Humans technology

Knowledge, people and technology

There has been a lot of talk about the application of technology in law firms, including in legal knowledge management, in recent years. I have espoused the importance of technology time and time again, and the role it plays in increasing efficiency, productivity and competitiveness. I stand by that assertion and have no doubt that technology will continue to play an increasingly significant role in all aspects of life, including business, law and knowledge management.

However, we must always remember that knowledge, skills and wisdom come from people, not technology.

Perhaps one day artificial intelligence will have the capability to independently create knowledge. For now, technology is only a tool which enhances, organises, stores and transmits data – but it’s people who create knowledge.

That’s why legal knowledge management must remain people-centric, but adaptive, progressive and responsive when it comes to the utilisation of technology to enhance the capture, management, storage, accessibility and dissemination of knowledge.

Technology cannot and should not be raised above people. Technology is a tool, a very useful tool, but it is powered by human creativity and as such must compliment and support the human function.

It’s absolutely fine to sign up to the newest and shiniest technology … if that’s what you need to meet your business objectives.

Many organisation try to do the right thing and deploy new technologies. Many fail. The most common reasons are selecting the wrong technology, or poor planning and implementation even when the technology is right.

The wrong technology is a common pitfall where the deliberation process goes off the rails. The most common reasons are focusing on the newest and shiniest technology or, conversely, focusing too closely on what will work with an existing, but outdated, IT infrastructure. Costs will add a further layer of complication. The golden rule is that you will rarely need the most expensive solution, and the cheapest options will often be the costliest mistake you could make.

Computer frustrationIt’s absolutely fine to sign up to the newest and shiniest technology … if that’s what you need to meet your business objectives. However, you need to make sure that it will work with your existing IT infrastructure and it actually delivers to your business requirements.

When considering whether a technology is right for your organisation you must also consider the user experience and the context of your organisational culture. A technology may be able to deliver to your business specifications, but will your employees find it convenient and easy to use, and does it fit with your culture? If the technology is too complex for users, or the very nature of the new technology is inconsistent with the organisational culture, adoption and usage will be an uphill battle.

It might still be the right technology, but your implementation must address those issues through appropriate means. If possible, avoid or address complexity before implementation, but where complexity of technology is unavoidable, investing in in-depth training and follow-ups is essential. If your culture needs to be adjusted for the successful adoption of new technology, that process will require a longer lead-time and a more in-depth effort, over and above training.

Old computerConversely, focusing on what fits with your tired old IT infrastructure has serious pitfalls as well. This approach could leave you with something that’s not going to meet your practical needs, and may even be considered a substandard tool by your employees. This will impact on adoption and usage rates. Lawyers are particularly critical and pedantic creatures. Give them a tool that’s below par and you will never hear the end of it – and good luck with trying to get them to use it!

If your underlying IT infrastructure is outdated, if it is being held together by metaphorical duct-tape, and the odd prayer, you have a critical business issue to address over and above, and preferably before, considering ad-ons.

And if you are thinking to yourself that every sentence above is just plain old common sense, you would be surprised …

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