Conference dispenses advice

The implementation stage of a system was more fraught than its selection, IT consultant Neil Cameron told The Lawyer Information systems for lawyers conference in London last week.

"I have told a client: 'Select the system yourself, as you can't get that as wrong as implementing it yourself'."

Looking at the technical problems that arose especially in the current mix and match environment, he said it was not possible for a supplier to test in advance all the combinations. "Sometimes it is a question of black magic as to why a system won't work."

Cameron stressed the need to test systems before they were implemented. Recommending the use of a test bed, he said this could cost a minimum of u60,000. When it came to apportioning blame if things went wrong, he said: "Don't try and sue, it was probably your own fault."

Most back office systems are installed late and incomplete, said Moores Rowland consultant Mark Jamieson.

He emphasised the need to include users. "Information systems don't deliver benefits, it is the people using the system who provide the benefits." The approach had to be business-led. "Identify the business processes and understand what people want." He recommended the user be put in control: "Make them responsible for agreeing the benefits."

When evaluating suppliers, he warned against approaching too many. "It is exhausting if you are asking 15 suppliers."

He also said to beware of "vapourware" – software not yet developed and when negotiating price he said: "Remember you need your supplier to stay in business."

Kienzle Systems development manager Doug McLachlan outlined the "10 steps to tragedy" in dealing with suppliers. Give the partner or fee earner implementing the system time to do the job – allow for this in his personal billing targets".

Avoid vague words such as "resilient, integrated and transparent" in setting out requirements, he advised. Watch out lest "the champion of IT within the firm tries to sell his favourite ideas to the rest of the firm".

As a rough guide to costs, he said: "Take the cost of the PC you need per person and the software per person and then double that figure." Communication of requirements in the firm was the area where people were most likely to fall down in his view.

Warning about skimping on training, McLachlan said that an inexperienced trainer would pass on 75 per cent of what they knew, of which only 50 per cent would be absorbed.

The 'install at all costs syndrome' must be avoided: "If you are not ready, don't go live."