In last month’s article, I discussed the core elements of a strategic technology plan. One element described was establishing a vision for the use of technology including identification of critical outputs, namely metrics, reports and dashboards. As a consultant, I often find that law departments purchase technology to improve management information, but neglect to specify what information is required. Not surprisingly, current tool sets fall short of expectations, thereby requiring additional investments. In this month’s article, I describe the process for outlining the vision for department management information and analytics to ensure that the strategic technology plan incorporates the necessary tools:

1. Identify metrics to measure current department initiatives. Leadership should conduct a working session to go through the department’s most current strategic planning materials. For major initiatives, consider what to measure. Find a metric (or metrics) that leaders understand, and that will indicate if the department is progressing toward its goals. The best metrics are actionable, meaning that they can help leadership identify when to take corrective action (or demonstrate that no action is needed). For example, departments focused on cutting outside costs might look at total outside spend as well as ratios such as outside spend as a percent of revenue. When metrics start to deviate from plan, management should look at factors which impact spend, such as number of new matters and matter budget-to-actuals. Since it may not be obvious what the best metrics are, it is advisable to use external sources (peers, published resources, conferences, industry groups and outside experts) to help identify meaningful and useful metrics.

2. Create mock-ups. Ideally, the department should draft examples of how to present information. Seeing information laid out in report or dashboard format is the easiest way for users to ascertain if they will be able to work with the information. Again, best practice examples of reports and dashboards are plentiful. It is not necessary to start from scratch! More importantly, presenting a visual to a vendor, developer or other expert tasked with delivering the information ensures the department will receive what it desires. Further, as part of the planning process, these individuals will be able to scope and price the effort to deliver the information more accurately, thereby avoiding future surprises.

3. Identify the data necessary to produce desired metrics. Next, the department must consider what data will be needed to generate the metrics. Does the department have this data at its disposal? If yes, how easy is it to access? Common examples include limited querying and reporting capabilities, security or restrictions (including accessing data that resides in systems of other departments), data quality problems or the ability to integrate data from multiple systems.

4. Determine the technology required. If the department does not have the data, then the next step is to consider what new data will be needed. Does the department have the systems to collect, store and access the new data? If yes, can the department configure the current technology as needed? If no, what new technology is needed?

Once the department knows where it will hold its data, it must also consider whether or not the system’s native querying and reporting capabilities will meet the needs for presenting the information. Many organizations already have corporate standards and licenses for enterprise reporting software that may be a suitable alternative to applications’ native reporting capabilities. However, the department may need to secure approval, licenses, training and/or support to leverage these tools. Of course, if the currently available tool set cannot deliver upon the vision, then the department must seek new tools or alter its vision for information delivery.

5. Consider process and change management. An often-neglected component of strategic technology planning is the softer process and change management perspective. Identifying how to incorporate the use of analytics into the department’s practice is essential. The department should not neglect proper training and periodic review of both use and the tools themselves. Performance measurement should be a living activity—always changing to adapt to the department’s goals. Leadership should understand how to use reports and dashboards to achieve department objectives.

6. Incorporate into plan. Once the department has identified its needs and the tools and processes to support them, there should be a fair wish list of activities. The analytics activities identified should become part of the longer master list of projects within the strategic technology plan, and then go through the prioritization and road mapping process I described in my last article.

Most departments use technology to achieve two ends: to support daily activities or to provide management information to support business decisions. Dedicating time and effort to understanding the department’s need and desire for management information is critical to selecting the appropriate technology. In next month’s article I will discuss applying risk tools to a strategic technology plan. This is where the plan also begins to look at practice support activities.