Predictions 2009: One That Got Away

January 20, 2009

In writing their predictions for 2009, I am sure that many people will refer to the continuing impact that the current economic landscape is having on law firms and, by implication, suppliers. This will continue to dominate strategies, decisions and budgets until some green shoots start to appear, possibly in the fourth quarter of the year.  Until then, and regardless of the success that restructuring, insolvency and litigation work brings to some firms, I suspect that many suppliers will find it a lean year and will need to be correspondingly cautious in terms of their own plans if they are to weather the storm in good shape.

That said, there are still a number of areas that will attract attention, not least because of their ability to cut costs or improve efficiency.  Two of these are outsourcing, which I mentioned last year, and e-mail management.  Outsourcing, or managed services, is interesting because it appears to offer cost savings over in-house operations whilst reducing risk by taking non-core functions and placing them with organisations who are better able to provide them.  However, and given the initial foray into this territory by some large firms, there are lessons to be learned and I would imagine that increased care will go into selecting which functions to outsource, which to retain, and how to measure ongoing performance.

In terms of e-mail management, this could be the Next Big Thing.  Given the fact that e-mail is already a de facto document management system, transporting evolving drafts between lawyers and clients, it makes sense for suppliers working in this space to consider how to square the circle by catering more specifically for documents.  This does not simply present a risk to the document management vendors, but also to those providing enterprise search (given the potential for indexing of information in e-mails and attachments) and CRM (given the potential for analysis of who is talking to whom about what).  Organisations such as Mimecast and Recommind are already peering into the future here, and I would anticipate interest in this area as it offers firms the chance to consolidate/rationalise products and increase end-user efficiencies.  In the meantime, Interwoven and Open Text aren’t sitting on their laurels.  The latter already have a solution which links Outlook folders more closely to those of DM, whilst I understand Interwoven to be working on something similar for version 9 of their product.

Office 2007 is also likely to feature heavily in 2009, and more so than some have predicted, given that it provides IT departments with a low capital cost, high transformational project to get their teeth into whilst capital investment is constrained.  For any firms still running versions of Word that pre-date 2003, such an upgrade would reduce the potential for document corruption and thereby offer possible cost savings on the effort corruption currently soaks up.  When allied to improved training, updated templates, defined (and maintained) house styles, and more accurate classification, I suspect firms will realise that the document lifecycle can provide a number of efficiencies.  These, collectively, can be a stepping stone to considering the resourcing of secretarial services… which takes me back to managed services.

All in all, I think things point to another busy year for IT departments, but a quieter one for many suppliers.  We will need to ensure that we can demonstrate real value for money to our clients (in terms of realising some of the efficiencies and cost savings outlined above) if we are to secure their endorsement during this challenging time.

Paul Longhurst is a Consultant at 3Kites Consulting: