what is the next big thing?

Why should we future-proof our library and information service?

February 10, 2021
Clare Brown

In the past two posts, I’ve discussed the practicalities of current awareness migration projects, as well as how to take the first steps towards implementing an automated system. One of the major aims of these types of projects is to ensure your library and information services are future-proofed. But what does that actually mean? 

It’s strange to think that we have already settled into a new reality of remote working, with all the challenges that has entailed. We have experienced rapid digital transformation - whether it was planned or not. How can we ensure that information teams are prepared for what happens next, especially in the context of putting your clients first?

Digital transformation and the capabilities required to sustain it

Before we start, what is digital transformation? 

One organisation defines it as, “the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers”. The Enterprisers Project

Commentator George Westerman defines it as, “a radical rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people and processes to fundamentally change business performance”. CIO, 20th September 2020

A recent McKinsley blog post expands on the concept of digital transformation against the backdrop of COVID-19 saying, “digital transformations are enabled by technology - and are happening faster than ever because of the pandemic. Recent data show that we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks”.

This fundamental change in business performance can only be sustained if the right digital capabilities are in place. The McKinsey blog post outlines six digital capacities; diverse tech talent, customer centric design thinking, working agile, data literacy, next generation technology, and finally, analytical reasoning.  

Two of these struck a chord with me; (1) customer centric design thinking and (2) next generation technology. Both are crucial when thinking about how organisations approach the idea of future-proofing their information services. 

How has COVID-19 changed the information world?

Putting the customer at the centre of your design thinking

A recent post stated that “almost three-quarters of United Kingdom law firms indicate digital transformation is a primary or secondary focus for their organisation, according to Hays’ 2019 “What Workers Want” report”. Clients are expecting more from their professional advisors, and in a competitive landscape your organisation should constantly be asking itself how it can diversify your client offering and differentiate itself within the market. 

While digital transformation is about aligning the law firm and their clients with the sort of collaborative technology clients expect, getting the right array of internal tools is also essential for maximum efficiency. For example, library and information people tell us current awareness scanning is time consuming, so why not automate? Once the automation is in place, you can invest your time more wisely elsewhere - maybe even generating revenue? 

Library and information teams have always offered informal or ad-hoc news alerts to clients who ask for them. There is clearly a demand. Is it time to scale up this service, and market it to clients as a professionally managed current awareness service? There is potential for some real ground breaking ideas. A thought provoking and excellent article on “resilience in a post-COVID-19 world” stated,

a third, far more ambitious, creative and - if well-conceived and executed - more profitable strategy is to build the new capabilities internally. This is the highest risk/highest reward alternative…[t]he reward is of capturing internally the revenue and profits that would have gone outside. Under this scenario, a law firm sets out purposefully, deliberately, and intentionally to build capabilities outside its classic approach to the practice of law… Rather, the firm adds an entirely new operational layer and structure of talent and set of capabilities. (My emphasis.)

By working with your library and information management teams on a new venture, there is an opportunity to create something that benefits everyone. Whatever happens, your end-users/clients need to be engaged throughout the process to enable the digital solution to reach its full potential. Like any new business model it’s a risk; it requires innovative thinking, a commitment from both sides, not to mention a raft of negotiations. 

But consider the benefits:

  • Clients get the most reliable current awareness prepared by trained information professionals. 
  • The information departments get the recognition that they are major contributors to client relations as well as generating revenue. 
  • Managing partners can be confident that their firm’s name and brand is visible on newsletters and current awareness dashboards.

I'm bored with technology   Why should it matter to me?

Ensure that the technology is fit for purpose

The second issue I mentioned in relation to digital transformation was “next generation technology”. Implementation - and acceptance - of new technologies has taken on a new significance over the past year, as engagement with cloud-based products and services increased significantly during this ongoing (never ending!) COVID-19 pandemic

One of the reasons I enjoy looking back at the Vable archive of resources are the conference reports. In 2012, the Hon. PA Keane, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia stated that librarians must drive new technology despite the “lukewarm” feelings of law practitioners. “Lawyers will not initiate new services…they expect librarians to guide them”. What a difference a decade makes to attitudes toward tech!

It’s not just information people pushing for new services, there is now an entire legal tech industry to guide lawyers through the maze. Tech is no longer a niche interest for the partner who dabbles, it’s big and essential to the success of the business. Any recent law firm survey demonstrates the impact of COVID-19 on fees, and future investment in technology, for example, 

  • 85% of firms have said that COVID-19 has had a “moderate” or “major” impact on fee income
  • 68% are considering innovation, streamlining or digitising processes or functions

The average lawyer gets restless when their librarians start talking about “aggregation”, “RSS feeds” and “third party alerts” which is why we need to present end-users with something that generates excitement, and endless possibilities. Does the solution align with your post-COVID-19 business strategy, in terms of outcomes, ROI, and benefits?

Digital transformation: A perfect match of tech and client

Vable’s customisable, self-service solution, MyVable, is a perfect example of technology that is “fit for purpose”. It has the potential to revolutionise information delivery, change mindsets by presenting relevant, accurate, and personalised information. It’s designed to be simple so you empower your end-users to subscribe themselves to a range of newsletters, as well as create personal alerts from available topics. You can also:

  • Remove fear of missing out on knowledge by having all your resources in one place 
  • Increase engagement and encourage best practice by bringing people together
  • Choose what you want to see, including branding. Make MyVable Your Vable 
  • Share high quality, targeted news and information with friends, clients and colleagues

As one HBR article concluded, a successful digital transformation of an organisation happens because leaders returned to the fundamentals: “they focused on changing the mindset of its members as well as the organizational culture and processes before they decide what digital tools to use and how to use them. What the members envision to be the future of the organization drove the technology, not the other way around”.

Future-proofing in a legal setting isn’t about the latest must-have technology. It’s not even about talent or data, it’s something more - it’s the mindset of change. As I quoted above, it’s that purposeful, deliberate, and intentional desire to build capabilities outside the classic approach to the practice of law. Managing partners can’t afford not to future-proof the organisation, because the future has already happened!

Are you ready?

Start your current awareness research here