The Firm: Three technology must-haves for your firm

Elizabeth Millard, The Daily Record Newswire

For many law firms and other companies — particularly startups and smaller businesses — a technology mix involves numerous pieces that might not fit together as well as they could. The firm begins by needing smartphones and laptops, but may not ensure that those two devices synch correctly; or a file management system is put into place temporarily, then never gets swapped out for a more efficient, company-tailored solution. Whenever an emergency comes up, the tendency is to add more technology in the form of software and hardware, rather than doing a closer examination of efficiency bottlenecks.

Taking the time to examine the foundational pieces of a technology setup can be hugely helpful for identifying problem areas and inefficiencies, according to Martin Thomas, co-owner of St. Paul-based Lotus + Lama, a computer consultancy and web design firm. “Once your foundational pieces are in place, you may find that additional purchases are unnecessary,” he says. “In fact, buying new hardware will often complicate things.”

Here are three bedrock must-haves for a technology mix, and tips on making sure that they work for you, not against you:

Password management

One of the most crucial parts of any technology strategy is password management, Thomas believes. “Without this, all other decisions are void of merit, because one hack can bring a company to its knees.” Yet, even though this type of strategy is vital, many firm rely on occasional reminders to employees to change their passwords — an approach that’s far too casual and potentially dangerous.
Tip: Implement formal security protection. There are password management programs that create “audit trails” that can track access to web-based data and allow companies to manage and organize passwords. Look for vendors that can create tiered systems that protect data and log activities, so it’s easier to spot security issues.

Email infrastructure
Take a moment to think about whether your email provider or interface is the most effective solution for your business. Does your provider upgrade so often that employees are scrambling to figure out new functionality? Are you depending on a free service that’s full of advertisements and has limited security options? Where are your emails being stored, and how quickly can you access them? When it comes to using email for business, there are often regulatory and tax issues that come up as well as efficiency concerns, and those issues could affect your clients as well as your firm.

Also, firms may not be taking advantage of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that might include email. Because SaaS is in the midst of rapid adoption, the field is evolving quickly, and some email systems can be blended together with other functionality like customer relationship management, says Dave Walstad, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Minneapolis-based IT consulting firm Virteva. “With deployments of CRM in the cloud now being commonplace, the more traditional IT services [like email] will also be provided as a service,” he says.
Tip: Shop around. It may be daunting to switch email providers in the midst of business operations, but it could benefit the company in the long run. Make a wish list to help compare services, jotting down items like automatic backup, easy retrieval, security, contacts management, search capability, and other functions.

Automated backup
Whether your data goes into a cloud-based service or a hardware-based device, automation is ideal for storing important business data. But if you can’t retrieve what you’ve saved, then there’s little point in storing that data in the first place. Also, if you’re not backing up corporate devices at the same time, you could be losing valuable information.

Another concern with automated backup is security, according to Matt Woestehoff, Director of Business Development and Operations at Minneapolis-based IT support and service firm The Foundation. “You can lock down an iPad better than a Windows PC,” he says. “So, companies should understand that some devices and hardware require more effort when it comes to security.”

Tip: Run a fire drill. On a day that’s not chock full of meetings and deadlines, pretend that you’ve just lost absolutely all your data. What’s your next step? If you have a cloud-based provider that’s on call 24/7, see if you can access a single document from a computer that’s not connected to your corporate data stream. Take time to work through the process, and to talk with the provider about how long it would take to restore all of your data in the event of disaster.

By running a fire drill, strengthening your email infrastructure, and employing stronger password management, you’ll be closer to creating a technology system that works better for your business.
Once a foundation is in place, and you know how to store and manage digital assets, then tech firefighting tends to be reduced, if not eliminated. Thomas says, “You can become continually distracted by emergencies and end up doing little to resolve the issues that caused the problems in the first place,” he says. “Instead, look at your foundation and find out what’s not working.”


Elizabeth Millard writes about technology. Formerly senior editor at ComputerUser, her work has appeared in Business 2.0, eWeek, Linux Magazine and TechNewsWorld.