The article below appears in the magazine section of the online news platform Daily Business

Technology is important for any company ambitious to grow and stay ahead of the market and the legal business I work for has recently gained valuable insight into what we should be taking into consideration when reviewing the multiple solutions available.

One project involved support on a large-scale due diligence and disclosure exercise. Our core task was to distil large swaths of information into more manageable “pots” of information for categorisation, review, and flagging by a dedicated team. This process involved various steps including initial sifting of information to rule out anything irrelevant, categorisation of documents, a review process, provision of the information to different teams and final preparation of the information for disclosure. All in all, a lengthy process and a prime example of how the right choice of software can be vital.

We had two main software options, a data room software with which we were familiar and had experience of using, or a new software which – as the sales pitch assured us – was more tailored to the needs of the project.

Time in which to undertake your own due diligence is your friend when considering a new and unknown software product. So, do your research, ask a lot of questions: Are you engaging the right company for the service provision you need? Do they have the best solutions for your specific needs and the work you will be providing to your client or customer? Is their product ultimately an out-of-the-box solution that may need to be shoehorned into existing practices? Can you speak to current users of the system? Are there available case studies? Do any of the software engineers have experience of working across the type of project you are undertaking? The answers to these questions will provide valuable insight into the technologies you are considering engaging and its support structure, and in helping you to decide whether this is the best solution for your company.

Some of the best software solutions are created for an industry in which those who develop the product, previously worked. And that is as true of the legal profession as it is for many others.

In most cases industry-experienced software creators have worked in an area of their industry in which they have identified a process error or a gap, and in conjunction with a coder, have developed a solution for that specific problem.

They have the knowledge and experience to provide solutions to problems that are faced daily and which out-of- the-box solutions can be ill equipped to resolve. Of course, there can be a downside here, and sometimes these products provide a specific situation solution that lacks the coverage of larger scale software. So, it is important to really drill down into the solutions you are looking for.

We also considered a company secretarial software package – of which there are many. The main benefit of this sort of package for professional services companies is that it integrates with the registering bodies’ software and enables easier submission of company information updates.
In theory, it is a fully formed solution that ticks a lot of boxes for companies, keeping track of submission dates and with forms easily submitted.

These types of software can sometimes be too big for smaller firms with fewer clients using the service, making things more time-consuming for staff, and so less cost effective. In such circumstances the software you already have can often prove more useful and include existing functionality which can be used to cover off the same processes to a similarly and uniformly high standard and at less expense.

Yes, it is arguably a more simplistic approach, but for many smaller firms, large scale software can prove to be a cost heavy solution that cannot and will not provide sufficient return on its investment.]

The lessons we have learned are two-fold: Firstly to take a rigorous approach to the consideration of adopting new software solutions, and when looking externally for those solutions keeping in mind the importance of not looking to over-engineer the solution, but rather to look beyond the bells and whistles of sales pitches and make sure that the software solution really matches up to your objectives and can integrate well to provide top tier support.

Secondly, when approaching projects or developing or expanding internal processes we learned to consider what options are already available to you in-house. By more effectively using and adapting the tools you already have, a better, yet more simple and far more cost-effective solution, might be on your desk already. A win for you and for your client services.

What is clear is that the solutions available are changing all the time and it pays to keep up to date with what is happening. But when it comes to technology always look before you leap.