Evaluating Your Technology Needs
In the time since you started your firm, you may have accumulated a mishmash of technology: aging desktop computers, an expensive copier that jams all the time, a couple of cutting-edge laptops, and some software that you never really managed to use.
Many firms take a piecemeal approach to technology upgrades, replacing things that break or buying new equipment and software without really thinking about the big picture. A smarter strategy is to periodically assess the firm’s technology needs and develop a plan for retiring old equipment and purchasing new hardware and software that will help your firm run efficiently.
Some experts recommend an annual technology audit. During the audit, you’ll (1) evaluate whether your firm currently has the technology it needs, (2) assess whether your hardware is adequate for the tasks you perform, and (3) identify any technology bottlenecks that hinder your firm’s productivity. The assessment involves talking to your staff, charting your firm’s workflow, and looking at alternatives.
And it shouldn’t be limited to your firm’s hardware. A good technology audit also looks at your technology infrastructure, including outlets, firewalls routers and switches. It assesses phones and internet access, peripherals like scanners and printers, software and mobile devices. It also looks at security precautions, including data breach security and data backup processes.
Small firms may find it easier to hire an outside consultant to evaluate technology needs and make recommendations.
Once you know what your needs are, you can consider possible purchases.
- Look at the potential return on investment. Will that shiny new laptop allow you to do your work more efficiently? Will it enable you to run software or perform functions that your existing machine can’t handle? Or is it just a shiny new toy?
- Find out what you will need to do to actually make use of this new technology. Will you need a dedicated person to manage it? Employee and lawyer training? An upgrade to some other technology? Understand what lies between buying this new technology and actually making use of it, and be sure you are committed to the process before making a purchase.
- When evaluating cost, factor in the cost of maintenance, whether it’s maintaining a piece of hardware or renewing a software license every year. Consider whether you will need to upgrade existing hardware or software to make it compatible with the new technology you are purchasing. Consider the amount of training required and whether you will need professional help to maintain and manage it.
- When buying software, find out how long the company has been in business, and be aware that new software companies may offer a seemingly great product one year, only to shut down the next. Also ask about problems users have had with the product. Read online reviews, and try to speak with someone who has actually used the product before you buy it.
- Time is money. It takes time to learn to use new technology, and even more time to sort things out if something goes wrong. Look for companies that offer training and that have strong customer support teams that can give you answers quickly.
- Lawyers have ethical responsibilities to maintain client confidentiality, and it’s important that law firm technology has adequate security features built in to meet a lawyer’s ethical duties. Ask questions about security for any software or service that you’re considering.