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IT Refresh? Here Are Some Considerations

Image of Jon Wainwright
Jon Wainwright

It’s not surprising that most firms are now actively pursuing an all-out, cloud-first IT strategy. Whilst firms had already had a taste of cloud technology, pre-pandemic – Office 365 is one example – the benefits the technology has offered to businesses over the last two years are irrefutable.

In fact, the firms that were in the cloud when the pandemic hit, made the transition to remote working very easily and thrived. Firms that operated primarily through on-premises IT and paper-based processes, found the shift more problematic. Some of those who weren’t on the cloud for business-critical applications, took the decision right in the middle of the pandemic to adopt the technology as quickly as they could.

Firms now acknowledge how easy it is or would be (if they were in the cloud) to manage and support a cloud environment – no massive hardware refreshes and server back-ups; business continuity, disaster recovery, dealing with the next major security vulnerability or unexpected software patches are the responsibility of the cloud service provider, and the list goes on. Furthermore, IT teams have complete visibility of costs, and even more crucially, they are defined and predictable.

Interestingly, Gartner estimates that by 2025, 85 percent of organisations will embrace the cloud-first principle – and anything non-cloud will be considered legacy!

Against this backdrop, and with the pandemic-driven uncertainty showing no signs of fading, anecdotal evidence suggests that in 2022 firms are planning to take a long hard look at their IT capability – not just to “tide over” the pandemic, but to adopt technology and adapt to the next normal in a meaningful way.

Here are some practical considerations for firms as they ponder their IT strategy and refreshes:

Have your firm’s business aspirations changed?

Prior to the IT refresh, appraise your IT estate within the context of the business aspirations of the firm and how technology could support their achievement. With this understanding, then review what is working, where the bottlenecks are, what processes are costing the firm time and money, what are customers expecting, and such.

Additionally, if plans are afoot for growth through events such as mergers and acquisitions, under tight nondisclosure agreements, bring in trusted technology vendors and partners into the conversations. They will be able to provide tips and suggestions so that the technology delivers against business requirements. For example, if there’s a need for merging data from two different practice management systems, what would be the best approach for data migration? What kind of expertise and experience should the technology partner have?, and so on.

Swiss army knife or best-of-breed?
In a remote and dispersed workforce environment, in addition to enabling staff to work from anywhere and anytime, applications must offer functionality, data management capability and security, among other things. Think about adopting a system that will cost effectively serve the firm in the long run. So, weigh up “Swiss army knife” type solutions and best-of-breed systems. The former do lots of things in very limited capacity, which may be sufficient and cost-effective at the time of deployment, but as the firm grows they will likely fall short of requirements. And later, to transition to a best-of-breed solution will possibly be more costly and disruptive.

Do your firm’s applications need to be re-configured to meet new user requirements?
Determine the needs of staff and clients equally to understand where the gaps in technology exist. For instance, is it proving really difficult to find information in a hybrid setting? It may be because users are using their email inboxes as their filing systems, so the firm needs to then understand why that may be so – especially if a document management system or equivalent centralised repository for storage is available to them. If employees are struggling to efficiently collaborate with each other and clients, it could well be that security protocols are becoming hindrances?

Are applications integrated to meet business need?
Often, firms have numerous technology applications deployed, but they aren’t integrated into the core system where lawyers and other employees live and breathe during their work day – which is typically the document management system (DMS). For example, based on a firm’s way of working and nature of business activity, it may be that for a particular kind of organisation, integrating the DMS with the practice management system is critical to business operation, whilst for another firm, integrating the DMS with document bundling and template management applications is more important. Likewise, a firm may find that approvals – everything from holiday forms to expenses – in a remote environment are very time intensive, which is a clear sign that there’s a need to adopt digital signatures.

Similarly, many firms will recognise that frequently they have systems deployed that aren’t really fit for purpose. For example, a firm may have deployed a case management system in the conveyancing department initially, then rolled it out to other departments, even though it isn’t best suited to other practice areas within commercial law. To correct the situation and provide the functionality that the commercial law practice areas require, an option could be to integrate the case management system with the document management system. By doing so, the workflows will be better suited to the commercial law practice areas.

Don’t re-invent the wheel
Today, there is no dearth of legal technology applications – and some are better than others. In fact, once again, firms have come to realise that the best of-breed approach is safest and as close as any technology adoption can be to being risk free.

This said, don’t go by only what vendors say. It’s a good idea to learn from other firms’ experience – what’s worked, what’s not, how they have overcome integration issues, what kind of applications best suited for a particular type of firm, and so on. Fortunately, in the legal technology sector, there’s a great willingness for information and experience sharing and collaboration amongst peer groups, so it’s well worth benefitting from it.

The pandemic has served as a wake-up call. With remote and hybrid working the norm in at least the near future, this is a good time for firms to revisit their IT environment and plan for near and medium term business requirements.

The good news is that with the cloud, the cost of technology has come down significantly, and firms no longer need large IT teams internally to support technology deployment. Yes, there’s a certain amount of administration, but nowhere near the same amount of effort is required as was previously with only on-premises solutions. Crucially, the best available technology is equally viable for all firms regardless of size.

This article was published in issue No.32 of Legal Innovation and Technology Today to read the full edition click here 

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