The legal industry is littered with examples of technology purchases that have gone awry! It’s not necessarily because the systems that firms implemented were poor, but in all probability the technology was unsuitable for that business. Technology adoption is a strategic business decision, and unless it is viewed in this way, the potential for it to not fit the needs of the organisation is high.
I often find a disconnection between a firms’ business and IT strategies. IT departments are tasked with identifying a new technology platform – with minimal input from firm leaders on what the critical business requirements are, the strategic goals of the firm and how the system must support the achievement of its long term objectives. Typically, therefore, IT teams narrow down their search to a selection of technology platforms; and partners and business leaders begrudgingly attend a series of product demonstrations and then purchase a system almost entirely based on a ‘technical’ selection criteria. When problems arise further down the line the IT Director/IT Manager invariably takes the blame for what the business owners then believe to be the wrong solution.
On the other hand, firms can ensure successful system selection if they willing invest time and effort upfront, ensure all key stakeholders within a business play an active part in selection and ultimately all contributors take ownership of the decision. From initial project inception through to selection, there are steps you can take to ensure that the business invests in the right solution:-
- Align business and IT needs – Intricately understand your IT requirements in the context of the firm’s business goals and strategy. Gather information and requirements from staff, departmental heads, partners, suppliers and clients to ensure an in-depth appreciation of the current operational issues and future business requirements – this is the base information needed to support any decision to move to a new technology platform.
- Demand meaningful product demonstrations – Commonly, firms resort to attending a series of all singing–all dancing, stock product demonstrations. I’ve lost count of the instances where my organisation is one of many vendors who have been invited by a senior partner to deliver the archetypal two hour demonstration – only to be told at the end of the process that ‘all the systems we saw look alike’ only to then ‘buy with their eyes’ – i.e. select the one they ‘liked the look of’! Instead, put the vendors through their paces. For example, provide a complex scenario that is important to your business, ask the vendors to build/configure their solutions (with the firm’s team in attendance) and demonstrate how the problem is solved. Most firms barely dip their toe in the water, but commit to a dive in on mere gut feel.
- Do the leg work – Most vendors provide the same ‘friendly’ flagship sites as references. Examine the vendor’s customer list for the product in question and select a reference site of a firm whose operational reputation you respect. Visit the reference site and view the product in its ‘live’ state to assess if the solution delivers the capabilities you require. Rarely will you be able to get an exact fit of business requirements, but you will gain a pretty good understanding of the true calibre of the product and can ascertain the likely return on investment of adoption for your business.
- De-risk your decision – Strategic technology systems are expensive to deploy – in time,effort and money. Pre-empt potential errors or implementation issues by testing the vendor from the outset. Ask the vendor for business analysis upfront and a fixed price for delivery. Ask for a ‘proof of concept break’ clause in the contract where full adoption of the platform depends on successful delivery of your most business-critical/complex functional area. If a vendor is confident that the solution matches your long term requirements, they will be willing to partner in this way.
Business leaders aren’t technology experts and while it’s reasonable for them to plead ignorance on some aspects of IT matters; their direction at a strategic level is critical to successful deployment of underpinning technology platforms. They must simply bite the bullet and fully participate in the selection process – from start to finish ensuring that their business needs are fully met and that any decision made is done so with the overall strategic objectives in mind. When a software purchase goes well, the outcome is transformational, so it’s worth investing quality time in the process to ensure the ongoing future success of the business.