The final months of the year are an ideal time to look ahead and start planning the elements of next year’s budget. 2022 is right around the corner, and as your firm considers its business goals, budget is a natural extension of that planning.
It can be easy to think of last year’s budget as a guide for this year, but you might be missing important future details. There are key considerations that need to be taken into account so your firm doesn’t end up with a nasty mid-year surprise.
The best way to budget for IT is to build an IT Roadmap that addresses both short and long-term plans, which will help you visualize your IT needs over time, strategically maximize your spending, and experience fewer unexpected expenses.
The Importance of an IT Roadmap
An IT roadmap is a document that sets the strategy and plan for technology in a law firm. At a tactical level, this may simply be keeping up with organic growth and ensuring productivity and performance aren’t being slowed down by aging equipment. For other firms, IT may play a strategic role in advancing a firm’s business objectives.
Different firms require different levels of complexity and forward planning. An IT roadmap for your firm can range from a set of documents that aligns overall business goals to technology’s supporting role achieving those goals to a few pages that covers the basics of how technology is used currently and how you expect your future technology needs to evolve.
At a minimum, your IT roadmap will help you:
- Assess your current environment and identify gaps.
- Anticipate IT needs over the next 36 months.
- Plan associated budgets and timelines.
Mapping out your current environment will give you an inventory of the most important technologies used by your firm. This inventory allows you to forecast necessary spend on things like hardware and software upgrades, as well as forecast spend to fill essential gaps like cybersecurity. This is also a good time to reflect on how efficiently your past IT budgets were spent and identify any unnecessary spending.
Assessing Your IT Environment
Your law firm’s IT environment extends beyond technology that was purchased and subscribed to. That technology is being supported by people inside the law firm or a service provider. There are also processes that govern how technology is used in certain situations. During our assessment, we need to consider the technology, people, and processes that make up our IT environments.
The first step to building your IT roadmap is creating an inventory of your firm’s current technologies and devices. Then make note of any associated update, replacement, or reoccurring costs associated with that technology so you can forecast an estimated spend for the upcoming years.
Hardware and Devices
Replacing and updating aging hardware can cause budgetary issues if not forecasted properly. In your inventory, take note of the purchase date and version of firm owned computers, mobile phones, monitors, and other pieces of hardware. Warranties and operating systems should also be noted if applicable.
The items in the firm owned hardware inventory will depend on your current IT model. If your firm hosts its data and runs off a cloud platform, you will not have to worry about large capital expenses like servers and storage devices.
Take note of:
- Ages of devices.
- Operating systems and versions.
- Warranties and vendor support contracts.
Hardware Inventory: desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, telephones, servers, SANs, firewalls, routers, switches
Budgetary Considerations: What hardware will we need to replace in the next 36 months? Will there be any necessary operating system or version upgrades with associated costs? Are maintenance costs accurately forecasted?
Your firm licenses and subscribes to multiple line of business applications and software. There are various pricing models for this software to make note of for your inventory, each with different budgetary considerations.
Some software is subscribed to as software-as-a-service and have predictable monthly costs per user. Other software will be licensed by version with cost considerations of upgrades, migrations, and maintenance.
Take note of:
- Licensing model and monthly cost.
- Versions and necessary update dates.
- Maintenance and support contracts.
Software Inventory: Microsoft 365, document management, practice and case matter management, dictation, analytics, other productivity tools
Budgetary Considerations: What software will we need to upgrade in the next 36 months? Will there be any migrations with associated costs? Are maintenance and subscription costs accurately forecasted?
Your firm’s cybersecurity posture will comprise technology, people, and processes – just like your IT environment. For the purposes of mapping out your IT environment for budgetary purposes, let’s just focus on the technology element of your firm’s cybersecurity.
It is much cheaper for a law firm to implement proper cybersecurity measures than it is to recover from ransomware, data theft, and other ramifications of a breach. Evaluate your cybersecurity posture and ensure you’ve taken into consideration tools such as:
- Web / DNS Filtering
- Endpoint Security and Protection
- Email Security
- Multi-factor Authentication and Application Security
- Dark Web Monitoring
Cybersecurity is a rapidly evolving space for all organizations, law firms included. Now is a great time to assess your current posture and identify gaps better secure your firm.
People & Service Providers
While your technology inventory will provide you with a list of items that will need to be forecasted in the budget, your IT environment extends beyond that. Take this time to assess your current IT team and IT service providers to ensure your needs are being met and identify any gaps or inefficiencies.
Your IT Team
If you have IT professionals on staff, consider the roles they are currently in and their specialties as professionals. Make sure the staff member’s role and specialty are aligned so your firm benefits from the latest IT efficiencies and best practices.
For example, your firm might have hired a support professional to manage workstations and support users with day-to-day help desk issues. As time went on, more IT duties were added to that person’s plate, such as server management and storage infrastructure, particularly as your firm transitioned to a hybrid work from home model. This professional might now be overextended and unable to optimize the IT spend and tools under their responsibility.
Ensuring your IT staff members’ roles and specialties align will reduce the number of mistakes made with technology and save your firm time and money.
Your IT Service Providers
Many firms outsource some or all of their IT needs to a managed services provider or cloud platform. There are many benefits to doing so, assuming your needs are being met and the costs are comparable to your other options.
When evaluating your IT environment to build your budget, take into consideration the following for your IT service providers:
- Is your firm getting the level of support it needs? Resolving day-to-day IT issues for your users in a timely fashion is critical to maintaining a productive law firm.
- Do your users have reliable access to their desktops and line of business applications outside of the office? Even before the pandemic, work-from-anywhere is becoming the norm.
- Are the costs comparable to your other options? It might be beneficial to get multiple quotes from service providers to ensure the costs for storage, computing, and service are in line with current market rates.
Outsourcing IT functions with the right partner can lead to increased performance, lower costs, and less capital expenses making your firm more productive and agile.
To round out your evaluation of your firm’s IT environment, assess the main processes within your IT department. Processes ensure the most critical tasks can be performed efficiently, leading to time and cost optimizations.
Disaster Recovery / Business Continuation
It is essential that your firm recovers from a natural disaster, cyberattack, or other major disruption event. From an IT perspective, this means regaining access and functionality to infrastructure that keeps your firm running. Does your firm have the proper tools and processes to operate after a disaster?
Employee Onboarding and Offboarding
There are many IT-related tasks to getting a new hire up and running, including their devices and workstation, security authorizations, and network permissions. There are just as many tasks for when an employee is terminated. Is your firm’s employee onboarding and offboarding an efficient process that is well coordinated with your IT staff? Can some of it be automated to increased efficiency?
Security Training and Compliance
Most data breaches and successful cyberattacks include a human element. These events are enabled when users don’t follow cybersecurity best practices and compromise the firm’s data by accidentally sharing sensitive information, unwittingly giving login information to a sophisticated phishing attack, downloading malware, and other mistakes.
Security awareness training and business processes designed to combat common phishing techniques equip your users with information and tactics designed to protect themselves and your firm. A common financial process, for example, requires verbal confirmation for unexpected financial transactions of a certain size, not just email confirmation. Are the members of your firm knowledgeable on how to identify and avoid the latest cybersecurity threats?
Bringing It All Together
The exercise of evaluating your IT environment will give you the necessary insights to accurately forecast IT spend and create your budget for years to come. Your technology inventory will give you a list of the hardware, software, and other tools your firm will need to replace or upgrade over the next 36 months. Evaluating the people tasked with managing IT at your firm, both full-time staff members or outsourced to a vendor, will help you identify gaps and inefficiencies in your IT spend. Finally, processes will ensure your firm has the capabilities to perform the most essential IT functions while optimizing for security, time, and cost.
A Trusted Partner
There is no one-size-fits-all IT roadmap for law firms. Each firm has a unique set of business plans and goals that will determine the different paths and options for their IT needs.
A trusted partner can help you evaluate your firm’s IT environment, make sure all budgetary considerations are taken into account, and determine the best route forward for your firm.