David Baskerville writes:

“In professional services if you aren’t addressing technology you really don’t have a future”. A quote by KPMG at one of the last legal technology events I attended a lifetime ago…but it clearly stuck in my mind. And whilst the more successful professional services firms know this clearly to be true, “addressing” can sometimes be assumed as “replacing” with shinier and newer. But is new always best?

Obviously there are certain reasons that necessitate biting the bullet and moving to a new system such as the incumbent system becoming end of life or an irrevocable breakdown in the relationship between vendor and client. But for most other reasons it’s prudent to ensure that your current system really is incapable of doing what you need it to do before you decide to move elsewhere.

Are our current systems future-proof?

Well as nobody can fully predict the future there is no definition of a future-proof system, despite what some vendors might claim. We can, however, observe the direction in which legal technology is heading and we can certainly ask some questions to determine if incumbent systems will be able to keep pace and evolve accordingly.

Note that there are different layers in “technology future-proofing” so don’t focus on one area to the exclusion of others. Data protection and storage spring to mind and are indeed the foundations of your technology but user and client experience are equally important. “Collaboration” is the current buzzword in legal technology – and was even prior to Covid – and just as email replaced snail mail and faxes, on-line integration and data/document sharing has become the go-to method adopted by the more tech savvy and efficient firms.

Your systems being collaboration friendly is a no-brainer for the future.  But don’t just assume that your current technology won’t be able to rise to the challenge. Even if you’re not operating a fully cloud-based solution, collaboration and on-premises tech are not mutually exclusive. There is also middleware to explore, which cannot only deliver a means to an end but can successfully facilitate a best-of-breed solution. And speak to your current supplier. Ask them about their plans and also to clarify what functionality is already available. Most, if not all suppliers, will have collaborative functionality prioritised on their roadmap.

Paperless is also a bandwagon you should have already jumped on by now but if not, this is definitely a working practice that should be delivered by your systems. However, being collaborative friendly is intrinsically linked to paperless so can usually tick both boxes.

Dive deep under the bonnet

Our approach when starting the PMS selection process is to advise that the current system(s) should be thrown into the mix and weighted fairly on all criteria – ‘fairly” being the operative word. That means sourcing the right expertise to diplomatically (always important!) get under the bonnet for a thorough inspection of each system component. Don’t just take the word of so-and-so in accounts who says “Oh it doesn’t do that”. Remember that ‘doesn’t’ isn’t the same as ‘can’t’.

We constantly see instances of firms not using their current system to its full capacity, and features and benefits that have been significantly invested in are wasted. These systems are expensive and the reason for that is that there is a lot of functionality. Don’t leave before you uncover all of it.

Other consultants may boast a knowledge of the PMS market but as you would expect from most management consultants, this is usually high-level stuff.  What differentiates us here is that we are able to marry our director level experience of strategy guidance with our hands-on experience of the majority of legal applications. Most of our consultants originate from a technical and legal software developing background that we can tap into. And anything we don’t know, we certainly will ask the right questions to find out!

Further under the bonnet work should identify all departmental processes along with the functionality that currently delivers it. And no stone should be left unturned here.  In some work areas, the profit margin is so slight that any impact on day-to-day functionality may result in running at a loss. And nobody wants that! Remember that your current systems have probably been delivering your bread and butter functionality successfully for a very long time. Blueprint all departmental processes, pull out the ‘must haves’ and ensure these are not sacrificed in favour of ‘nice-to-haves’. Be sure that any potential new system can deliver by asking the new supplier to sign-off said blueprints.

The biggest bang for your buck

That’s what everyone wants, right? Well, when ascertaining the true cost of moving to a new system you also need to factor in the non-monetary aspects to your calculations. The term ‘sweating your assets’ may have a hint of ‘making do’ but there is actually a sensible sentiment in there. You do need to look at the costs you have already invested in your current systems. I’m not talking about the initial outlay costs for the software or the annual subscription/support costs but instead the resource that you have dedicated to making any systems bespoke to your firm’s working practices.

How many in-house developers do you have? Calculate their salary costs to date. And how about the SMEs whose hourly rates were sacrificed in documenting workflows?  And project managers? Business analysts Unfortunately, these costs need to be factored in as a loss if moving to a new system.

What’s your budget for the new system? It’s very important to decide on this at the outset and before you start meeting suppliers. What if you were to take that arguably very large budget and instead of ‘twisting’ and taking a chance on a new system, you ‘stick’ with what you know but recommit to it, investing instead in a combination of software and creative development (Tip – contract developers can be expensive so always go for fixed term).

Imagine bypassing 18 months of business disruption and fulfilling your wishlists to achieve that competitive edge. What if you could achieve something truly special whilst continuing to reap the benefits of your investment in your core system and its plethora of bespoke processes and reporting methodology?

There are different ways of ‘addressing technology’ and it just might be that a revamp could be more effective than a replace.