-wide training, onboarding training for new employees, and refresher training throughout the lifespan of the software. Develop with a certified consultant both a usage policy and a training guide custom to the office.

Also, learn how to get your entire firm to actually use your practice management system.

4) Compatibility

One of the key hurdles for any software migration project is verifying compatibility. Often when moving to a new program, the extent of compatibility can include reviewing Exchange versions, server details, workstation and Microsoft Office integration on top of any existing programs such as Billing or Document Management programs. The easiest mistake is skipping over compatibility requirements. For example, if someone is a diehard Word Perfect user or has a laptop they love from the early 2000’s and the new software is not compatible, they are unable to use the program. The system requirement for practice management solutions can change day-to-day and must be reviewed extensively before assuming it will work in every environment.

Recommendation: Software vendors should always publicly display their system requirements including versions their technical or maintenance plans still support. If you are unsure or have difficult matching that with your current environment make sure to work with a certified consultant and your I.T. resource to confirm.

See 10 common mistakes firms make with their practice management software.

5) Costs (AMP/Service Agreement)

Last and certainly not least, keep in mind the firm’s bottom line and budget for the software migration. Too often, long term costs of an aging practice management system is enough for a partner to want to start looking elsewhere. From technical support or annual maintenance (service) agreements to new resources and ongoing training-it will add up. Just remember, moving to a cheaper program does not always mean it’s a low cost transition. Long term monthly or incremental charges can add up and we have worked with firms that did not get the life out expensive resources such as servers when migrating software. Evaluate both the project budget and quoted costs, but assume that each year the reoccurring expenditures to continue to grow into the program will continue down the road.

Recommendation: Discuss with your financial department a realistic range for a new software program and request project proposals from certified consultant to assist in the process.