In legal operations, the theme “information is power” reappears frequently and in many forms. These days, no one has to be convinced that metrics are critical to effective management, and any legal department worth its salt already uses some level of operational measurement and reporting. For most legal departments, the question of what to measure and how to capture that data remains a challenge. The vast majority of operational legal metrics are frozen in the form of static reports with data from an array of platforms. Consequently, legal dashboards are complex and inherently limited because they’re only as up-to-date as the frequency with which they are fed reports.

Timely information is even more powerful

If a monthly report from your car was the only measure of how fast you’ve been driving and how full your gas tank is, that wouldn’t be very helpful. An airplane altimeter that only produced a weekly report would be useless. Metrics such as speed, fuel levels and altitude call for dashboards—current readings that tell you whether or not you’re operating in a safe zone, and allow for “course correction” en route. All dashboards are rooted in the need for live information feeds.

Granted, I’m using absurd examples to make a point. In no way am I implying that the metrics of a legal department are as instantaneously critical as the metrics of a jet airliner landing in heavy fog. However, imagine centralized, up-to-date status checks and the possibilities for efficiency enhancements provided by dashboards. Applied to the world of legal operations, this means live data on legal spend, contract management, general compliance, headcount, training, on-boarding, gifts and entertainment compliance, project management, subscription usage, etc.

Fortunately, legal operations dashboards are becoming more accessible and easier to implement. Software solutions are available and service providers recognize the need in this area. When I say that legal operations dashboards have become “more accessible and easier to implement,” that doesn’t mean they’re ready-made. They’re worth the investment, but implementation and effective utilization takes real planning and effort.

Thinking it through

Dashboards must be configured to pull data from a variety of other systems and platforms where that data resides with minimal human involvement and maximum frequency. It’s helpful to evaluate and rank each separate platform both on the basis of its data’s importance in your dashboards and on the ease with which it can be integrated. The combination of those two factors will help you to prioritize which to integrate and in what order.

The dashboards themselves must be set up to display relevant information clearly, which requires ongoing tweaking, if only because what is relevant will change over time. This is not a bad thing unless you’re expecting to set it up once and never make adjustments. Start simple; rather than over-engineering anything, plan for ongoing adjustments. Different information is relevant to different users, so role-based views are important. Make sure the platform you choose isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. In designing various dashboard configurations, consider who will be looking at the data and what they care about seeing. What do you measure? What questions need to be answered? Is your data clean? Will a given dataset be tracked on a temporary project basis or as an ongoing benchmark? The answer will be different for the GC reporting to business heads than for a project manager of a single project.

No time like the present

Legal teams that have already implemented electronic signatures, e-billing and spend analytics are looking for their next big strategic advantage in legal operations. From my perspective, operational dashboards are the next big thing. Apart from providing unheard of insight to legal departments, dashboards provide a means of leveraging your existing operational investments for greater returns. And now that dashboard technology finally exists, dashboard innovation in the legal operations space is within reach.