To Tech or Not to Tech: A Business Decision-Making Model

We all know that “throwing money at a problem” is not the way to fix it.  Back in the day, government and corporate leaders alike believed that directing more financial resources towards a thorny issue would, somehow, magically fix the problem.

Yet, in today’s business culture – you have most likely seen it in your own organization – we have somehow replaced “throwing money at a problem” with “throwing tech at a problem.”  That’s right.  It seems that we have not quite learned our lesson.

Technology, be it a new type of legal software or an innovative piece of dictation , has become the proverbial “shiny object” that keeps us fascinated in the legal and business world.  Technology’s ever-changing nature means that there is always something new around the corner.  Moreover, it fools us into thinking that it is the cure-all to every one of our business woes.  Honestly, the incredible pace of technology makes it hard not to think that better technology will lead to better outcomes.

The Difference Between Flash and Substance

With the amazing technology out there, from social media chatbots to office automation, it can be difficult to determine when “upping your tech game” is really the right choice to tackle a challenging business issue.  What this article is here to address is that enhancing the technology in your department, your firm, or your organization, can be a good solution sometimes, but not always.

No doubt, as general counsel, you have vendors who push hard to persuade you that improving the technology in the office is the just the kind of medicine that your organization needs.  That, however, is when you need to remember the difference between flash and substance.

Ask yourself, are you enticed by the latest tech because it will really address a systemic issue in your organization?  Or, is the latest tech just so cool that you have to have it?    Will the technology make an in-house process far more efficient?   What are the proposed outcomes, how is success defined and measured?

The point here is that technology, though exciting, cannot replace the need to carefully think through a problem to understand what the most efficient, and cost-effective solution should be.

The Conundrum of the Zero-Gravity Pen

A great example of when the most advanced technology ends up being an unnecessarily costly affair is the “zero-gravity pen” story.  In the 1960s, when the United States and the then-Soviet Union were locked in a heated space race, the scientists at NASA had a problem.  They needed to figure out a way for an astronaut to use a pen in outer space.

The NASA scientists realized that without gravity pulling the ink towards the ball-point of a pen, the ink would just float uselessly inside the pen.  Astronauts would never be able to write things down.

Accordingly, the scientist burned through an expensive budget to design, develop, and manufacture the “zero-gravity pen” – the pen that would write in outer space.  It was an extraordinary feat of science and technology at great cost

Now, how did the Soviet Union solve the same problem?  They had their astronauts use a pencil.

Of course, the moral of the story is that even though you think a problem can only be solved with the newest, cutting-edge technology, do not forget to look for the most direct solution.  Sometimes the most obvious answer to a problem is the right one, and the least expensive.

How Do You Know When to Tech or Not to Tech?  The Decision-Making Matrix

In order to determine when technology is the right path, you can use a business decision-making model, like a decision matrix.  As the general counsel or senior in-house attorney, you are frequently faced with tough decisions.  Oftentimes, the decisions you make or the advice you give to business leaders involves options that involve millions of dollars.  It would be wise to employ some rigor in the decisions you make.

If you have ever put down on paper a list of “pros” and “cons,” then you have already engaged in the most rudimentary type of decision-making matrix.  Simply put, a decision matrix involves the following steps:

  1. List Your Options and the Factors You Need to Consider. Picture a table or spreadsheet as your matrix.  Now list all of your options as the row labels, and list the relevant factors you need to consider as your column headings.  So, for example, if you are trying to decide between several different software programs for your department, then some factors might be price, amount of training necessary, compatibility with other programs, etc.
  2. Score Your Options. For every option given a numeric score for each of the relevant factors.  A 5 could be very good, while a 0 could be poor.
  3. Give Relative Weight to Show Importance. Some factors are more important than others.  So, assign a relative weight (or priority) to each relevant factor, like 5 for highest priority, and 0 for lowest priority.
  4. Do a Little Math. Multiply the relative weight number for each factor by the scores you already entered for each option in the table.

Add it Up.  Add the weighted scores for each option, and the option that has the highest score is the option you should pick- on paper. Once you have added up the numbers, you may be surprised which option got the most points.  If your gut is telling you that highest scoring option is not the best one, then you may want to re-evaluate your scores and weights to determine whether certain factors are more significant that you initially thought. At a minimum, you have pinpointed the issue for, critical thought, investigation or discussion.

Don’t Be Afraid of Technology Either

The goal of this article is to discuss the notion that new technology is not always the solution to your business challenges.  That said, you should not shy away from technology either.  Lawyers are notorious for being “late-adapters” to any type of technology.  If some type of new tech hits the market, lawyers are usually the last to find the value add in the new tech.

With that in mind, we hope that you will still keep current with the latest technology.  For example, corporations cannot compete in the marketplace today if they are not savvy with regard to digital marketing, website or product content marketing,  search engine optimization (SEO), and websites optimized for mobile devices.

Accordingly, as a general counsel, the best course of action is not to have a knee-jerk reaction towards buying new technology.  Rather, keep up on the latest technology and employ a helpful decision-making process, like a decision matrix, to determine when to (i) use a new piece of technology, (ii) re-purpose existing technology, or (iii) employ a simple process improvement to solve a problem.

In sum, enhancing your ability to use technology for efficiency is an important competency.  But, an even better expertise is to know how and when to adopt technology for the legal team and your business colleagues.