SaaS and the Dictator

Hot on the heels of our post yesterday dealing with audio services “in the cloud”, we happened across this interesting development in the big end of town for enterprise dictation solutions.

WinScribe recently announced the availability of their award-winning system in a software as a service (SaaS) version. Of course, what this means is that practitioners in smaller organisations can avail themselves of an enterprise application without the requisite outlay for servers, related infrastructure and experts to run it all!

It will be interesting to hear how they solved the security issues as practitioners seek to use the system in a internet cafe… that will make for some interesting Help Desk calls.

We feel this is also a low-friction method of trialing their system without the onerous project planning requirements necessitated by an “installed” solution.

Over to the smaller practices to give it a try and the alternative vendors to follow suit!

August 5, 2008 at 12:09 pm 1 comment

Twittering and the professional dictator

With business traveling at the speed of thought, is it any wonder that Twitter-like, on-demand transcription services are having venture capital thrown at them in increasingly thick wads?

In the last 12 months or so, sole practitioners of both the legal and medical persuasion, who make use of dictation / transcription as a core business process for generating revenue, are being courted and may soon be spoiled for choice.

Offerings from companies such as Jott, vlingo, yap, PhoneTag, SpinVox, GotVoice, YouMail and even Nuance are throwing up some interesting possibilities for the highly mobile dictating executive. See bbgeeks for an interesting comparison of 4 of the offerings.

Even the behemoth Google is rumoured to be about to launch audio-indexing

Naturally, the focus at the moment is on delivering transcribed voicemails to the user, but can fully-fledged transcription be far behind?

Imagine combining the ubiquity of mobile phones with a solution like Acappella that records meetings and tells the typist the name of the person speaking!

Virtually no geographical restrictions, an unlimited number of attendees and inexpensive and accurate transcription when you want it…

August 4, 2008 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

Ears are better than microphones, so…

One of the questions we are frequently asked is how to mic up a room appropriately in order to record a meeting.

Well, obviously the ear is a much more complex construct than a microphone, so it is important to follow a few rules in order to get the best possible audio recording for later transcription or reference.

Placement and Directionality

The ear has the great advantage of being connected in real time to the best processing machine in the world – the human brain. As such, the ear can discriminate between the source of the sound and a reflection of it, e.g. off a wall. In fact, the brain can “focus” the ears on the source and largely exclude the reflections… amazing. So, we must be mindful of microphone placement (get it as close to the source as possible) and directionality (employ a cardioid or hypercardioid microphone).

Interference

The music industry generally follows the “Rule of Threes” which means placing the microphones so that the distance from each microphone to the source to be recorded is three times less than the distance to another source of sound. Obviously this will work best when the sources are approximately equal in intensity, but is a good rule to give you the best chance of a decent result.

Stereo vs Mono

Stereo provides a richness of sound that mono cannot provide. However, for an application like Acappella ( http://www.acappella.com.au ) stereo mics detract from the accuracy of speaker identification. So, we sacrifice a little audio “warmth” for the significant business benefit of helping the typist understand who is speaking.

External Factors

Wind, fluorescent light hum, and electrical interference can all significantly impact on the quality of an audio recording. If recording is being conducted outside, then muffs will be required. Luckily, Acappella makes allowances for hum and constant drone etc, but always be mindful of eliminating these extraneous factors if possible.

Acappella Playback Assistant

February 21, 2008 at 4:01 am 2 comments

Digital Dictation Costs

As with all considered purchases, there are costs of purchasing and opportunity costs of NOT purchasing. Building a business case will require an understanding of both.

What does the tape system support & maintenance cost?
It is no doubt increasing each year as spare parts become obsolete.

What is the cost of floating typists?
A well designed and implemented digital dictation system can replace the majority of this cost.

What is the cost of temporary typists?
This is a tough one – partners are loathe to relinquish typist support. Do you need to replace a secretary who is on holiday?

What is the cost of the late return of transcripts?
An unhappy client is a poor chance of repeat business.

What is the cost of the lawyers having to redo dictations because of poor quality audio on tapes?
Doubling up on a lost or inaudible dictation is expensive. You have the direct cost of redoing the dictation as well as the indirect costs of time that should be spent on something else, as well as the delay to client service.

What is the cost of interruptions to the lawyer when they are asked to clarify what was said and who said it on multi-attendee conference recordings?
Digital dictation systems were designed for close-to-mouth audio recording. They were not designed to be set in the middle of the table to record a conference of people. They are 2 very different things. It takes 5-8 hours to transcribe 1 hour of conference audio, and it is a difficult task for the typist resulting in fatigue, incomplete transcripts and frequent interruptions of the lawyer to seek clarification as to what was said and by whom. Using a specifically designed conference audio recorder will lower the amount of time required to transcribe conferences, decrease the number of interruptions of lawyers, as well as provide a more acceptable situation for the typist from an occupational health point of view.

Does every lawyer dictate?
This is an important licencing consideration… no sense in buying dictation licences for lawyers who do not dictate!

Does every secretary type?
Again, this is an important licencing consideration.

What is the cost of support & maintenance for the digital dictation system?
Ensure performance is measured as well.

What does the S&M charge include?
Version releases, Point release, bug fixes, email support, telephone help desk, 24×7, follow-the-sun… Get the vendor to document the S&M protocol, including response times.

How does the vendor licence its solution?
Is it by fee earner or by secretary or by both or by PC or by concurrent fee earner or by concurrent typist or an enterprise licence? Is there licence control built into the system to prevent inadvertent surpassing of the licenced number?

That brings us to the end of our 7 part series on Selecting a Digital Dictation Solution. We appreciate all the email communications to date and welcome further questions as they arise.

January 21, 2008 at 10:24 am 1 comment

Digital Dictation Capabilities

Digital dictation and transcription falls into 2 categories frequently referred to as point-to-point and workflow.

Complex workflow, either document-centric or relationship-centric, will mandate a system that can support these needs.

Equally, the firm’s requirements may be more modest and be adequately met by a point-to-point system.

The following set of questions will help uncover the real needs of the firm.

What digital voice recorders and transcription hardware types are supported?
The Digital Speech Standard (DSS) is designed by the 3 member companies – Philips, Olympus and Grundig. As such, the hardware from these companies will be the most widely supported by all the digital dictation vendors. Seek to understand the pros and cons of tethered devices such as the Philips SpeechMike, Olympus DirectRec and Grundig DigtaSonic ranges versus the various mobile recording devices, e.g. the Philips DPM, Olympus DS and Grundig Digta ranges.

The following digital dictation systems (in alphabetical order) are not part of the DSS organisation, but have incorporated interoperability with the DSS file format – BigHand, Calison (Dictaphone) Crescendo, DictaPlus, DPS Team Talk, G2 LegalSpeech, Lexacom, NCH, nFlow, Quickscribe, SpeechWrite, Verdatum and WinScribe. NOTA BENE: the level of interoperability for these vendors varies widely. Ensure you validate the extent of support for the DSS.

The following digital dictation systems are not party to the DSS, but do have compression algorithms – Panasonic, Sanyo and Sony.

Are the hardware drivers for the audio recorders and transcription hardware integrated into the software or do they run as a separate package?
Being part of the digital dictation package makes for an easier roll out.

Can the software be rolled out by MSI? If so, in how many packages?
This is a major point to consider for the ease and cost of both initial roll out and updates / upgrades.

Can the system be centralised?
Rock-solid WAN infrastructure will be needed if this approach is preferred.

Does the system have some automated process for Microsoft SQL backups?
This will be necessary to restore the system to the latest possible point in the event of a disaster.

Can the digital dictation system application service run in multiple instances, e.g. one in each office?
This will provide failover protection, providing elegant disaster recovery and load balancing.

Can the system support multiple separate audio file stores?
Keeping the audio recordings on the LAN will keep WAN stress to a minimum.

Does the system have a telephony dictation interface?
Seek to understand the details of its level of functionality compared to the PC dictation interface.

What are the workflow engine’s capabilities, i.e. flexibility, auto-escalate etc?
If a workflow system is preferred, is it to be relationship-centric (lawyer / secretary) or document-centric (witness statement / deposition / letter / fax / conference recording etc)

Can the system receive audio recordings attached to emails, strip them out and submit them into the specific lawyer’s workflow?
If so, ensure the details of its level of functionality compared to the PC dictation interface are understood.

Is mobile audio recorder synchronisation embedded in the digital dictation application?
If synchronisation is separate to the application, this adds to the number of applications running on the clients.

Does the system support Citrix / WTS for streaming dictation and transcription?
Some systems are one-way, some use Citrix sound capabilities, some systems have optimised their own way of streaming… there are significant differences in the systems.

Does the system support mobile audio recording device synchronisation over Citrix / WTS?
This can be very handy for the lawyer who insists on using a mobile recorder only.

What is the system’s Management Reporting like?
Just saying they have reports is not enough – get the details as well as an understanding of their ability to tailor reports.

Is the system integrated with document management systems? Can it be?
If so, ensure there is an understanding of what is meant by “integration” as well as the pros and cons of using that integration. Systems include Open Text LiveLink, Interwoven Worksite, EMC Documentum, Axxia, LexisNexis Visualfiles, Thomson Elite ProLaw, Worldox, and IBM’s Lotus Domino.

What is the size of the audio recording on the vendor’s recommended setting?
All the vendors will say that recording quality can be selected but get their recommended setting and pilot that recommendation.

In what audio CoDec’s are the audio recordings within the system?
Understand the reasons for the selected format.

In what format are the audio recordings when they are exported for archiving?
This is a very important consideration in the age of electronic discovery.

Can the system slow down or speed up audio recordings during transcription?
Most say they do, but test it – some give very poor sound quality when speed is changed.

Does the system correct for pitch when it does slow down or speed up the sound files?
An important consideration…

Does the system support roaming profiles?
Exactly how do the systems accommodate the travelling lawyer especially?

Does the vendor offer 24×7 support?
It may be needed… it may not… but check what they mean if they say they do.

Is the status of the submitted dictation easily monitored?
Oddly, some systems do not provide a transparent work queue.

Does the system allow for dictations synchronised with a mobile audio recorder to be selectively submitted to the work queue or, conversely, maintained in the Drafts folder?
Some systems automatically submit all jobs upon synchronisation and thereby negate the advantage of having a Drafts folder on the mobile device.

Can the lawyer see who is actually transcribing the dictation?
Very helpful for the lawyer to manage client expectations on the Priority 1 jobs…

What alerts are there for incoming jobs to be transcribed?
Some systems have the flexibility of different notification methods for different priority levels.

Can a floating secretary / typist log on to another PC and see their work queue?
Some systems only allow a single work queue to be visible, rather than a work queue specific to the typist.

Can a supervisor access a typist’s work queue and reassign jobs?
Very important if a typist rings in sick or goes home unexpectedly.

Is the system integrated with VoIP platforms?
What do they actually mean with their claims?

Does the system allow the transcriptionist to lock out a number of jobs, transcribe them and then synchronise back into the system?
Very handy for the remote typist so that they do not need to remain permanently connected to the database.

What format sound files can the system import?
There are many conversion utilities, but it would be best if the more common formats are supported, especially those from the Courts.

Does the system integrate with speech recognition in both front end and backend modes?
The younger, laptop owning lawyers are increasingly looking to speech recognition from companies like Dragon from Nuance and SpeechMagic from Philips.

Is there a web-based administration screen for ease of access whilst off-site?
This is especially handy for the law firm’s own Help Desk if they are contacted after hours.

Does the digital dictation system’s audio recorder application automatically save every few seconds to ensure recoverability in the event of unexpected PC shutdown?
Despite it being good practice to submit multiple manageable chunks of a long dictation, some lawyers will dictate very long jobs. They will not be happy if their PC crashes and the system did not auto-save while they are recording.

How do the dictations get profiled?
Interface to practice management, DMS or matter management? Drop down list for field filling? By the secretary? Practice Management Systems include Thomson Elite, Aderant Expert, and Axxia.

Can the system insert content into the sound file?
Some systems can insert text, docs, images etc into the sound file. Useful if it is needed…

If not, can it make an association between the sound file and some other content e.g. template, precedent, hard copy etc?
Lawyers will frequently refer to a document. It can be handy if the system can link off to it automatically.

Is there a way to easily determine and handle those dictations that have Hard Copy Edit associated with it?
This is a useful function to prevent typists in remote locations opening a job, realising it has associated hardcopy, and having to exit the job.

Does the system reconnect automatically to the network in the event of network outage?
Users should not have to worry about reconnecting.

Can the lawyer dictate whilst not connected to the server?
Useful in the event the network goes down – they can continue to bill their time.

Can the dictations be password protected?
Apart from the obvious, this is also useful for the HR partner working on internally confidential matters.

Can the lawyer choose from workflows specific to their needs?
Some systems are quite limited in their submission options – off to a centralised work queue and that is it. Others can provide more elegant options.

Can submitted dictations be recalled by the lawyer?
This saves time and effort when the lawyer realises an amendment needs to be made.

Can the typist import a dictation for a lawyer, with the system ensuring the job is included in the relevant reporting statistics?
This is useful for the lawyer who walks in with a lot of dictations on the mobile recording device and just hands it to the secretary.

Can “Chinese Walls” be set up?
Some systems can – some cannot.

On dictation, does the system continue to record for a fraction of a second after stopping or pausing to avoid voice clipping?
It is very frustrating for the typist if the last part of each utterance between pauses is clipped and it will result in incomplete transcripts.

On playback, does the system automatically rewind some fraction of a second for ease of transcription?
Tape systems have been doing this for years – the digital dictation system should too.

What sort of alerting system can be configured, e.g. for late jobs?
Auto-upgrade to priority? Auto-re-route?

Can externally generated sound files (e.g. from the Courts) be imported and submitted to the transcriptionist?
The receipt of digital voice recorder files will be more and more frequent.

Is there an FTP upload capability?
Useful for large sound files external to the firm.

Does the system have a 360 degree secure workflow whereby dictations can leave the firm to be transcribed by an outsourcer and returned?
This will have increasing relevance in the age of non-core services, including transcription, being outsourced to virtual assistants.

What is the financial strength of the vendor?
Check out their corporate profile as well as their digital dictation project delivery experience.

What access is there to the digital dictation system developer?
A very important consideration for any development / integration work especially.

Under what project management methodology does the vendor deliver?
A large installation will require formal skills and management of the project itself, e.g. Prince2.

What reference sites does the vendor have who are willing to speak openly without vendor involvement?
This will speak volumes for honest appraisal of delivery performance.

Charles Christian of Legal Technology Insider maintains an invaluable source of information as to what technologies have been implemented by the top 250 firms in the UK. The Times newspaper of London also described Charles’ The Orange Rag as “the definitive online resource for the latest news about legal technology”. 

You can also stay up to date on issues specifically related to digital dictation and audio recording at this blog: http://audiorecorder.wordpress.com

What training resources can the vendor provide?
Rolling out to a large number of users will require significant training resources.

How are dictations reassigned from an individual typist’s work queue?
Some systems have drag ‘n’ drop capability for the supervisor.
 
Does the system have an API for integration to other systems?
If so, what support is there for development work?

Does the developer provide an on-line resource for FAQs?
This can be especially helpful for after hours issues.

In our next post we will talk briefly on the topic of costs.

November 28, 2007 at 1:36 am 3 comments

Secretaries’ Transcription Needs

As much as possible it is desirable that the impact on the secretaries and typists of digital transcription is minimal. In fact, a well designed and deployed solution will be met with enthusiasm when the previously impossible has become possible, such as working from home or highly efficient work sharing to avoid being required to stay back late.

The needs of secretaries and typists fall into 2 categories – what they have always been able to do with tape systems, and what they could do with digital dictation.

How many Secretaries are there in total?
In preparation for the licencing discussion, an understanding will be necessary with respect to the total number of secretaries versus the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) number of secretaries and the greatest number of secretaries at one time, and the distribution over the three 8 hour shifts of the day.

How do the Secretaries view the current tape-based system?
This is an often under-analysed area. Poor productivity due to poor quality recordings costs real money. Also, their opinions may give an insight into any possible resistance to change, or indeed hidden resentment of tapes. Many secretaries immediately believe that their jobs are under threat. This fear will need to be assuaged.

How do Secretaries cope with a bunch of tapes dropped in their in basket?
This helps clarify their level of advocacy for change.

How do Secretaries share the work within and between the practice groups?
This will demonstrate whether they have a teamwork mentality or a solo mentality. Digital dictation opens up a world of opportunities in both flattening the peaks of workload, as well as providing skills-based routing, e.g. some typists like to transcribe multi-attendee conferences.

How do the Secretaries cope with the jobs not completed during the day?
Left for tomorrow lowers client service levels, completed on overtime reduces profitability, transferred to another shift…

Have the Secretaries been asked their opinion of the tape sound quality?
Sometimes this is a very strong driver because poor sound quality impacts their ability to get their job done and it leads to dissatisfaction. It can also result in frequent interruptions of the lawyers as clarifications are sought, especially with multi-attendee conference audio recordings.

Is there a senior Secretary willing to champion the system?
Secretaries are not in a position to approve the system, but they are certainly in a position to provide valuable advice on more efficient ways of working.

Are there Secretaries who could take on revenue generating work, or easily up-skill to do so?
This will uncover hidden value in digital dictation from the redeployment of secretaries to para-legal type work.

In our next post, we will be looking at the Capabilities of the Digital Dictation Systems. They ARE NOT all the same, and I will show you how you can determine which is the right one for you.

November 20, 2007 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

Lawyers’ Dictation Needs

As much as possible it is desirable that the impact on the lawyers of digital dictation is minimal. In fact, a well designed and deployed solution will be met with enthusiasm when the previously impossible has become possible, such as transcription support after hours and from outside the firm.

The needs of lawyers fall into 2 categories – what they have always been able to do with tape systems, and what they could do with digital dictation.
 
Are the lawyers aware of the challenges prompting the investigation of digital dictation?
This will help drive the process to completion. Try not to go this one alone – it will be a tough internal sell when they are asked to pay for a replacement to a system they believe is functional.

How many lawyers are there in total?
Not every lawyer uses transcription services, so there is no sense in buying digital dictation for them.

For those lawyers using transcription services, what is their preferred audio recorder interface – slide-switch or push button?
Warning – Do not assume… It has happened that the project team emulated the incumbent interface only to discover that the other was more widely preferred.

How do the lawyers view the current tape-based system?
If the majority feel there is no problem, then you will need to illuminate for them their unrealised needs and a truly compelling business case will need to be built.

Do the lawyers travel?
The level of mobility of the legal practitioners will be part of the consideration for what method of remote access to the digital dictation system will need to be provided.

Do the lawyers second to client sites?
How they are setup on site will influence the remote access options required.

How do the lawyers get transcription support after hours?
This can be a key part of the business case.

Is there a senior partner willing to champion the pilot system?
This will dramatically improve the likelihood of success of the project.

In our next post, we will be looking the transcription needs of the secretaries.

November 13, 2007 at 11:11 am 1 comment

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