Are We There Yet?

As Windows 7 and Office 2010 sweep across the land, along with a plethora of interesting new hardware devices like iPads and netbooks, the urge to upgrade is striking a great many attorneys. I can hardly walk into a room without somebody sidling up to me and asking “So….should I upgrade?”

The answer is always the same: “Maybe.”

“Maybe?” they respond, with that unsatisfied look in their eyes. They’re surprised. I’m a technologist. I’m supposed to always be pushing them to the bleeding edge, chuckling softly that they only have 4GB of RAM, suggesting that they could get a 3rd monitor on their desk if they just moved their stapler. And sometimes I do. But not capriciously.

Usually a follow-up question is warranted. “What problem are you trying to solve?” I ask. At this point they usually blink. Repeatedly. They’re not quite sure how to answer. And that should tell them what they need to know about their original question. But it usually doesn’t. So I continue.

“If you asked me for directions I would need to know two key pieces of information: 1) Where you are now. 2) Where you want to go. ” 

Now they start to nod slowly.

There are two reasons to upgrade your technology.

  1. To get you out of a bad piece of technology.
  2. To get you into a good piece of technology.

What makes a piece of technology good or bad? Quite simply it’s how that piece of technology helps you to be more effective at what you do. It’s a toolkit, nothing more and nothing less.

Yesterday I upgraded one of my monitors. Did I need a larger monitor? No. But my old monitor had stopped displaying an image and that’s a rather significant shortcoming for a monitor. So a new one was in order, and as luck would have it the most suitable monitor, in my price range, happened to be a little larger than my old one.

We recently helped a client implement ProLaw. They’d never had an integrated case management system before and they saw the opportunity to move their firm forward by getting one. It’s making them more efficient, giving them actionable information and they think it will improve their overall effectiveness and profitability. It’s a useful tool for them and thus a good piece of technology.

Before you can answer the question of whether it’s right for you to upgrade you need to figure out what problem it is you’re trying to solve. Want to upgrade to Windows 7? O.K., why? What does Windows 7 do for you that will make you more effective? There are a lot of good reasons to upgrade to Windows 7, but do any of them apply to you?

Want to buy an iPad? O.K. What are you going to use it for? Specifically how will it make your practice better?

Here are a few questions you should ask before undertaking any upgrade process.

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • How, specifically, will this product solve that problem for us?
  • What are the potential negative impacts? Learning curve for staff? Incompatibility with existing hardware or software?
  • Do we have a support structure for this upgrade? Can our in-house IT people support it? Can our outside consultants support it? Can we get training for this product?
  • What will this upgrade cost us? Not just in real dollars, but in lost time, support costs, cost of ownership over the long term? Do we also have to invest in new hardware or software to support this upgrade?
  • Does this product solve a problem that justifies that cost?

Until you can answer those questions you’re driving down the road with no destination. And if you don’t know where you’re going then you might as well pull over and stop, because you’re there.

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