Over the last few months, I have discussed elements of strategic technology plans for law departments. In this last article, I will cover common pitfalls in the planning process. Following are the most common mistakes that I encounter when advising clients on their planning processes.
1. Selecting point solutions without consideration of the big picture
Often, departments select technologies as they identify a need. The department may not consider the need or potential to integrate with other department technologies, or how the technology could be used in the long term. Over time, the department finds itself with a patchwork quilt of systems. Should the need arise to share information, integrate the systems or establish cross-system workflow, the department may find itself stymied by systems that require extensive modification to achieve the objectives. Therefore, it is a prudent practice to consider upfront platforms that work together, as well as identify potential future uses of systems vis-à-vis each other.
2. Not linking the strategy to department objectives
One of the best ways to consider a big picture strategy is to regularly evaluate how technology is working to achieve department objectives. For example, rather than selecting a document management system to eliminate paper, consider why eliminating paper is important. A department seeking to empower lawyers to have better access to documents while on the road (for trial or field work) necessitates a different solution than a department that is seeking to save costs associated with printing, filing and storing hard copy documents.
3. Composition of planning team
It is neither uncommon nor necessarily wrong for IT staff to lead technology planning. The challenge arises when the planning team does not include the correct mix of other relevant stakeholders. Department leadership and representatives from various department practices and levels should be included to offer insight into the legal and business requirements and realities. While IT can describe the potential benefits of a system, having representation from the actual user base provides deeper insight into how the technology could really be used and lends credibility when selling the new solution to other users.
4. Ignoring importance of change management
Ensuring that the strategic technology planning team is comprised of a logical set of stakeholders is one element of good change management in that an appropriate planning team can drive buy-in among the rest of the user base. Ensuring that department staff understand “why we are doing this” is just as critical as selecting the correct technology. Leadership visibility and communication are similarly important in establishing an appetite for change and encouraging wider adoption of new technologies.
Too often, departments allow vendors to supply materials and courses that speak only to general product features and functions. The result is that users learn where to click, but not necessarily when and why to use a system. Busy lawyers and leadership staff may skip the training altogether relying solely upon support staff to work with the tool. And support staff may not be given the context they need to effectively use the tool. Training should be tailored to the department and the audience. Modifying vendors’ “vanilla” materials to describe the department’s use of the system is worth the investment.
6. Not focusing on process
Related to the preceding point, most “vanilla” training materials simply cover basic functionality. The best training materials incorporate context—the when and why that is relevant to the department. For example, rather than teaching a department how to open a matter within a matter management system, teach the lawyers when to open a matter (i.e., if retaining outside counsel or when cost/risk/significance is estimated at a certain level), what information is required, who should be responsible for the opening process and only then, how to perform the action. The training that lawyers receive may be significantly different from that which is provided to paralegals or support staff responsible for more data entry and system maintenance.
7. Placing too much emphasis on cost
While budgeting for systems is important, too many departments select the lowest cost system without considering the value they hope to obtain. I recently worked with a department that had outlined sophisticated requirements for a system, but was not prepared to invest in the cost of configuring the system. I was concerned they would end up with too much out-of-the-box functionality and the system would fail to meet expectations. So while the department may have saved money on the initial capital outlay for the system, the risk was that the system would not perform as anticipated. Further investment would eventually be required, or worse, users would defect from the system thereby rendering it ineffective.
8. Setting unrealistic expectations
Setting goals for technology is necessary. However, many departments can be unrealistic in their expectations. Overly aggressive timelines are a common culprit. Leadership wants to see results in a few short months and does not provide the time required for proper implementation. Another common problem is expecting a single system to “be everything to everyone.” While there are plenty of “all-inclusive” systems that provide broad functionality, these systems typically lack the deep functional capabilities of best-of-breed systems or the ability to support nuanced needs of some groups of users. A department must consider its ability to support the complexities of integrating best-of-breed systems with its needs for powerful functionality.
Strategic technology planning offers many benefits to a law department. Departments that take the time and make the necessary effort and investment are the ones that, over time, maximize their return on investments and see the greatest success in achieving objectives.