Rapid Changes in Technology
The recent death of Apple founder Steve Jobs brought a spate of stories about how his flair for sleek design combined with his innovative thinking to create products that the marketplace perceives as "cool." Moreover, these products have been rolled out with great rapidity, a symptom of computer technology generally. The cycle of change for such technology is inexorable, and is in fact speeding up. Operating systems replace one another after little more than 18 to 24 months (think Vista to Windows 7 to Windows 8). Desktop computers are considered pass� and laptops quaint, replaced by netbooks, portable viewers and smart phones.
Law Firms Want to Stay on the Cutting Edge
Law firms are not immune to these influences in their technology purchases. Firms want new technology because it's cool and attractive (adjectives often applied to Apple products like the iPad or iPhone) or it helps them do more and do it faster. Firms also have a strong competitive streak, and they either want to be the first to tout using a new technology, or don't want to admit others are using it and they are not.
Buy with the Head, Not the Heart
However, technology expenditures should not be made on emotion. They must be made because they provide an adequate return. There is no one right or correct rate of return. The return selected or expected is a function of personal choice, available alternatives, and available resources for investment. ROI is positive when the cost of repair exceeds the cost of the investment minus the sales proceeds, if any, on the used equipment. And the expenditure is most manageable when the firm creates and buys according to a budget, not according to emotion fueled by what's cool or what other firms are doing - that is, buying with the head, not the heart.
Is Cloud Computing Right for Your Firm?
Moreover, it's not just purchases that require firms to be wary. Consider the ramifications of the new "cool" approach to cloud computing where software and servers are owned by service providers and reside in a remote "cloud" location. The law firm that uses them does not make the substantial up-front technology expenditure, and thus does not have to justify a high ROI. However, cloud computing services have suffered major service breakdowns that make programs unavailable - particularly if specialized legal software is not backed up on different servers. The decision to use cloud computing thus must balance the cost of upgrading hardware and software against switching to a web-based application that may have connection or reliability problems but involves less upfront expense. Each firm's answer will be different - but must be based on business reasons, not emotion-driven trendiness.