How Do You Like Your Coffee?

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 | Technology Management | Scott Randall

My clients know I’m fanatical about certain things. One is helping them get the best possible results from their investment in technology.  One that may surprise them is coffee.

When I first moved from Portland to Las Vegas more than ten years ago, I couldn’t find a good cup of coffee to save my soul. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, a region known for micro-roasters and great coffee, I had acquired a certain standard for the coffee I drink.

I would never lower this standard so, for a while, each time I visited Portland, I’d load up my bags with coffee for the trip back. This routine quickly got old, and since I didn’t visit often, each stash would run out between trips.

About ten years ago, I started roasting my own coffee. Now I roast a few pounds every week. (Yes, you read that right – pounds.)

After years of practice, I’ve figured out which parts of the world produce coffee I like, how I like it roasted and so forth. I do all this to live the vision of drinking good coffee every day.

The roasting process has become automatic for me. I realized this when I recently taught friends of mine how to roast coffee, and I needed to think about it to explain it.

You can’t put the roasting process on autopilot. You must stay engaged to roast coffee well. I listen for the first crack. I listen for the second crack. I watch the process carefully, since I know what can happen when I don’t.

(Excuse me for a moment. I need to pull a package of chocolate out of my dog’s mouth. Sigh.)

Where were we? Oh yes. Coffee roasting and technology deployment are a lot alike. Both are art forms. Both take time, experience and dedication to do well. Some of our technology deployments have served our clients between five and eight years, and I’m as proud of this as I am happy with the coffee I roast.

But I can’t take all the credit. Aside from sourcing the right ingredients (the right hardware, the right software), our clients joined us to do the design work up front, and they make it their habit to continually work with the systems they depend upon.

You see, buying a bunch of great technology, throwing it into a firm and expecting it to work makes about as much sense as throwing green beans into a roaster, turning it on and walking away. You can’t just set it and forget it.

During implementation, we “bake” the technology so it’s to the taste of the firm, of its culture. This process differs slightly every time, depending on the environment and the vision we agree upon with our clients. We watch for things during implementation that we need to tweak to make sure we achieve the vision of a successful project.

That vision, once established, helps us avoid getting caught up in time-wasting minutiae, like whether a firm can forego training to save a few dollars today, only to have to pay more in support desk costs tomorrow.

Once a system is in place, you have to do the things that can’t be automated, like visiting your spam filter once or twice a day to check for valid messages, releasing any you find and whitelisting the senders. Technology in its current state can’t do this work as well as you can.

Finally (and this is a timely point given recent fiscal year-end budgeting and planning activities of many firms) you must look ahead at both your opportunities to do better and at the pitfalls that await if you don’t. For instance, if your financial reporting system no longer serves you well, swap it out before a catastrophic event forces you to (ideally not during your year-end reporting process).

(I’m not naïve. I know every law firm partner wants to be able to extract a maximum amount of value from the partnership. The trick is in doing so while keeping the partnership capable of continuing to deliver profits. That ability matters to all current partners and associates. It also helps make the partnership more valuable to those who would strive for it.)

If there’s one point I’d like you to take from this rambling post, it’s this: effective technology management, like coffee roasting, is an interactive process, and not one you return to just once a year.

Let’s look at this another way: neither ALS nor any of our law firm clients want to be seen by the market as the McDonald’s of coffee. We provide a premium blend of service and results. That premium blend takes extra effort. ALS puts that kind of effort into our work. We do not compromise and we know our clients work the same way, for the same reason.

In the same way that I recently taught friends how to roast their own coffee, I’m happy to educate my clients on how to consistently provide their clients the premium results that satisfy everybody, roaster and drinker alike.

By the way, since I arrived in Vegas, a couple of places have opened that sell decent cups of coffee. I don’t frequent them. I like my own coffee. Some of my clients are as fanatical about coffee as I am, so I bring them roasted beans every now and then (cough).

On behalf of myself and the whole team at ALS, we look forward to working with our customers in 2014. Let’s blend technology solutions that will help you thrive throughout the coming year and beyond.

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