Good technology must be matched by good people, and it is often the people who let it down. Any technology budget must include a large element for support and training. It is not just the salesmen who need a good client manner.
I was talking at LegalTech to John Turner, Chief Technology Officer at Anacomp who produce and host the on-line review application CaseLogistix. The conversation turned to the cost of delivering e-disclosure solutions. It is not in fact my view that the technology is too expensive – some is over-priced, but the problem it tackles is immense, some of it is near-miraculous in its power, and the alternative – in lawyer hours or abandoned litigation – is hardly cheap.
The main expense, John Turner said, was not the software but the support, adding (with some justification) that CaseLogistix was more user-friendly than most. The support is critical to a successful roll-out and, assuming that the purchase was properly specified in the first place, it is the support which makes for success or failure. It it not just an add-on, but a critical component, without which the technology investment is wasted.
It is not just in technology that major investment is undone by cheapskating on the human element. Think of those law firms who spend a fortune on PR and marketing and then employ rude drabs in reception and off-hand, off-putting harridans on their switchboards.
The stewardesses on our flight home from LegalTech were neither drabs nor harridans, but they had quite a good go at undermining the overall effect of BA’s investment in the overall flying experience. Like some software, the main product is near-miraculous and extremely good value if you get the specification – in this case the day you fly – right. It cost me £276 to cross the Atlantic twice, in a very sophisticated piece of machinery driven by a highly-skilled man.
Perhaps we were lucky, but the whole experience from the touch-screen check-in at JFK to the moment our nose touched the stairs at Heathrow was, technologically-speaking, flawless. Furthermore, we know from the recent Heathrow crash that both the people and the planes hold up well in an emergency – and if your disclosure system loses power just short of your deadline, it is good to know that it will land without its wheels and that the support staff are well trained to cope.
It is true that there are remote villages with better facilities than the BA terminal at JFK, and we could have done without having to walk the last four miles to Immigration – well, it felt like four miles – but overall, I would give it 10 out of 10. Except, that is, for the service on board. It was not even the service, in fact, which let it down, but the attitude, and in those tiny, unnecessarily annoying ways which mar the whole user experience.
“Red wine or white?” asked the stewardess. “What are the food choices?” I replied. “He announced them” she said in an irritated tone. ”Didn’t you hear the announcement?”. Well, yes, but they make so many bloody announcements at the start of a flight that you switch off after a while, rather as you do with New Labour initiatives or highways notices. I am old-fashioned, I know, but if I hear a male voice on an aeroplane tannoy I expect it to be telling me about our cruising height or that there are bandits at 3 o’clock, not about chicken and pasta. And I am old enough not to be spoken to in that tone.
Some hours later, the same woman woke me up and waved two glasses at me in the gloom, each containing a dark liquid. “What is it?” I asked. “Orange or apple juice” she said in that same impatient tone redolent of an intolerant care-home assistant. She knew what was in the glasses. She poured them and does the same five times a week. How the hell was I to know?
I fear that quite a lot of software instruction is conducted in that same impatient, condescending manner. The trainer or help desk support person knows what to do and does not try to conceal his or her contempt for those who do not. That is pretty galling for an intelligent, highly-qualified lawyer whose firm has just forked out thousands of pounds for the software.
It is not true of all suppliers, of course, and the fault is not always on one side only. Lawyers, who prize training so highly in their own areas of expertise, see it and the other human costs as an area to make savings when they buy technology. They pay a fortune for expensive case or practice management systems and then scrimp on the manpower to sort out the contacts or create the templates. They invest in sophisticated applications and somehow expect that they can just get started.
Of course, good software is “user-friendly” and “intuitive”, or so it says on the box. Much of it really is, but that is no substitute for proper training in its use. Nor does it entitle the vendor to sneer at those who do not grasp the details first time. Like an airline’s stewardesses, the trainers are a vendor’s most public face. Good trainers and support staff are expensive and John Turner was quite right to focus on that as an unmoveable – and expensive – element in software roll-outs.
BAA added its own parallels at Heathrow. You know how you track down a must-have function in some applications but find that the menu option is greyed out or that you get a message telling you curtly that you can’t access it. It was not covered in your training and the support desk has closed. By the baggage carousels was a very smart drinks machine, just what you need as you watch everyone else’s luggage roll past. Stacked in front of it were four long columns of trolleys. The developers had provided just what you want, but the support guys had put it out of reach and there was no-one around to ask.