The Next Big Thing: Software to Monitor Those Expensive Databases

A lot of us in the law firm library field have been asking for database and resource "monitoring" software for a few years now. Most of us have had our requests rejected because the cost of the software was seen as too high, or the benefits from such software were seen as too low back when the economy was booming. Now that law firms are cutting staff, attorneys, resources and salaries, some of those firms that rejected the monitoring software now understand the potential benefits that we've been talking about.
The Players
A little background on the big players in the database and resource monitoring world. There are really three main products out there:
1) OneLog 2) LookUp Precision 3) Research Monitor 4*) LexisNexis Cost Recovery Manager [PDF] (not really in the same league, but also used by some firms)
What is "Monitoring" Software?
The basic idea behind the monitoring software is to create an interface that tracks the usage of specific databases (i.e., Westlaw, Lexis, PACER, BNA, CCH, HeinOnline, etc., etc.) Many of these work within Internet Explorer and are fairly seamless for the person accessing the database. The last time I checked, most did not work with any other type of browser (of course, they all say they are "working on it.") But most of the law firms are still using IE (according to my logs, many of you are still using IE6) so, that shouldn't be a big deal for most of us. The software maintains information on:
1) Usernames & Passwords (either on a group level, or individual level) 2) Records which databases are used, by which users, and for how long 3) Restricts use of certain databases according to the license agreement (so if Partner "X" is the only person authorized to access a database, then Associate "Y" can be blocked from the application.) 4) Allows the administrator of the monitoring software to log out users remotely. Nothing is more aggravating than trying to access a database, but you can't because someone logged in, then went to lunch without logging out. 5) Create billing reports. Instead of going through manually to bill out the PACER quarterly reports, the monitoring software will create those reports automatically. 6) Set pricing on each database. Most firms charge back for Lexis, Westlaw and PACER usage, but many do not charge back for other databases. Monitoring software would allow you to put a "per usage", "per minute", or "per transaction" price on any database. 7) Create a "What Isn't Used" report. Now you can really see if that expensive database that the Practice Group Leader demanded a few years ago is really being used. When the librarian goes to the PGL and says "we are thinking of cutting this database", and the PGL replies "Don't cut that, I use that all the time!" Now the librarians has a way to see if that is true or not. Most of the time we know it isn't being used, but didn't have a good way to prove it.
Additional Ways to Use Monitoring Software
You can probably think of a few more good ways to use monitoring software. One of the ways that I've promoted is the "internal" resource monitoring. The IT or KM departments (or in some cases, the techie librarian) have created a lot of internal products that have great benefits to the firm. The monitoring software can be used to see what products are or are not being used, and who is using them. This can be a great resource when it comes to training, or spotting trends within practice groups on what tools are used, and what are not.
Is Big Brother Watching You?
In a word, "yes". The initial thought behind this type of software is to save money by getting rid of databases you don't need, or to reduce the number of users when demand for a database is low. Theoretically, it could also be used to monitor other things, such as how much time someone spends on Ebay or Craigslist. But, most IT departments can do that now, so this would just be another way of doing it.
Monitoring Software is Going to be Huge!
In a time when the fat is being cut, along with the meat, and some of the bone, monitoring software is going to be a tool of choice for many firms. The latest Law Librarian Survey mentions that many librarians are already using these tools as a cost cutting resource. The costs of just the monitoring software runs in the tens of thousands of dollars (depending upon the size of your firm, generally) and the first directive that librarians get is to cut enough in current database subscriptions to pay for the cost of the monitoring software. This is going to be one of those situations where firms will spend a little money in order to save a lot in return.

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James Mullan said...

Greg we use one of the products you mention at our Law Firm. It's absolutely fantastic yes it's a little bit big brother like especially where you can see what people are using for passwords - illuminating!

We'd certainly like to be able to point this system at some of our internal KM systems, we already use it monitor usage of our online library catalogue.

I imagine it will make a big difference when it comes to negotiating contracts with commercial database suppliers. I really do think some of these suppliers are missing a trick by not supplying better usage statistics. I guess there will also be an element of "mistrust" though.

Greg Lambert said...

A friend of mine (who is much smarter on these issues that I am) reminded me of a couple other benefits that can be set up with these tools:

1) Database level reporting in WL and LX. Although this is available in Quickview, it is only available one user or one client at a time for one month. This level of reporting isn’t even available on PowerInvoice. The power of this type of reporting is AMAZING.

2) Auto-redirects within WL and LX. In other words, if you don’t ever want an attorney using BNA on WL, you can redirect them to your bna.com subscription whenever they try to get into the database. All these posts about blocking on law-lib…don’t need it if you have one of these systems. Extremely powerful.

I reminded her that when you write these blogs at 11:00 PM while your three daughters are running in and out of the room, you tend to miss some of the details!!

Anonymous said...

Do you know what the typical server requirements (processor(s), Memory, Hard drive space, etc.) would be for these products, in say a 300 user environment?


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