Headquartered in Leeds, England, with offices in five other UK cities, Plexus Law prides itself on its innovative, high-quality legal services for the insurance industry. The IT team set out to improve the firm’s legal processes. After frustration with other diagramming tools, the team turned to Microsoft Visio Pro for Office 365 for its interoperability with other applications and powerful graphical capabilities. Uncovering and solving process complexity streamlines operations and provides valuable insights for both internal stakeholders and external clients.
In a field notorious for complex processes, rigid milestones, and a requirement for detail and accuracy, insurance law firm Plexus Law is a successful player. The legal corporate clients in today’s ultracompetitive world demand more value at less expense. Add to that the enormous volume of information to be handled and the ever-increasing pace of litigation, and the case for simplifying legal processes becomes indisputable. That’s why Plexus Law relentlessly focuses on optimizing its processes. With Microsoft Visio Pro for Office 365, and the Data Visualizer feature that translates Excel-based information to Visio process diagrams, the firm’s legal teams now have an easy way to model processes from data. Stakeholders have actionable insights and a tool for remedying bloated processes.
Seeking clarity in a complex world
Plexus Law naturally bases its reputation and future on the skills of its legal team, but the practice of law also depends on clear, well-communicated timelines to ensure that filing and court dates are met. Those timelines can become highly complex because of time-constrained dependencies and the tremendous amount of detail and preparation required for each activity. Countering the tension between tracking time-sensitive deliverables and freeing legal staff to concentrate on practicing law is a universal challenge for the legal profession. Plexus Law needed a tool to lighten the burden on its lawyers by tracking processes and reminding them of deadlines.
Moreover, each corporate client has specific requirements, including service level agreements (SLAs) that govern each client’s reporting requirements as the case progresses. Processes are vulnerable to expansion, creating expense. “Our CEO is very concerned with adding the highest value at the best possible price,” says Lee Falls, Development Manager at Plexus Law. “It’s up to us to lower the cost of legal services by eliminating non-value-added processes.”
To understand the complexity of a typical case, consider the steps necessary in handling a standard vehicle accident case. Plexus Law receives data about the case and instructions from its client, an insurance company. Separate processes apply, depending on the circumstances. Processes can also divert if new evidence surfaces that changes the determination of fault, or if injuries have occurred. From this stage until final settlement, procedures depend on decision points with multiple Plexus Law departments that must be updated, such as when payments are made to claimants or appeals on court decisions are launched. These processes are entered into Vectus, the case management system Plexus uses to track milestones in each case. Within each process—from witness interviews to possible court action—is a series of more detailed subprocesses, such as contacting and gathering testimony from witnesses and organizing correspondence from claimants’ solicitors.
Also complicating the information flows to carry the case to completion are the parallel processes that occur in other departments not directly related to legal process at Plexus Law. Every legal milestone invokes information flows and actions for them—from the business intelligence (BI) team to management information (MI) and finance, whether providing data or disbursing and accounting for funds.
Although the IT team’s Vectus case management system collected the process data needed, it could not transform that data into dynamic, easily digestible process maps for stakeholders. The team had a vision—to optimize processes. It just needed the right tool.
Taming the monster process
Today’s Plexus Law grew from a management buyout from its parent firm in 2015. As the IT team for this new entity began to create its application strategy, it saw an opportunity to simplify case-handling processes. The final goal was to create a presentation method for before-and-after process diagrams for the benefit of business team leaders.
“Originally, we wanted simply to map out workflows to show to non-technical business people so that they could quickly understand a given process,” says Richard Ellis, Technical Team Leader at Plexus Law. “Flow charts were a start, but we needed greater sophistication and agility.” The team began using the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) standard to clearly depict processes, pulling Vectus data from the Microsoft SQL Server 2016 database where it resided into an open-source application that produced useful but static diagrams. The output was a JPEG file that couldn’t be modified. The team envisioned using the valuable data from Vectus with a more sophisticated tool that would facilitate use by workers of differing technical ability. Most of all, they needed a tool that would support BPMN and produce easily read flow charts and process maps.
When the team began transferring the Vectus case management data to Excel tables, and using the Visio Data Visualizer feature to automatically create process diagrams with Visio Pro for Office 365, everything changed. Visio does the hard work by creating process diagrams using BPMN notation. Those diagrams can easily be amended by even a non-technical worker with no prior Visio background. “We think Visio is a great tool,” says Ellis. “It’s so intuitive. Within a few hours of first using it, coworkers can easily model their ideal process flows and add or remove processes as they wish. Now anyone at the firm can easily change any process diagram instantly.”
The IT team was most impressed by the sea change in both the speed and ease of understanding complex processes when depicted with Visio, often with the simplicity afforded by the Data Visualizer feature. “Of course, we realized that complexity was an issue,” says Ellis “But it’s impossible to grasp how complicated a process is until you have that graphical visualization in front of you. Right away we could see where we could create efficiencies and increase savings.”
This was timely because the team began to receive more requests from internal customers to add IT application changes. Complexity could have proliferated. The IT team found that cyclomatic complexity, traditionally a measure of computer code complication, was key to evaluating processes. “We want to be able to tell a story that introduces positive change,” says Falls. “Where a cyclomatic complexity score of 10 is poor, we hit 169 in one key process! That helped explain how hard the team worked on even simple requests. I’m pleased to say we can address this now.”
Optimizing legal data to provide business value
Plexus Law legal teams consider the Visio process maps invaluable to helping them stay on track as they get ready for court dates and prepare submissions on time. However, the firm benefits in other ways from its emphasis on streamlining processes. “We’re doing something unique here with our use of BPMN through Visio,” says Falls. “There are advantages that we hadn’t thought of. Thanks to the clear process diagrams we’re able to create with Visio Data Visualizer, we have a common language between technical teams and business people. They appreciate the insights from the data we collect and manage.” As the team moves forward with its use of Visio, it has already identified a number of processes to be simplified. Perhaps most exciting is the spirit of collaboration and trust that arises from sharing easily understood process diagrams with coworkers who support process simplification when they see current complexity.
Falls points out an important byproduct of this project: Plexus Law clients benefit from actionable insights that the firm’s BI team provides—such as which drivers tend to have the most accidents. This accident data helps insurers give their own clients proactive advice. For example, they might highlight a certain route where delivery drivers have the most accidents and suggest avoiding it. “For us, it’s not just about each individual claim,” says Falls. “It’s about providing value for the total package of work we do for an individual client. It’s the power of tools like Visio and Excel that help us add that value.”