Technology Portfolio: Analyzing Your Firm's Needs

Investing in legal-sector Information Technology is a major decision for most law firms. Using the Technology Portfolio approach, key decision-makers can assess the probable impact of IT investments on a firm's overall IT infrastructure.

The legal environment is being inundated with technological advancements. Some of these advancements are stunning in their abilities and appearances. Many are more mundane in their approach towards providing value to the organization. How does a firm decide what technologies should be deployed? This is a critical question in deciding the technological footprint of a firm.

The Technology Portfolio

One method for reviewing and beginning new projects is the use of a concept known as a Technology Portfolio. A technology portfolio is a compilation of information about a firm's investments in Information Technology. The information is organized to show how these investments support the firm's goals and to demonstrate the relationships among current and planned investments. The portfolio enhances the ability of key decision-makers to assess the probable impact of investments on a firm's overall Information Technology infrastructure.

The portfolio approach recognizes the maturing capabilities of the legal-sector Information Technology community. It also recognizes the continuous advance of technology and the need for firms to seek new initiatives in the context of their total operations, including their IT investments. The portfolio provides a process for coordinating new projects in the context of a business plan and with consideration of the larger IT portfolio.

The portfolio concept is grounded in the management principle that any significant investment requires careful stewardship to maximize its value and insulate it from threats to its integrity. This principle is well understood with respect to traditional investment categories - real property, commercial paper, and equity investments - all of which are commonly managed in portfolios. These portfolios allow decision-makers to view the range of investments as a whole but also consider discrete investments in context.

The need for an IT portfolio is less well understood with respect to IT investments but no less important. Agency IT investments involve significant taxpayer funds; are often mission-critical; and are increasingly interrelated in a digital, networked environment. IT investments can be leveraged with great effect if the portfolio is sufficiently flexible to adapt to changing business and service needs. Their value, on the other hand, can be undermined by rigid design, unsubstantiated claims about capabilities or performance, and neglect.

Portfolio-based IT management and oversight requires a sound business case to justify the investment of taxpayer funds in any new project. It requires an assessment of the impact of the proposed system on the existing IT infrastructure. It involves the disciplined use of preventative measures to mitigate risk, and it argues for the leveraging of private-sector expertise as needed. IT Portfolios, as defined herein, are reviewed to identify areas of duplication of effort or infrastructure and inconsistencies with the statewide direction. Portfolio-based oversight removes much of the burden of a paper-intensive reporting process while placing a premium on activities that help ensure success. To summarize, this concept provides three critical benefits:

  • Reduce Technology Project Risk
  • Introduce New Technology with Benefits
  • Assure Critical Reviews of Technology

 

Level of Risk

Just as with insurance or investment portfolios a firm may establish its goal to maintain a risky or safe portfolio. A fairly standard breakdown of a Technology portfolio may include the following levels of investment.

  • SAFE Items may include, Maintenance, Support Costs, Personnel Cost, Standard Equipment Replacement. Typically these are investments where the time and money is well understood and there is minimal risk of that time and money being wasted.
  • RISK investments are typically characterized by some combination of Cost, Benefit, Risk, and Implementation.
  • LOW RISK projects typically have 3 or 4 favorable characteristics. For example, High Benefit, Low Risk, Low Cost and easy implementation, would be 4 favorable characteristics.
  • MODERATE RISK projects typically have 3 or 4 favorable characteristics. For example, High Benefit, Low Risk, Low Cost and easy implementation, would be 4 favorable characteristics.
  • HIGH RISK projects typically have only 1 compelling favorable characteristics. For example, High Benefit, Low Risk, Low Cost and easy implementation, would be 4 favorable characteristics.

 

The percentage of projects that fall into each category and the exact definition of each category is a planning exercise for each firm to perform. Only they will know how risk-adverse they wish to be.

Why then take on any risk? Simply put, the technological advances in matter management, litigation support, and firm control are simply too advantageous to ignore. Failure to adopt new systems will put a firm at an inherent disadvantage.

By establishing a baseline Technology Portfolio a firm essentially performs a quick review of what is in progress and to what degree that firm is comfortable with Technology project risk. That baseline portfolio will fluctuate over time as additional projects are started or as projects reach the end of their "risk" stage and move into the "safe" stage. But by maintaining an eye on the overall portfolio key decision makers can see when the overall firm technology projects have strayed into uncomfortable levels and then take corrective actions.