Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Centralization as a Value Strategy

Maximizing the value of library staff activities can be achieved by enhancing the ability of information professionals to be put to their "highest and best use" in support of client related activities. One key strategy for liberating knowledge professionals to support client work is reducing the volume of administrative work which they must perform or oversee.

I continue to be amazed at the number of large law firms that remain largely decentralized. and which mandate a decentralized library system in which each library is accountable to the local office manager and not aligned to a firm wide information strategy for expanding access to resources at the lowest cost. Decentralization can be a consequence of incomplete merger integration, inertia or a failure to assess the true cost and inefficiencies generated by decentralization.

My recent post on "What is core?" identified library activities which are aligned with the core law firm business activities. The "non-core" activities provide some guidance on library activities which are candidates for centralization.

Core activities such as legal and business research services directly benefit clients and free information professionals to continue expanding the complexity and sophistication of the services they can provide to clients. When these specialized research activities can be billed to clients, the library staff becomes a profit center and the balance shifts in favor of value.
Conversely many of the non-core administrative activities drive up overhead, headcount and cost by remaining decentralized.

Non core activities which are good candidates for centralization are:

• Acquisitions

• Cataloging

• Serials check in

• Routing

• Bill coding and processing

• document retrieval

• Licensing and contract negotiation

• Integrated library system management and deployment

Enhancement of services and value added activities. Some high value projects would be too difficult to implement locally or if implemented locally would not deliver the value of a centralized system. Examples of these high value projects are:

• Implementation of an Integrated Library System and catalog which contains a complete inventory of the firm's resources.

• Increased access to this complete catalog and inventory increases resource sharing among offices and reduces costs of acquisitions.

• Cooperative collection development will allow offices to develop the specialized collections needed for their local practices while relying on other offices to provide access to non-core resources on an “as needed” basis.

• Implementing a catalog which is a virtual library portal with links to full text resources including all titles from an aggregated resources such as HeinOnline and Lexis and Thomson elibraries, can reduce redundancy in print collections. This type of digital library portal provides lawyers with “just in time” access rather maintaining costly “just in case” print libraries.

Centralization and workflow. Centralization can be used to enhance efficiencies. Among the benefits of centralization are:

• Standardization or workflow and the enforcement of “best practices”

• Simplification of processes

• Reducing redundancy

• Continuous training and workflow improvement

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