If Technology is the Answer, What’s the Question?

At the Enterprise 2.0 workshop I attended yesterday, someone asked Livio Hughes of Headshift the following question:  What’s the worst mistake we can make with respect to law firm technology? His answer was interesting:  Don’t fall into the habit of thinking that problems can be solved only by launching a massive multi-year IT infrastructure project.  In other words, don’t assume that big technology is the answer to every question.

Livio told the story of a client that had invited Headshift to help revamp some technology systems.  Once they were engaged and were able to inspect “under the hood of the car,” they discovered that the real question to be answered was not the one the client had identified and that the right answer had very little to do with technology.  Based on this and other experiences, Livio’s advice was to take the time to analyze properly what was really going on in your firm from a process, behavior and cultural perspective.  Next, identify a range of possible solutions and see if there aren’t grassroots, low-key, tiny spend ways of testing some of these solutions in a variety of safe-fail pilots. Then, finally, make your choice.  Obviously, once you’re talking about grassroots, low-key, tiny spend solutions, you’re not heading down the path of the big ticket “total enterprise solution” that the vendor is desperate to sell to you.  Rather, you’re more likely to try Enterprise 2.0 tools, which tend to be much easier, cheaper and faster to deploy than those mega solutions.

Do you have an inadequate document management system?  Don’t assume the answer to that problem is the latest model DMS.  You may be able to side-step the pain of DMS replacement and go straight to a really robust search tool.  Or, have you considered a wiki that allows users to surface useful documents in context.  Or, internal microblogging/ tagging/ social bookmarking applications that use social signals to help high quality content rise to the top.  After all, we rarely need to find and reuse every item in the DMS.  We’re usually just looking for “something good” and would be glad to accept a document recommended by a trusted source in our network.

This is just one example of a key area of law firm knowledge management and technology that could be re-imagined in creative, economical and effective ways.  So, before you leap to the conclusion that a particular big ticket technology “solution” is the answer, make sure you really understand the question.

[Disclosure:  I had the pleasure of working with Livio’s colleagues,  Lee Bryant and Christoph Schmaltz, in February when Lee and I presented an introduction to Web 2.0 at LegalTech New York.]

[Photo Credit:  Leo Reynolds]

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