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I.T. in practice: More choice, more problems

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(10) LIJ, p. 80

Strategy planning pays dividends when making information technology purchases for practices.

The sheer breadth of choice when it comes to making technology purchasing decisions for the practice is bewildering.

Even limiting oneself to the top three equipment vendors within the inkjet/laser range, there are more than 120 different models of printer to choose from. And, given the rapid turnover of new models – each model tends to have an average life span in the market of six to nine months – even choosing a model which is consumer-compatible with the practice’s existing or previous printer(s) is almost impossible.

Technology support staff report that – after internet and virus/spam issues – printers are one of the top problem areas for law firms.

Part of this is the lack of consistency across the brands and models, but it is mostly because printers are so critical to the smooth running of the practice.

It is refreshing to see a law firm invest heavily in reliable, workhorse printers and pay a bit extra to have a rapid response on-site service contract, and spare consumables on hand.

Printer purchase decision dilemmas are a smaller symptom of the larger turmoil facing the legal sector as regards the state of core information technology tools.

As in other professions, Microsoft’s new operating system – Vista – has had a low level of acceptance, mostly due to compatibility issues with existing hardware.

Document management vendors are still coming to grips with integration required for Microsoft Office 2007.

However, the stable product combination of Windows XP with Office 2003 is almost impossible to purchase now.

Technology support consultants are reporting a level of difficulty associated with replacing failed computers and other gadgets in law firms.

The necessity to install new hardware with new software is disturbing the technology “equilibrium” commonly found in practices, and starting a ripple effect within offices where a new standard is having to be rolled in on a no-choice basis.

This is having negative cost implications, especially for the smaller practices where there are external revenue pressures and belt tightening is necessary.

One of the better methods of navigating the current technology storms is to ensure that every purchasing decision is underpinned by either the firm’s strategy or by the advice of a trusted consultant.

A regular six-monthly review of technology in place will usually flag early issues, and hopefully that will help a practice avoid dealing with, and consequently spending money on, an ill-considered solution.

Also, having a documented preferred vendor and brand for technology purchases reduces the level of choice confusion.

A technology colleague reports an interesting recent case study in a sole practitioner law firm.

The practice had two computers, one for the principal and one for his office support person. Both machines were using a combination of Windows XP and Office 97, and were connected to the internet using a series of interconnected gadgets.

One of the computers failed, and the practitioner went to a nearby computer retail chain and purchased a replacement computer – a notebook with Windows Vista on it.

Regular, knowledgeable technology reviews would have avoided the ensuing situation which required the acquisition of new software and upgrading of existing hardware to re-establish a new workable and compatible standard within the office.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more IT 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
  • Regularly review technology in place, and upgrade in increments where possible.
  • Consider mission-critical technology purchases in the light of strategic planning or trusted advice.
  • Recognise and document the secondary effects that any technology purchases may have on the rest of the office resources.
  • Purchase from vendors who are willing to engage at a requirements level rather than just a product level, especially recognising your broader office compatibility issues.

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