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Bridging the technology expectation gap: A legal marriage made in heaven?
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Bridging the technology expectation gap: A legal marriage made in heaven?

In a world driven by technology innovation, it is encouraging to learn that three quarters (76 per cent) of legal IT management believe the current legal technology market can meet mid-market firms’ strategic needs.

It is less encouraging, however, to discover a serious disconnect between the perception of the IT lead and the firm’s managing partner, according to new research from Alternative Events.

While both are united in a belief that the supplier community could do better, especially when it comes to over-promising and under-delivering, the difference between board perception of IT alignment to the business and IT management’s is stark. From the value of the delivered solution to taking responsibility for aligning IT investment with business priorities, there appears to be a serious disconnect.

As Jason Petrucci, CEO, Phoenix Business Solutions, insists, the legal industry needs to make a change if technology-driven innovation is to be achieved. And, all the time there remains a lack of IT representation at board level within the mid-market, the onus is on vendors to enable an open and honest three-way conversation that breaks down the expectation gap between managing partners and IT management.

Assessing performance

The role of technology as a competitive differentiator and driver for business growth is now a given, with 95 per cent of UK CEOs saying they are changing how they use technology to assess and deliver on stakeholder expectations, according to the latest PwC CEO survey. It would, therefore, seem reasonable to assume that IT directors are 100 per cent aligned with the objectives of the firm. Yet according to two comparative surveys undertaken recently within the mid-market legal sector by Alternative Events, the leading technology event provider for professional service firms, there remains a significant, and concerning, disconnect between IT and managing partners.

Based on its expertise within the legal sector, Phoenix Business Solutions’ analysis of the surveys compared IT management’s responses to those from firms’ partners. A significant finding is that board expectations of technology procurement often fail to align with the achieved outcome. While there is widespread disappointment due to vendors’ over-promising or under-delivering during the procurement process, many are also raising concerns about IT management’s capabilities in getting technology investment to marry up to the partner’s definition of business goals.

In an era of endemic business disruption, where digital transformation has become a fundamental component of business strategy, firms need to consider just how and why current IT procurement models are falling down.

Poor vendor perception

When asked how well they think legal vendors are serving the legal mid-market as a whole, the majority of managing partners are less than positive. While 11 per cent said the service is poor overall, a massive 53 per cent said vendors could do better in some areas.

Just 2 per cent said vendors are doing “very well”. While this appears to be a huge indictment on the quality of the vendor marketplace, there are further board concerns regarding IT procurement that need to be taken into account, not least the level of engagement between the IT director and the board.

When asked to rate the effectiveness of the firm’s current technology procurement and its ability to meet business needs, 53 per cent of partners said it could be better in some areas – it is hit and miss, and we are not getting good value. Just 7 per cent said it was excellent and that the technology procured always closely matches the aims while staying within budget.

Yet IT management is clearly committed to driving business improvement and meeting new corporate objectives, and also has knowledge of the available technology solutions – so why are current engagement processes apparently failing to accurately represent management expectations?

Communication breakdown

There are clear cultural issues undermining the effective procurement and delivery of IT solutions. Asked to cite the most significant problems encountered in getting the most from IT systems, the results are both revealing and disturbing: 13 per cent of partners admitted the decision-making team is not well enough informed about the tech market and systems to know what to ask the IT team to deliver; and over a quarter (28 per cent) said the IT team is not close enough to the business to choose/implement the most suitable solutions.

In a technology-dominated environment, this combination of cultural disconnect and collective lack of direction should be a very significant concern for any law firm, especially given the way partners and IT management appear to interact.

While only 17 per cent of partners claim to drive the tech agenda in the firm, are tech- savvy and have an adequate understanding of the opportunities and challenges, 64 per cent claim to be mostly comfortable with and supportive of technology and innovation, so work in close concert with the IT director on tech decisions. Just 2 per cent say they leave these issues to the IT director.

What is going wrong? Are the concerns and frustrations mutual?

IT perspective

Certainly, IT also raise the issue of vendor performance, with 60 per cent saying legal technology vendors could be better in some areas. But it is also incredibly telling that while 2 per cent of managing partners say they leave technology issues to the IT lead, a very much larger 32 per cent of IT management claim the leadership is mostly happy to the leave the issues to them. And just 7 per cent say the board drives the tech agenda in the firm.

Given this mismatch in perceived drivers, it is perhaps no surprise that 70 per cent of the IT respondents believe the managing partner would rate the effectiveness of the current technology procurement and its ability to help meet business goals as excellent or reasonable/good enough. A very different outlook to the 55 per cent of managing partners, who rated it poor or hit and miss.

Clearly the disjointed conversations between IT and Managing Partners, IT and legal tech vendors are far from ideal. Everyone involved in the potential new solutions needs to be working together – clearly current levels of communication and collaboration are failing to work for either IT or the board.

Change is imperative

To ensure effective alignment of IT with the business, not only must all parties work together but the conversation must be based on a more honest and open agenda.

It is clear that there are serious concerns about supplier promises, at both partner and IT management level – the onus is on the vendors themselves to make a significant change and approach any technology investment from the perspective of business enablement, rather than technical capabilities alone.

Presenting an accurate picture of the solution’s strategic potential directly to the most influential consumer of that solution – namely the managing partner – is key to ensuring the firm is investing in technology that will deliver the expected value.

At the same time, both Managing Partners and IT management could adopt a more effective approach: while managing partners will gain significant value from welcoming approaches from the IT director to align technology investment to business strategy, the IT director must also take ownership and work with vendors to ensure solutions are designed from the RFP stage onwards to meet the specific objectives of the business strategy.

There is a dual responsibility on buyer and seller to make sure the solution meets the needs of the business. Until such time as IT gets full representation at board level, vendors must ensure that everyone involved in the decision-making process is both informed and engaged – ensuring both a far better outcome from investment and an improved perception of IT providers, both in house and externally.

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