IT Time & Budget Hogs – Where does all the time (and money) go?

Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Strategic Planning, Technology Management | David Schomburg

IT Time & Budget Hogs – Where does all the time (and money) go?

Over the past 20 years we have seen IT emergencies, natural disasters and cultural phenomena that gobble up IT time and resources. As we work on budgets and update IT strategic plans for 2015 we thought it might be helpful to outline some specific questions to be asking, narrow in on cultural considerations and dispense some advice that should be brought to the table of your law firm management meeting.

Gather Intelligence: Ask your IT team these questions when reviewing 2014.

  • What were the largest IT related distractions for internal/external staff that took up valuable time? Are IT resources interrupted or pulled off projects by competing priorities? Does management or IT change priorities? Who/what creates distractions?
  • What were the most expensive unforeseen issues? Hardware or software crash? Security breaches? What was the source and severity of the unforeseen issues?
  • What types of interaction did end users have with IT? What is the level of dependence on help desk resources? What types of end user issues caused an interruption in workflow? Did end users require applications training? Did they attend training? What financial/productivity impact do end user help desk tickets or lack of technical proficiency have on the firm?
  • What are the largest unanticipated budget items when reviewing last year? (or last 3 years is even better) Where deviations from the budget driven by changing business needs, client demands, natural disasters, security threats, damaged or lost equipment?

Some interesting business intelligence should come from the answers to these questions. If the IT department is not able to answer these questions it is possible that more formalized management of IT resources and help desk ticketing system is needed. Assuming that you do get a mix of hard numbers and anecdotal stories about the performance of the IT department, how do you translate that into actionable information for budget planning? It is a mix of building in solutions to the issues and making allowances for a reasonable level of unanticipated expenses.

Culture Clash: Evaluate the climate for strategic technology planning.

We have encountered cultural differences within firms that seem to dictate their IT budget success. Some “types” of firms have the same budget problems every year – basically there is an IT or firm culture that either allows or avoids costly failures. Firms need to continually ask themselves how much would it “cost” to avoid the costly failure.

Budget Drama Firm: The firm that kicks issues down the road and does not have a long-term IT strategy will most likely find themselves in the “costly failure” situation. These firms tend to have decentralized decision making and allow rouge attorneys or practice areas to dictate priorities, introduce new devises or applications and ignore firm technology goals and training resources. In this case the sticker shock of large infrastructure projects and the continued avoidance of ongoing issues can become a liability to the entire business of the law firm.

Budget Karma Firm: The firm that has more centralized management in the form of a strong Administrator or committee has the leadership to maintain firm IT goals and enforce device and application policies. In a perfect world, the result is an ever evolving strategic plan. This plan allows the firm to anticipate large infrastructure expenses and keeps a lid on the constant costly issues that occur when rouge attorneys introduce new devices and applications or completely ignore training and implementation of firm-wide applications.

Maybe your firm falls somewhere between these two scenarios? There is value in the assessment of both the performance of the IT resources as well as the firm’s cultural environment and its impact on IT strategic planning and success on a day-to-day basis.

Make the Case: Advice for the management meeting.

Bring both hard data and those anecdotal stories to the management meetings so that decision makers can relate to the impacts their IT budget decisions make on firm productivity. There are pros and cons to every management style and approach to IT issues. For example, even the decentralized firm of rouge actors generates value and innovation with their cutting-edge devices and new applications that a strict, policy driven firm might miss. It might be that a client demands a specific application for collaboration. Flexible firms are more likely to react quickly and retain the business opportunity. Perhaps keeping the help desk busy is not seen as an issue since the position must be staffed anyways, but encourage management to consider the costs to firm productivity when users are not technically proficient and must continually engage the help desk.

The answers and issues revealed by the questions we asked IT at the beginning of this exercise need to be backed up with real costs and be presented with reasonable solutions that fit the cultural environment of your firm. When you step back, the bones of a strategic IT plan will be coming together. One that will hopefully avoid time and budget hogs and make the most of the firm’s investment of time and precious IT resources.

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