Law firms have historically been at the forefront of technology adoption as they have strived to make business gains from IT in the form of efficiency and productivity, all of which present the promise of profitability and bottom-line enhancements to these organisations. However, in my 20 plus years in the IT industry, I find that technology directors in law firms are constantly tasked with helping the organisation "make such improvements through IT" and yet so many of them "appear" not to hit the mark. Does this mean that genuinely, more often than not, IT projects fail in law firms?
I don’t believe that IT projects necessarily fail. They simply lack measurement. Data is the most powerful weapon in IT directors’ arsenal, but it’s unfortunately severely under-utilised by them – which is why verdicts of failure are so easily bestowed upon their departments – based on subjective opinion, gut feel and emotive viewpoints.
Firms deploy technology to solve business problems, so its implementation must be driven by a business case and its success or failure based on pre-defined metrics. Take the example of a firm deploying a CRM system. Typically, one finds that post deployment, different constituents (partner, administrator, fee earner, business development professional and so on) will bring to the table their critical conclusions on the success/failure of the technology in the business, based on their own subjective perspectives. In such scenarios, resorting to facts is the only indisputable way for an IT director to demonstrate the project’s performance to the business. For example, utilising an ROI calculator that delivers a tangible cost-benefit analysis of the investment will help present a meaningful argument for evaluating and illustrating the value of the tool to the business in a manner that is irrefutable.
Similarly, there are regular demands on IT directors to derive more value from existing technology. Demonstrating project success based on data is the only convincible way. For instance, if the enhancement is made by a conveyancing firm in its case management system, demonstrating ‘before and after’ style metrics for specific things like time taken for document production, property searches, delivering quotes to clients, opening new instructions, exchange of contract to completion and such, based on the nature of the improvement project, will serve as credible illustrations.
Additionally, and perhaps more crucially, this kind of data-led approach will help IT directors prioritise the improvements projects they need to take on based on their criticality to the business – and in doing so, minimise project risk. This approach requires identifying the key data points that are relevant to the project, gathering the supporting data, and gaining stakeholder feedback at every stage based on fact-based conversations. In doing so, IT directors will find that they are able to identify projects that are truly important for the business, dispel emotive opinions that might not necessarily be reflective of the current situation, while also taking the subjective viewpoints into consideration for determining future improvement projects. This kind of a balance will prove to be a win-win for all parties.
Fundamentally, no one can argue with data, but can certainly do so with subjective opinion. Measurement is key to demonstrating project performance – be it failure or success.