Integration is a term loosely used by legal technology companies. So you might ask, what is integration and why does it matter? Let's start with defining what integration means. According to integration is the act of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole.   Integration matters because many times what is being called an integration is actually a link.  And the experience an integration brings an end user is very different than a link. So what is the difference between integration and a link?

Integration is when two applications share data. Frequently a software development kit (SDK) or application programming interface (API) is used. To simplify, SDKs and APIs are provided by an application provider to programmatically share data with another application. These tools provide flexibility to make the experience for the user more flexible and robust. For example, you might have the ability to define what fields from one application go with the fields of the other application up front, making the day-to-day use of the integration seamless. An integration may go both ways between applications with additions and changes to data. An integration doesn't have to be buried under a setup screen, it can be in the form of a plug-in that gets installed on a computer with either pre-configured data fields or with the ability to configure and map fields as you install the plug-in.  Plug-ins can reduce the complexity for end users and can be developed to make default assumptions for the low-tech user. In contrast, a link is usually simple, for example, a link could be clicking on an email address and it opens up your email application and pre-fills in the email address. Some links can pass more than one data field to an application but it typically is one way.

When you use Microsoft® Outlook® as an integral part of your day, having the ability to share information with your matter management solution is critical. One of the most popular business applications to link or integrate with is Outlook, after all, so many legal professional use it to manage email.

So going back to the definition of integration as being the act of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole, an integration between Microsoft Outlook and a matter management system should feel like it is one. There are many ways a matter management can develop an Outlook integration that allows you to easily save emails and their attachments.  For example, some are as simple as dragging and dropping to a matter, others let you right click and save to matters, or some automatically match or recommend matters based on an email address, you won't find this kind of experience with a link.  Not all integrations are equal however. Some integration's have been developed to share information that requires end user pushing a button, or incrementally synchronizes throughout the day in batches. Legal professionals need the most current information when looking at matters, therefore look for integrations that provide real-time updating.

When looking for a matter management solution that claims an integration with Microsoft Outlook, be sure to ask for details of how it is setup and how it works. Keep an open mind and understand whether you are looking for ease of setup and use versus robust functionality. A more complex setup usually results in a more robust integration but in the end, may be easier on the end user. Understand how your users work to make certain the integration fits the workflow. Having a great Outlook integration with a matter management system is beneficial when users believe it is part of Outlook or the matter management system because it makes sense with the way they work, which means they'll use it.

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