Most years, technology is one of the largest line items in a firm’s budget, with hardware and software purchases that keep the IT engine running the top cost culprits. These unavoidable costs can be daunting given the amount of knowledge each transaction requires to ensure accurate purchases. Often these acquisitions ask a firm to “look into the future” to determine the IT infrastructure and applications it will need and, more important, how and to what degree the firm will use them.
A common event in a firm’s history is the quick purchase and firm-wide rollout of a “critical” software application, only to discover the application didn’t quite meet the intended need. Or perhaps the application didn’t work effectively in the current firm environment. Also common is purchasing servers or workstations that become obsolete a year or more sooner than their originally anticipated lifespans. Although some unsuccessful purchasing decisions are inevitable, reviewing and implementing these IT purchasing tips may help your firm spend its money more effectively and keep regretted purchases to a minimum.
Workstation and Application Purchasing Tips:
- Buy in groups instead of buying single stations.
- Keep workstation hardware uniform wherever possible.
- Refresh (turn over) your entire inventory every three to five years.
- Avoid the practice of trickle-down hardware, passing “hand me down” machines to lower level staff when senior staff members get new computers. Old equipment invariably increases costs and overhead and can negatively impact morale.
- Pilot and test new desktop applications to uncover infrastructure issues and true user value. Often, new software requires version upgrades to your firm’s current software to run effectively.
- Know your license models and buy to cover all workstations and servers. Licenses packages come in many different formats: annual, perpetual, with maintenance and upgrades, and without them, to name a few examples. License mistakes can be costly, so it’s best for the firm to hold a staff member accountable to ensure compliance and efficient purchases.
- Get a second opinion! Have another knowledgeable IT person review larger purchases to verify the licenses you need as well as major hardware purchases.
- Buy for tomorrow as well as today. Is a more powerful and robust workstation too costly if it keeps you from replenishing sooner versus later?
Servers and Infrastructure Purchasing Tips:
- Server refresh cycles (typically three to five years) should involve a strategic decision based on a committee’s analysis of cost, productivity, and tolerance to slowness and downtime.
- As with workstations, a second opinion is valuable. Consider an outside IT consultant to serve as a neutral voice who can review your firm’s needs today and in the next few years and recommend hardware to best meet those needs.
- Don’t skimp on server warranties. Equipment should always be under warranty to keep the firm from experiencing larger than necessary downtimes during an issue. “Next Business Day” warranties can cause a firm to experience downtime for several days when the issue occurs on a Friday night. A four-hour warranty with on-premise assistance is a better option to minimize workplace interruptions.
- Align yourself with a vendor or vendor(s) who can effectively handle your equipment needs. Vendor relationships and communication are invaluable to ensure that complex purchases match what you anticipate your firm will need.
IT purchasing involves predicting the future—an overwhelming task for any law firm! But, given the high costs associated with IT, extra planning and oversight are well worth the effort to keep mistakes to a minimum. These tips and tactics are initial steps toward safeguarding against mistakes, leading to a happier and more productive firm in the future. If you focus on your workstations, servers, licenses, and warranties, you will have a greater chance for success when you make your next purchase.
Stacy Fischbach is a Managing Director at Keno Kozie Associates and is responsible for their Washington, DC office. Stacy oversees all DC based client services and marketing efforts. She has 10 years of experience in Technology account management in the law firm industry and has been an active member of the legal community for over 6 years. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware in Business.