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Finney: 8 steps to evaluating and selecting your firm’s software

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FinneyThe words, “This software is horrible,” often echo through the halls of many firms. “We’ve tried all the systems available, and they’re all equally as terrible” is the resounding response. Why does it seem that no software developer can get it right?

The answer may be as simple as shifting the focus from what the software developer needs to change to evaluating what internal processes need to be changed. Oftentimes firms select software based upon performance during a software demonstration rather than evaluating what will provide the best results for specific firm needs. Finding the right software requires identification of job requirements including process workflows prior to selecting the tool. The following steps are useful in both selecting new software and improving satisfaction with current systems.

Step 1: Document current process. When firms skip this step and jump directly to demonstrations, the selection becomes merely about showmanship. Without a true understanding of the current process it is nearly impossible to recognize if the software is the right fit.

At this stage a focus group representative of each role in the current process should be established. By documenting the process as a group, it often becomes apparent that portions of the process are resulting in duplication of efforts or people unknowingly causing conflicts with the workflow of others.

Step 2: Identify current pain points. Without knowing what seems to be broken, it will be difficult to fix. While some pain points will be known prior to Step 1, many others will likely arise during the documentation of the current process. Bottom line, a detailed list of pain points must be identified to recognize the end goal.

Step 3: Categorize needs, wants and deal-breakers. No single software tool can encompass every single task you may desire to perform. Therefore, classifying requirements is necessary to ensure that necessities are not overlooked and that too much time is not spent trying to accommodate wishful thinking.

Step 4: Set a budget. Oftentimes this can be difficult without knowing reasonable ballpark ranges. While most software companies will provide such information upon request, realistic quotes will require information regarding the intent and goals identified by your focus group. By setting a spending limit upfront, time will be saved limiting demonstrations to include only packages and features within budget.

Step 5: Assessment. Receiving feedback about popular software packages can assist in identification of packages to review. Software reviews can be easily collected via various legal technology publications, legal technology networking groups, and of course colleagues in other firms. When requesting a demonstration, it is best to provide the sales representative with key information identified by the focus group to find any deal-breakers within a package and allow the demonstration to be tailored to your firm. Ideally all members of the focus group should be available to view the demonstration and compare each package.

Step 6: Selection of software and workflow. The selection phase may seem daunting, but viable options often become apparent when measuring against comprehensive benchmarks. Once a selection has been made, the focus group should then reevaluate the firm’s process to determine what tweaks will need to be made and standards set to enable the software to work as intended.

Step 7: Implementation. This phase is not merely a matter of installing software and allowing users to sit through a 30-minute webinar to learn the product. Members of the firm should be trained on both the product and firm-specific processes to ensure data integrity and process consistency. This will require extensive planning to ensure reasonable standards are set for things like naming conventions, consistent usage of fields and general best practices. Documentation of these standards is essential to ensure they are adhered to into the future. If data is not entered consistently, anticipated features will not produce the intended results and often leads to a general distrust of the product creating a consensus that the product does not work.

Step 8: Audit. This process should not stop after implementation because it is not uncommon for people to revert back to old habits. Additionally, it is normal for changes in desired reports and similar output to occur over time. Without continual attention to ensuring standards are being followed and underlying processes continue to be practical, the effectiveness of the software can quickly decline.

Though this process may seem tedious and time consuming, remember the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.”•

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Deanna Finney (deanna.finney@miscindiana.com) is a co-owner of the Indianapolis-based legal technology company, Modern Information Solutions LLC. Areas of service include traditional IT services, software training and litigation support including trial presentation services. www.miscindiana.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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