Opinion: Legal Software – their own private Afghanistan?
With The Times newspaper today commenting that wars are like D-I-Y projects – they are easy to start but hard to complete – I'm wondering whether the big consolidators in the legal software vendors’ arena – the LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters and IRIS Groups of this world – are finding the legal IT market turning into their own corporate Afghanistans?
Getting involved may have seemed like a good idea at the time – what with all those small niche players just looking for someone to snap them up – but now they’ve made their investments, the consolidators are finding the sector a lot more complex – and far less profitable – than they first thought. Bogged down in the poppy-fields of technology’s Helmand Province, the consolidators are having to cope with a steady outflow of cash to modernise, rewrite and replace the legacy technologies they have acquired, while simultaneously facing an ongoing stream of criticism and defections from an increasingly disgruntled user base.
Like the Allied forces in Afghanistan (and the Soviet Union before them), the big consolidators have no clear exit strategy and are faced with an unpalatable choice: Do they dig-in for the long term and throw in more troops (sorry, senior mangers) money and resources in one last surge to try to fix the problem? Or, do they cut their losses now, pull out altogether and write-off the whole imperialist venture as a mistake? Damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Either way the ‘natives’ – their shareholders and their customers – are growing restless.