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I.T. in practice: The need for speed

Every Issue

Cite as: (2007) 81(12) LIJ, p. 98


Enforcing email use policy guidelines can dramatically improve the system’s “speed”.

“The system is slow” – four dreaded words that practice system administrators and IT consultants never like to hear.

This is not because they would prefer to introduce new initiatives rather than fix old problems, but more because the resolution of such a vague complaint – real though it may be – is often time-consuming, costly and protracted.

When a complaint about system speed is raised, it is important that the area or function in the system which is slow is identified – such as retrieving documents from the server or document management system, downloading content from the Internet, opening emails, or the like.

The reason why this first step of analysis is essential is that it helps to gain clues as to where to start looking.

The next major issue to be covered is “slow compared to what?”. The answer to this question yields interesting responses, which are often unclear – like “compared to where I used to work”; “compared to my computer at home”; “compared to when I was working in our office in the city”; “compared to before the upgrade”; or the completely unhelpful “compared to before”.

Internet access speed

When it comes to web surfing, the single most common cause of speed problems is practice email use policy guidelines.

Where a firm lets staff use their work Internet email for personal communications, then the firm’s Internet gateway gradually becomes loaded and then overloaded with email traffic in the form of “joke” emails and video clips.

Every email user knows at least one “joke forwarder” – a human spam generator who loves to forward on to their large address book chain emails and cute video clips.

If a firm has an email use guideline which says that staff should not generate these emails, and that they are to actively discourage any friends from sending them “joke” emails, this is the first step in maximising available Internet bandwidth.

The second step is enforcement of these email use policies, an aspect which is sadly lacking in some practices.

An IT consulting colleague recently described a client where the managing partner reminded all staff of the firm’s email policy use guidelines, and the fact that email use would be monitored if it became necessary.

In the days following, the speed of all systems – not just Internet web access – speeded up.

Another often overlooked cause of web surfing speed slowdowns is a simple one – increased use.

Currently, legal practice content download is doubling every nine months or so.

This is due to the increased volume of content available from government departments and private service providers. It also extends to online banking, client research, legal research, and broader content delivery from other professional organisations, such as the Law Institute of Victoria.

Thankfully, the solution to this dilemma is quite straightforward – upgrade the practice’s DSL access speed.

Often this can be done online with the service provider, but sometimes it may be necessary to invest $100-$200 in a new DSL modem or some reconfiguration by an IT communications consultant.

Document use speed

Virus-scanning tools are an essential part of the computer desktop landscape. However, some can slow systems down, and even “fight” with document management systems over exclusive access to documents. This can be remedied quite easily by changing setup parameters for the virus-scanning tool.

Where no automated document management system is in place, system speed enhancements can be gained by ensuring document directories do not have large numbers of files in them – a deep structure is better than a wide one for speed purposes.

General system speed

In the IT consultant’s bag of quick-fix tools for general speed problems are some quite technical solutions. These include:

  • ensuring that the internal domain name service – the part of the system which helps “search” for computers and network services – is accessing an internal device, rather than the Internet;
  • getting all computers up to the same version for all software;
  • upgrading memory and/or hard disks in computers;
  • scanning for and removing viruses; and
  • checking for physical network cable problems.

An urban myth abounds relating to using disk-defragmenting programs.

Although these can have some benefits, they are often short-term and tend to hide the real problem by temporarily removing the symptom.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more I.T. in practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing department at http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/lpm/it.

“To do” List

  • Investigate the specifics relating to reports of system speed problems.
  • Pair technical solutions for speed issues to practice usage guideline enforcement where necessary.
  • Be aware that the more specific the description of speed problems, the less costly they tend to be to fix.
  • Recognise that speed problems may be masked by quick fixes, but in the medium term it will be necessary to find the underlying cause.

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