A recent study reveals that many financial executives have little confidence in their IT investments or in their ability to evaluate the success of their IT ventures. Meade Monger, the managing director at AlixPartners, the firm that conducted the survey together with CFO research, concluded that “The message from CFOs and other senior finance executives is loud and clear – companies are spending too much on IT, and they’re not getting the business information that they truly need.” Office politics play a part in poor technology decision making, and so does the lack of a broader perspective that comes with being in-house.
Technology Assessments may be an answer to this quandry, as they provide law firms with specific expertise as well as a more extensive understanding of the technology landscape from an objective outside party.
From within their firm, even the most proactive, technology news-reading and conference-attending professionals can struggle in appraising the health of their law firm’s technology and strategy. On the other hand, firm partners rarely have the focus, vocabulary, or framework for communicating their priorities-when they can agree on them. Moreover, although strong communications between a firm’s IT and its partners largely determines the strength of its technology, there is often a gulf between these two groups. Technology assessments help to bridge this gap. They also provide the broader perspective as well as the specific expertise needed to determine where a firm’s technology stands and where it should be going to best serve the strategic goals of the firm.
Technology now makes collaboration between law firms possible in a way that it has never been before, but co-counsel may have little patience for another firm’s technical mishaps or downtime. Similarly, clients may prefer one firm over another for their up-to-date security measures or their preparedness in the face of a productivity and data-threatening disaster.
A common and significant issue find during these kinds of conversations is that IT has lost sight of the bigger picture-the business goals of the firm. In the case of the law firm, its foremost concerns are (or rather, should be) lawyer productivity and client service. We find that many partners can’t formulate their expectations for how IT should communicate with them effectively and that IT and Firm management don’t have such a model to follow. Working as part of the firm, IT leaders understandably become often absorbed in responding to everyday incidents and doing the work that keeps the firm’s technology running. IT poses a problem to the firm when it is myopic to the bigger picture and abandons strategic thinking for its restricted viewpoint.
The advantage of the third-party in the assessment is dual; the outside consultant knows many environments-firms on all points of the spectrum in terms of size and adoption of new technologies-and, at the same time, has the focused expertise in key providers. Through their close relationships with vendors, experts know which are the leading solutions, which are new and experimental or thoroughly tested, and can guide your firm in deciding on a custom solution that aligns with its strategy. The reasoning behind choosing to invest in certain software and hardware is subtle, and requires an analysis of a firm’s needs and goals. In our assessments, we occasionally come across a firm who is working with woefully inappropriate tools to meet its ends, to the detriment of the lawyers efficiency, the firm’s finances, and internal communications. To provide partners with confidence in their decisions, consultants can work with IT to document the costs and challenges of remediation efforts and to propose cost-effective plans.
With data from the consultant, IT staff and partners can compare how much those firms are spending and what they are getting in return, and where their own firm should be aiming relative to competitors and clients. With such benchmarking, assessments can pinpoint areas in which the firm can save resources and warn them when they are in danger of falling too behind to stay competitive. Not all firms necessarily want to be heading up the pack, but are not many that are willing to fall significantly behind. Again, this balance is subtle. It is also unique to every firm.
Ultimately, the main goals of assessments, whether done as part of internal planning or as a vendor-lead exercise, are to aid IT in furthering the firm’s overall goals. Firms who perform assessments invest by identifying areas in which the firm can save money, making the technology easier to manage and to upgrade, and by establishing the steps that the firm should be taking in the future to stay competitive.