iCreate®: Implementing document production standards
by: Ian Kujawa
When deciding on a firm-wide solution for templates and formatting tools, there are many important questions to be asked in the process.
- How will current templates be upgraded?
- How can styles be more widely employed across the firm?
- Can a solution be found that will be easy and cost effective to maintain and upgrade in the future?
- Is it possible for a solution to intrinsically compensate for different skill levels and increase collaboration among users?
- How can old documents be easily cleaned up, and how can document fidelity be ensured?
Law firms often face these same questions every three to five years, as they upgrade Microsoft Office versions. As it so happens, the most recent Microsoft Office platform intensifies these questions and concerns, as it relates to a new document file format and related technology.
According to ILTA’s 2011 Technology Survey1, 62% of respondents (an increase from 51% in 2010) indicated that .docx/XML document format has been implemented as their current firm standard. At the same time, in-house developed solutions still represent the single largest segment in the template automation market. These firms are now having to reassess the efficacy of revising (or completely re-developing) a custom solution to work within the current platform, while charting a successful upgrade path for the future.
Conversely, many firms own a collection of tools from different third party vendors to address their needs. In this scenario they must analyze what each of them brings to the table and how/if they have evolved to address the new Office platform, if they are still compatible with each other, and then if they are able to work cohesively as one in providing an intuitive and efficient solution.
With document production as a whole having such a huge impact on a firm’s software environment stability, and even overall profitability, these are all truly business-critical considerations. iCreate® can effectively address the questions, and provide a seamless path to ease the challenge of future upgrades in a volatile atmosphere of ever-changing technology.
Building and maintaining an in-house solution:
The amount of time and resources needed to successfully develop an in-house solution that provides the same powerful capabilities as iCreate® would be quite substantial. Consider the following checklist of likely requirements to get started:
- A small pre-development team with expert word processing knowledge, which can devote significant time in deciding on template and automation requirements, and creating full specs for the solution.
- At least one talented full-time software developer with core competencies in these areas: 1. Microsoft Word’s Object Model 2. Microsoft Outlook’s Object Model, or a full understanding of the firm’s contact management system API. 3. Visual Basic for Applications4. .Net programming5. Structured Query Language (SQL)6. Integrating a document management system with Microsoft Word.
- 12-24 months of development and testing time set aside.
Even at this stage, many firms may not have access to a developer with the background necessary to create any kind of advanced numbering and formatting utility, or document cleanup and conversion tools. Instead they may end up purchasing these components anyway (at a significant cost) and try to integrate them into what they have developed, or settle for default native Word functionality.
It’s easy to see that a firm could spend substantially more to develop a solution in-house than what an initial investment in iCreate would be, yet end up with something entirely less powerful and integrated.
Other points to consider are how the firm will move forward from this baseline in maintaining and advancing their new custom solution, as internal needs and technology trends change.
- The demands of third party application integration (DMS, CRM, database management, etc.) in an environment of constant updates, patches and new versions.
- Internal and client requests for further customization.
- Maintenance and creation of new templates requiring significant developer resources.
Clearly, retaining dedicated resources will still be necessary. At what cost? Will those resources provide the vision and innovation necessary to help keep the firm on the cutting edge of technology and productivity? Could those resources be more judiciously used to research and adopt further time saving platforms such as Citrix virtualization or mobile devices like the iPad2
iCreate has a proven record of saving time, money and resources compared with developing and maintaining an in-house solution. But what are the general benefits that make it a compelling choice for law firms needing a more viable path forward?
Seamless migration architecture: The XML-driven architecture in iCreate allows firms to leverage the work invested in their current solution by simplifying and accelerating the template creation/migration process. Additionally, the product administrator can easily modify template wizards by simply adjusting the corresponding XML configuration file, negating the need for costly development.
Speed of implementation: iCreate is highly yet easily configurable to meet practice-specific needs. It also provides robust and flexible administration tools to quickly deploy changes throughout the firm and over multiple office locations. Administrators need no development knowledge to make changes to or maintain the iCreate environment, which allows for maximum flexibility and best use of resources.
Quick user adoption: Enhanced Native Architecture (explained in more detail below) allows firms to leverage current Microsoft Office training. By keeping the user experience native and familiar, iCreate deployment and training can be combined with that of Microsoft Office, greatly reducing training costs3 and providing the greatest return on investment.
Increased Data Integration: Microsoft Outlook and other Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are widely used at law firms today. iCreate provides an integrated application “out of the box” called QuickMerge, with powerful tools for accessing and merging data from Outlook, InterAction, or Lotus Notes for documents created inside Microsoft Word.
Standardized and Intuitive: iCreate provides intuitive and reliable standardized features for both the end user and administrators, conducive to legal software environments, without overloading systems. Simplification of deployment is accomplished through streamlining components, but optional extensibility is available so firms can modify and implement further functions at their discretion. The overall architecture of iCreate has been designed to require minimal system resources while allowing for maximum flexibility.
Support: iCreate comes backed by a team of developers and support personnel dedicated to the maintenance and advancement of the product, and to the success of its client-partners. A support solution such as is provided with iCreate (including access to live support via phone and web meetings) allowing issues and questions to be resolved more quickly, with minimal interruption in work flow.
Enhanced Native Architecture – The smart choice
Enhanced Native Architecture™ (ENA) is a term coined by Esquire Innovations, Inc., used to describe the design philosophy of iCreate®. iCreate was consciously architected to build upon the user interface and features of Microsoft Word whenever possible, bolstering enhanced functionality without becoming foreign to end users. These are the main tenants of ENA:
- Promote Native Look and Feel
Use the look and feel of native parent software dialog boxes whenever possible. This maintains consistency between the product and the parent software application, leveraging user familiarity for quicker adoption and less training.
- Don’t Reinvent It
If a feature already exists in the parent software application, use it. Don’t re-build it, or re-invent it.
- Improve Workflow
If an important feature is difficult to get to, bring it to the forefront with a menu option or button.
- Fix It
If a feature is broken, fix it.
- Speed It Up
If a feature or process is slow, speed it up with streamlined programming that does not change the look and feel of the native parent application.
ENA ensures that iCreate always adheres to Word Best Practices, resulting in less document corruption and, therefore, less time wasted reformatting documents.
The essential objectives for iCreate are to significantly reduce the cost of the document production process, provide powerful and time-saving features for both end users and IT staff, and commit to astonishing customer support.
For firms focused on reducing the total cost of ownership in the area of document production, choosing and deploying a solution like iCreate will afford a great return on investment, while positioning themselves for future success.
2 iCreate is compatible with both Citrix XenDesktop and XenApps allowing firms to fully deploy VDI environments and take advantage of the latest mobile solutions such as document production on an iPad.
3 Cross platform automated training modules are also available with the iCreate package.