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March 2000
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MIS@ Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro

When It's Time to Dump Home-Grown Software

A California firm opts for InterAction to manage relationship and marketing data.

By Vince Klein

PARTNER Jim Butler leads the hospitality practice group at California's Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro; representing hotels, restaurants and sporting facilities. Like many lawyers, Butler has become increasingly dependent upon technology tools to manage his client and contact information.

In the 1980s, Butler and his colleagues juggled their contacts using a DOS-based WordPerfect notebooks. But in 1997, when Butler broke 14,000 names, he and the firm realized that the jerry-rigged system, where each attorney managed individual lists, was no longer was practical. It was time for the firm, with 150 attorneys and offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, to explore a more centralized system.

Staff of Eight

The firm's IS staff of eight handles all technology issues, including network database support, training, help desk, PC and Local Area Network maintenance, calendaring, docketing, and word processing. In 1995, we migrated from DOS to Windows 95. We currently operate a Windows NT 4.0 network.

Our primary word processor is WordPerfect, although we do run in a dual environment with Word. We currently are using Docs Open, but will be migrating to iManage for document management.

When we first searched, in the early '80s, for a software system to integrate the firm's contacts together in a way that would be easy to manipulate and manage, none existed.

So we created one ourselves, in-house.

This "home grown" system amounted to a glamorous version of a Rolodex. It provided a centralized warehouse to store firm contacts. Each attorney was provided an ID in order to access the database, which also stored marketing codes. We built a Microsoft Access table to store mailing information, and a Visual Basic front-end to track all firm contact data and migrate the WordPerfect notebooks into a central database.

While the system served the firm's basic needs, it also presented complications. For instance, even though the database was centralized, each attorney's personal contact directory was a copied subset of the whole. This meant that if an attorney wanted to maintain his own contact directory apart from the centralized system, duplicate records would abound, and data could grow stale.

"Many people didn't spend the time and effort keeping those records updated," recalls Butler. "The same contact could reside in 15 personal Rolodexes with incorrect information."

Sophisticated Levels

Moreover, the need to easily share more sophisticated levels of information about clients and contacts with staff and other attorneys became more pressing.

For instance, when Butler attended a meeting, he wanted to know, ahead of time, who else in the firm knew the individual. Were their experiences positive or negative? What problems, hot points or opportunities arose from the meeting?

"In our business, the continuity, background and insights are invaluable. If you want to serve your client better, you are better armed with this information, says Butler."

By 1997, it was clear that our home-grown system could no longer meet the firm's needs. The problem was brought before JMBM's technology committee. The committee is comprised of a cross section of the firm -- partners and associates from the main practice areas, key support staff people and myself.

At our monthly meetings, both the attorneys and IS staff challenge the firm on a regular basis to look for new, efficient ways of doing business. We drum up ideas, do the research, and present our ideas at the technology meetings where we establish priorities and develop capital budgets and plans.

The committee was faced with a choice: Overhaul the homegrown system, or look to the marketplace once again to determine if software was then available that would satisfy our needs.

We first looked to our internal system. The firm hired a programmer and budgeted $5000 to examine how far we could get. After about two months we determined that to develop the features Butler was asking for would easily cost $100,000.

After seeing how buggy the modified home grown application was after only a few thousand dollars invested, a light bulb went off and the committee said, "This is ridiculous." We couldn't afford it. The maintenance alone would be very expensive. At the time, Y2K issues still loomed. So the firm looked outside.

The Search

Around this time, we coincidentally received a flyer from Interface Software about its InterAction product. When we conducted an Internet search, its name came up again. So we contacted the company to learn more about the product.

We were advised that InterAction uses a centralized SQL Server database that would enable both the attorneys and the firm's marketing department to store and access key client and contact information, and then share it among all authorized users. At the same time, the system would make it easy to store contacts privately in appropriate situations, or to "privatize" certain elements of contact information.

For instance, Frank Moon, JMBM's director of marketing, felt it critical that the system be able to keep private certain data, such as personal information or confidential financial data, that an attorney would not want to share widely in the firm.

It became clear that InterAction met most of our requirements, and at a little less than half the cost of modifying our in-house application.

We also explored other software packages. We dismissed Symantec's Act!, and Goldmine (from Goldmine Software Corp.) as being too sales-oriented, and because they both lacked certain flexibility and relationship capabilities.

For example, neither program allowed us to maintain separately "people" and "companies." These programs would have required us to maintain company data within each separate contact listing.

This was unacceptable given how quickly company information, such as area codes and mailing addresses, changes.

Stores Separately

By contrast, InterAction stores the data separately, so that if a change is made, such as a new area code or a new mailing address, the changes can automatically filter down to each "person" listing associated with that company.

We also considered a database designed for law firm marketing departments called LegalEase, from Cole Valley Software. But it utilized a proprietary Fox Pro database, which was unacceptable.

Another critical consideration in our selection process was the reputation of the vendor, and its commitment to customer service. Did the software company back up the product? Were they easy to work with? How was its support?

Everyone we dealt with at Interface was courteous and took our problems seriously. The technical support people were conscientious, knowledgeable about the product, and responsive to our requests for modifications.

For example, there were certain features we wanted that were not in Version 3.2. Interface promised they would show up in the next version, and they followed through.

For instance, InterAction lets you tag selected contacts and perform a global operation on all of them, such as adding a note or activity, sending a broadcast e-mail, or adding a classification. We wanted "reverse tag" capabilities -- the ability to tag specified contacts, and perform a global operation on those who are not tagged. When Version 4.0 was released last May, it contained this feature.

Implementation

We purchased the InterAction package in October, 1998. We could have chosen an Interface partner to help us with the roll-out, but we decided to manage the project in-house.

Included in the documentation was a comprehensive planning and implementation guide. It provided us with a step-by-step road map which covered such topics as: configuration; building a test environment; customizing the recommended configuration; planning the database environment; installing the software; creating a test implementation; running a pilot implementation; installing the system; performing adjustments; and ongoing maintenance.

We hit a few glitches early on, but Interface's technical support staff was available to resolve issues we encountered.

For instance, direct dial phone numbers imported from the old system into the "company" records in InterAction, not the "person" record. Customer support sent us an SQL statement that we ran to correct this error.

Also, in our custom database we collected data that was used for conducting mailings, such as Standard Industry Classifications. InterAction did not have comparable fields, and we did not want to lose this marketing information. They showed us how to use its "Custom Fields" feature to create an SIC field within InterAction. Then we mapped the old data right into the custom field.

Overall, however, the implementation went smoothly and did not require much assistance. We only placed seven calls to technical support during the process.

Opportunities

Jim Butler is typical of our attorneys, who spend much of their time putting together deals and transactions. Under-standing who is doing what and with whom is critical for driving business to the firm.

"We're involved in all aspects of a project -- whether its finding the people who provide a particular type of financing, or helping someone find a particular type of employee," says Butler.

"People are the key. Knowing who they are and how to stay in touch with them is critical."

Certain InterAction features have made it easy for our attorneys to access that detailed contact information. For instance, users can store notes from phone conversations, meetings or even press releases in "Notes" fields or "Activities" fields. This information is globally available, but users have the option to protect entries that need to be confidential, by denying access or limiting access to certain practice groups or individuals.

Butler, for instance, uses the notes and activity fields to remind him of important facts and details that he can use to foster closer relationships.

"Whenever I have a meeting, the first thing I do is get a complete print-out of all notes and activities stored in the system about the client," he explains. "In so doing, I can understand how long I have known this person, where we met, the nature of the relationship, and whether it's personal or business."

Beyond storing chronological information, the centralized relationaldatabase allows the attorneys to identify relationships among their contacts that otherwise might be difficult to discern.

A "Who Knows Who" icon, for example, instantly reveals all firm members who have had any interactions with a selected contact. Users can also quickly determine all known contacts that work for a particular company, or those that have a relationship with each other. They can also create and save searches that will retrieve data based on any field or combination of fields stored in the system.

Butler uses these "relational" features to examine contact and relationship information from many different angles. As a result, he is able to reveal opportunities that otherwise might not be apparent.

"When traveling, I do a search to find out who else I know in the same city to possibly arrange a meeting," he says. "I regularly go through the database looking for who might benefit from a particular idea or who ought to be introduced to whom.

I search through activities stored on the system for key words such as 'financing,' 'development,' 'management' -- different aspects of work with which people may require help."

The firm also expected InterAction to provide marketing data, as well as features and functionality for conducting targeted marketing campaigns such as mailings and seminars.

JMBM's marketing department hosts a number of seminars and other events for clients and contacts, which are designed as updates on current legal trends and to showcase the attorneys' expertise. Organizing these events is labor intensive, and expensive.

Frank Moon wanted to lower the cost of sponsoring these seminars. He explains, "Last year we held our annual 'Meet the Money' conference in downtown Los Angeles," explains Moon. "More than 30 speakers from the hospitality industry were featured at the event, ranging from Wall Street financing experts and representatives of private investment firms to CEOs of the nation's largest hotel companies," he continues. "The conference enables hotel developers, financiers and others in the industry to meet, share ideas and learn about the latest trends and directions in hospitality. About 350 people attend his event."

The logistics of organizing the seminars are staggering. The right people must be invited and attend. Appropriate follow-up also must be assured.

With a team of people organizing the event, the old system made it nearly impossible to keep the data updated and accurate. Marketing couldn't determine which files were updated and which ones were out of sync.

Activities couldn't be entered into the system at certain times. IS had to spend hours fixing things. In 1998 the firm expended something on the order of 500 overtime hours on the project/ This year we used InterAction to manage the conference, and the savings were considerable.

According to Moon, the overall number of hours devoted to the 'Meet the Money' conference dropped from 500 to under 100. About 250 of those hours saved were directly attributable to the use of the InterAction, reports Moon.

Vince Klein is information services director of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro.

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