Tips For Selecting And Grading Technology Solutions

Editor: What should a law department look for in the supplier of the technology solutions it needs?

Veraldi: Corporate law departments (CLD's) are a unique challenge to many technology solution providers. While CLD's have the same user population as a law firm (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 proposes. It must understand how attorney's work and their interaction with outside counsel, vendors, business partners, and other departments within the corporation.

The supplier 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 impact existing applications? What are the means for the IT department, especially the helpdesk, to support and drive adoption of the new solution?

Overall, the supplier should have the experience not just in dealing with law firms or large corporations but specifically in working with the unique requirement of CLD's.

Weaver: You must first make certain that the technology vendors you are researching can provide you with what you need. 1) Determine the features you need; 2) Draft an RFP to send to each vendor for comparison; 3) Create a list of vendors that offer the services you are looking for; 4) Set up demonstrations of each vendor's product. You should also understand the technology that drives the system. Without researching this, you may purchase a product that looks like a new Cadillac but is powered by an old VW engine and does not have the capability to grow as you grow. Finally, learn how to:

Recognize the technical terminology to determine if it's older or newer.

Understand what vendors mean when they say Integration vs. Interfacing.

Make sure the system is scalable so you can enhance upon it as you grow.

Understand Web Portals vs. Web Based systems.

Behnia: The traditional software vendor selection process should be retired. This costly and lengthy process has not kept up with the pace of business and innovation often failing to match the right solution to the problem. A law department should look for a technology supplier who develops long-term partnerships with its clients. Suppliers should be measured on experience, investment in research and development, and above all, flexibility in conducting business together. Suppliers that offer multiple solutions in both traditional installed and Software as a Service model provide legal departments with the flexibility they need to make business decisions without compromise. In addition, suppliers that can solve multiple business concerns with flexible and integrated technologies provide real measurable cost savings to legal departments while mitigating risks of multiple vendor relationships and homogeneous computing environments.

Skelley: A law department should look for the following capabilities in their vendors:

Experience, Experience, Experience! Has the vendor worked in a legal environment in the past? This environment is very demanding and presents many unique challenges. A vendor's past experience is invaluable and can make or break even the simplest of projects.

What type of technology do they bring to the table? Are they recommending cutting edge technology or technology that is several years old? Be careful of vendors on either end of the spectrum. Utilizing cutting edge technology can appear glamorous; however, there are many pitfalls in going this way, some of which will not be immediately apparent. Conversely, using older technology has its own problems, such as compatibility issues. I would recommend using technology that is not a first generation in that way you let some other organization become the "Guinea pig" and it works though the first release problems.

Can they think outside of the box? Not all solutions are cut and dried and vendors that understand the environment are better able to be innovative when coming up with solutions.

Kirtley: Duff & Phelps, LLC works with clients to employ a strict vendor evaluation program. We look at various factors including longevity in the marketplace and how long the vendor has been in the business of creating, delivering and supporting technology tools. We also work to develop a long-term relationship between our clients and the vendor. We look to see if the vendor conducts annual user group meetings. These meetings are a great way for our clients to meet with others and see different ways the application is being used within a specific business vertical. These meetings are also valuable when the vendor showcases new functionality combined with hands-on product training. Another factor is how well the client will be served by the vendor. Do the vendor's support hours match the client's business hours both domestically and internationally? Finally, clients benefit when the vendor provides a local client service representative. This helps with problem solving in a timely manner and reduces travel time and costs.

Butler: Today more than ever, law departments are partnering with companies that can see beyond individual tasks and address the complexities of mitigating risk and optimizing results. Coupling activities into one technology platform enables corporate attorneys to observe developing trends across the entire organization. This "dashboard" view into the department's activities provides a single-source for keeping ahead of critical issues, instead of wading through an ocean of data and documents housed on several disparate systems.

Other departments in corporations, such as finance, operations and sales, have long since relied on the power of business intelligence systems with sophisticated, customizable "scorecards." These results are placed in the hands of managers who use the data reconnaissance for damage control and to enhance business strategies. Law departments should demand the same level of control from their suppliers.

Editor: How do you recommend measuring a technology vendor's performance?

Behnia: Measuring your technology vendor's performance is not a one-time event. All businesses face rapid, ongoing change on a quarterly and annual basis. Legal departments and technology vendors have to keep pace in order to best service the business. Annual vendor measurement should be binary and must examine both past performance and the ability to meet new and imminent requirements. Legal departments often stay with a vendor because it's comfortable to do so or because they are unaware of the business opportunities they may be missing by not switching to a more innovative and experienced vendor. Some legal departments continue with technologies that are unsupported by the vendor, or worse, with solutions whose vendors have long gone out of business. Today, legal departments have an array of tools available to measure vendor performance. Most are even being provided by the vendors as Service Level Agreements, executive level vendor report cards, and annual partnership reviews. Top vendors are generally just as interested in measuring their performance and will partner to reduce the measurement burden and focus on areas that are critical to the legal department.

Kirtley: A technology vendor's performance can be measured against a basic set of rules or guidelines. Do the vendor's capabilities match what was "marketed" during the sales meetings? Does the vendor support team respond and resolve problems within the agreed upon time frame? Does the vendor understand and address your business problems or is the vendor only interested in licensing more software? Some technology specific questions might include: Is the vendor willing to share costs for a specific upgrade across multiple clients who want the upgrade? Is the vendor willing to re-prioritize the product upgrade path based on client feedback? Each of these criteria can easily identify a technology vendor that is responsive to client needs or one that is more focused on licensing their application.

Skelley: To measure a vendor's performance you should:

Create a tracking tool to compare the various vendor performances against one another. Make sure to capture tangible information about each project.

Prior to starting a project, update the database to capture the guidelines for the project. Questions that should be asked include: Did the vendor meet your expectations? Did they do exactly what the contract stated they would do? Were change orders required? Was the project completed on time? Was the job completed within budget? Was there good communications on both sides of the project?

Weaver: Clients using an outsourced vendor should require a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This agreement captures the client's business objectives and defines how success will be measured. SLAs should encompass the vendor collecting and analyzing data from the client's various internal systems. It should also include any potential issues that could arise with the implementation process. The vendor should work very closely with the client's IT department to gain better knowledge of internal systems already in place, and the vendor will work closely with the client end users to ascertain specifications for the new system. Once the vendor has collected all of the information mentioned above, they will draft the SLA agreement and provide it to the client for approval. Throughout the implementation process, the client can gauge the vendor's performance against the SLA to determine if goals and specifications are being met. An effective SLA helps the client ensure the vendor is helping the client meet or surpass all service levels agreed upon.

Butler: Law departments should evaluate how a vendor is able to support their needs beyond the technology itself. To that end, service and cost of ownership are two key measurements that should be taken into consideration. How is the company organized for customer service? Do they have a long history of providing legal services? Does your vendor treat your business with the same urgency, the same attention to detail, and the same sense of responsibility that you would on your own? These are just a few of the initial service questions that should be addressed with your technology vendor.

When evaluating the performance of a technology solution, the total cost of ownership should be a consideration. Does the solution require installation time and hardware upgrades? Will you incur training expenses? Will you have to purchase separate licenses or software "seats" for everyone in your department? Will you have to pay for version updates or upgrades? These hidden costs can overshadow the actual performance of the technology.

Veraldi: Typically, there are two components of a technology solution - the application software and the implementation services. In many cases these two components are provided by two independent companies, although a law department may contract with a single entity to provide both the product and services.

In measuring the application software performance, it is critical to document the solution requirements and to measure the effectiveness of the deployed software solution. In many situations, the software and the associated components that are demonstrated in the sales process may not be the same as the software that is deployed.

The CLD must have a well defined statement-of-work (SOW) including document deliverables, milestones, and change-order procedures. Most importantly, the SOW must articulate the "business objectives" of the technology solution. These should be measurable goals such as the new electronic outside counsel billing system will reduce review efforts by 50%; or the contract review cycle will be reduced from two weeks to three days.

Published September 1, 2007.