Roundtable: How To Decide On Getting A New Technology System And How To Evaluate Its Benefits

Monday, September 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor: How should corporate counsel benchmark the benefits derived from their client's technology solutions?

Tweardy-Riveros: The two most-used benchmarks to measure the benefits derived from new technology are Return on Investment (ROI) and carbon footprint. Web-based solutions that bring together disparate data, standardize workflow across multiple locations/departments, reduce offsite storage of information/documents and enable staff and outside counsel to collaborate online score very high in both of these areas.

CSC has understood the benefits of web-based technology since 2000. As a result, every legal solution we offer corporate legal departments, from CSC Dashboard to CSC Matter Management to CSC RecordsCenter, is a combination of up-to-the-minute access to the critical corporate data and information we already manage for them delivered through flexible and highly secure web-based technology. This enables our customers to quickly demonstrate huge reductions in staff time spent keying in and updating data, copying and express mail fees charged by outside counsel, and expenditures related to data and document storage. In addition, our web-based solutions allow corporate legal departments to easily excel in company-based and bar association-sponsored "green" initiatives because they can immediately reduce the amount of paper consumed in handling legal matters, administering compliance and document retention programs, as well as the carbon emissions resulting from offsite meetings.

Harris: A disciplined approach to understanding the benefits of technology solutions involves four key steps:

1. Assess Current Practices . This step involves assessing current policies and practices that are impacted by the proposed technology solutions. For example, in the case of legal hold management or e-discovery, it's important to assess the following: How well is the organization performing in the areas of personal data management, e-mail management, content management, application data management, storage management and retention management? Are policies and practices in place to achieve the strategic goals for information governance?

2. Analyze the Gaps . Analyze the gaps between existing and best practices relative to the organization's legal portfolio. For e-discovery, understanding the organization's discovery intensity and risk profile and how those gaps affect cost, burden and risk to the organization will assure technology initiatives have immediate and meaningful impact.

3. Establish Recommendations . Establish a set of key recommendations and next steps for moving forward. These should address the objectives of the organization and reflect people, process and technology considerations for successful implementation.

4. Plan & Implement . Based on the recommendations, develop a formal plan that identifies the required technology solutions and includes steps for provisioning, implementation, training and professional support services.

Veraldi: Our experience has shown that the most critical aspect of a technology solution is adoption. Success is highly dependent on the evaluation and selection of the solution and the implementation team; however, without the proper training and user buy-in, the best-selected solution will have little chance of success.

The traditional classroom training must be expanded to include more high-level business process and value proposition. The users must understand why they are using new software or systems. In addition to the classroom training, additional coaching must be provided. This can be delivered via the solution instructor visiting the user's office post-training to ensure that any immediate issues are quickly resolved. You have about two to three weeks where the departmental users will either embrace the solution or develop workarounds!

Finally, upper management must not only support but embrace the solution. When departmental heads integrate the solution into their workflow and speak directly to their team as a user of the solution, adoption by the departmental team increases substantially.

Editor: What criteria should corporate counsel consider when deciding whether to acquire a new technology system?

Tweardy-Riveros: Implementation cost and ease of adoption are two important criteria corporate counsel should consider when deciding to acquire a new technology system. Legal departments are already stretched thin on budget and time, and anything that requires more of either will take significant effort and probably additional vendor professional services to at least get up and running.

CSC has removed these barriers to implementation and adoption through its use of web-based technology in each of the legal solutions we offer. Users of systems like CSC Dashboard and CSC Matter Management only need an Internet connection and login and password to get started.

Harris: First, focus on a process that assures transparency and good faith. What are the company's current legal processes? Where do the greatest gaps lie between current practices and industry "best practices"? Once the gaps have been identified, develop a formal plan that incorporates the people, processes and technologies to close those gaps. Not only will this help galvanize the e-discovery response team so that there are consistent practices that are predictable and measurable, it will also help counsel and IT document the benefits and need for technology investments.

Second, understand the company's IT infrastructure. Counsel needs to be familiar with the computer systems and the IT infrastructure of the company. Take action now to understand what applications and content repositories exist throughout the company. Work with IT to identify how ESI is retained and stored. Learn what type of files and information is stored in each repository and how the content is governed. This will help counsel and IT understand what technologies can be leveraged and where investment in new technology may be needed.

Veraldi: A classic approach to IT investment is the return-on-investment ("ROI") measurement. In theory, this sounds like a simple, straightforward method, however, while the investment is easy to quantify, the financial return becomes very subjective.

Over the years, we have found two very important criteria that the corporate counsel should consider when acquiring new technology - how this will impact internal constituents and what the impact is on outside counsel.

Since the corporate counsel's office interacts with internal constituents, the value of implementing new technology should support or enhance this collaboration. For example, a web portal where other departments can locate approved standard agreements (NDA's, Consultant Agreements, HR forms) can streamline the process and increase the efficiency of intra-departmental interactions. This can result in work reduction and enable the business to scale down with no additional staff increases.

The other party where significant value can be achieved is with outside counsel. Most corporate counsel have frequent interaction with outside firms, and systems that support electronic billing and web-based collaboration can significantly reduce the fees from the outside counsel's organization.

Experience, experience, and experience! Corporate law departments ("CLDs") are a unique challenge to many technology solution providers. While CLDs are similar to a private practice law firm in their user population (e.g., attorneys, paralegals and legal administrators), the supplier must understand that the CLD is a single department within a larger corporate umbrella.

The supplier must have experience with the legal-specific technology solution it is proposing. The supplier must understand how attorneys work and their interaction with other constituents including outside counsel, vendors, business partners, and other departments within the corporation.

The suppliers must have the vision to understand how their solution will fit into the larger corporate IT infrastructure. What standards are in place for corporate applications? How will the proposed solution integrate or impact existing applications? What are the means for the IT department, especially the help desk, to support and drive adoption of the new solution?

Overall, the suppliers should have the experience not just singularly dealing with law firms or large enterprise corporations, but specifically in working with the unique requirement of corporate law departments.

Behnia: The following list of criteria should be considered as part of the decision-making process for new technology:

What is the impact of not making a decision?

What if the process remains manual or you remain on your current technology?

Is the process to be automated well understood?

It is important to understand the current process as well as any desired changes. The best technology in the world cannot make a bad process flow much better.

Are there regulatory or compliance concerns?

Will the new technology assist with compliance or raise new issues?

Does the organization have the capacity to take on the project?

Who can be assigned to support the internal project for project management, subject matter expertise, and IT support? Is there another project underway that will interfere?

Is there a broad suite offering available authored by a single company (i.e., not cobbled together through acquisition)?

Working with fewer vendors will eliminate integration work, compatibility issues, and upgrade complexity.

Are the application(s) built on a platform that can be modified? Extended? Integrated?

If needed, can the application be adapted to fit your requirements? Can adjacent functionality be added by building on platform tools?

Are there flexible deployment options?

Does the vendor offer deployment options such as On Premise, On Premise Hosted, and SaaS? What if your needs change? Can you transfer between them?

Can the application scale to fit the requirements?

Are there references that match your operating requirements? Benchmarks?

Have the risk elements been accounted for?

What if the vendor is acquired? Do you have source in escrow? What would be the business impact?

Do you believe?

Forget the committee consensus decision. It's just the least common denominator. Do you believe that this is the best vendor and technology?