Technology that works is no longer enough - the need for business technology to go beyond mere functionality

Andrea Foot, general manager at Tikit Australia, gleans insights from her conversations with legal firm CIOs. One emerging theme is the need for business technology to go beyond mere functionality.

As consumer devices raise the user-experience bar, so too do workplace applications have to deliver a slick, or even a pleasurable, user experience.

In the olden days, software vendors would write complex, feature-rich products and sell them to law firms in a pretty much ‘take it or leave it’ kind of way. These products offered end-users only one way to interact with them, but you know what…at the time it was okay. Luckily for software vendors, users’ aspirations were limited to the functionality that the software delivered. If it worked, it worked.

As a result, on the whole, people put up with what was put in front of them – no matter how cumbersome or ugly – because the software could do things that weren’t previously possible and could bring tremendous benefits.

This in turn meant that the legal profession’s attitude towards technology matured fairly rapidly as the benefits became manifest. It led firms to get on board with technology, but… and it’s a big but… have their users too? Actually, in many instances, not so much.

Low patience threshold

From my observation it’s clear that the end-user is still a time-poor/low patience threshold consumer. Moreover, the rise of the smart phone has meant that even the least technically minded among us can download an app, fire it up and see if it really will make us more amused, successful, connected or thinner.

Since we’ve all become used to software that looks beautiful or is guilelessly easy to use, it’s what we expect to encounter everywhere. Okay, these are not corporate systems, but it infiltrates our attitude as to how things can look and perform.

Exacerbating this, corporate systems are no longer locked away in a blocky pc on your desk. They’re in your pocket, your bag, your briefcase and your home. They’re also on your home-screen right next to the goofy word game you play when you want to de-stress.

Perhaps the real underlying driver is that law firm clients increasingly understand and want the benefits that technology brings. Which means that the firms now need more users to make active use of their IT systems. So the technology has to take a step up. Nowadays it has to be able to meet the working styles and preferences of individual users.

This has led to the shift I’m seeing towards software that can morph to meet individual users’ preferred style of working – via pc, on a smart phone, using your smart watch, via the web, whatever works best for you. It has led to the shift towards software that is customizable and – crucially – adopts the sort of user-interfaces that are commonly found on consumer apps.

The lesson I’ve learned is that it’s no longer a cute selling edge for software to have a nice interface. Technology that works is no longer enough and the interface is actually becoming a reason for firms to look to change a key system.

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