Part 1: Why Use ROI Thinking



The following scenarios are based on interviews with individuals from the Legal Services field who shared stories about how ROI thinking comes to the rescue!

Scenario #1 Fondling the Hammer*
A legal services organization’s executive director goes out to lunch with some board members, attorneys in private practice. While they are waiting for coffee and dessert, the board members pull out their mobile devices (BlackBerry, Treo, and Iphone) and start checking email or doing work. Some suggest that the legal services organization might consider getting their 10 staff attorneys mobile devices. Back in the office, the executive director calls the technology staff person into the office and says, “Let’s get Iphones for the all 10 staff attorneys.”

The term "Fondling the Hammer" refers to focusing on the tools versus the application

ROI Thinking to the Rescue!

The technology staff person does some research.

  • Asks the executive director and attorneys what the value that a mobile device offers? Would it make them more efficient or effective?
  • He does a work flow analysis of how much work is done remotely over the Internet versus in the office.
  • Analyzes the total cost of the devices, including hardware purchase, subscription fee, extended warranties, etc. He discovers the monthly service fees to be as high as $80 per month.
  • He makes a few calls to colleagues who work for other legal services organizations to find out if and how they use mobile devices in their program delivery. He learns that programs where staff are working remotely in the field are using the devices and mobile laptops and wireless Internet access. That’s the biggest benefit.
  • Cost of the devices, plus the $80 per month service fee for all 10 attorneys exceeded the benefit of mobility because 8 out of the 10 do their most of their work in the office.
  • The other two attorneys worked in a migrant program so the mobile devices might be a good investment.
  • He interviews the attorneys and learns:
  • He performs a cost/benefit ROI calculation using the following:
    • Analyzed the cost of travel time and mileage from monthly time sheets
    • Analyzed what they could be doing with that time
    • Estimated that took the attorneys 2-3 trips to complete the work with a single client and with the laptops it would only take 1.

He shares the information in a memo with his Executive Director.

Guess what happens?

Scenario #2: Speaking the Same Language

This legal services organization’s technology staff person spends a lot of time in front of his computer. He has a very small monitor and it works just fine. He’s looked at some larger flat screen monitors. Even better, he wouldn’t mind working long hours without pay if the computing environment was better and he’d be more productive with a larger monitor because often needs to have many program application windows at once. He thinks these monitors would help everyone on staff be more productive. He sends a memo to his executive director detailing the monitors’ features like refresh rate, screen real estate, and price. He provides a price comparison and identifies the best purchase value for a flat screen monitor. His memo also includes the cost of purchasing 15 new monitors for everyone on staff.

Guess what his executive director’s response is?

ROI thinking to the rescue!

The technology staff person

The technology staff person incorporates ROI thinking into his approach. He does the following:


  • He interviews staff members about how comfortable their desktop environments are. He also asks about what types of documents they are working with, whether they work with more than one at time. He does a little observation too and discovers that the Executive Director’s administrative assistant has to work with large spreadsheets and is really frustrated and working extra hours because all the data can’t be seen at one time on the screen.

  • He revises his proposal to purchase one monitor as a test of the concept. This time his memo includes a list of benefits such as increased efficiency, effectiveness, improved working environment, and improved morale.

  • He does a simple calculation for the cost/benefit of new monitor versus time saved for one staff person.

  • He attaches a copy of the study he found on the Internet. His executive director approves the plan and the technology staff person gives the monitor to the Executive Director’s assistant.

Two months later, guess what happens?

The Executive Director’s assistant keeps telling everyone, including her boss, how enjoyable it is to work with the flat screen monitor. “My eyes don’t hurt and I’m getting a lot more done in less time.” The executive director has been watching this and he wants one. Soon, everyone in the office who could benefit from a large flat screen monitor has one.

Scenario #3: Proposal for Investment Only Considers Costs and Technical Specs

The technology staff person notices that attorneys, paralegals, and administrative assistants in his office are fighting over the copy machine. He also over hears two attorneys complaining about a third attorney, new on staff, who isn't following the case handling procedures. The third attorney is frustrated because the case handling procedures in the three-ring binders on the clogged bookshelf are hopelessly out of date. Later he runs into the HR staff person, who is really annoyed because he just updated the firm's vacation policy - and has to copy the new pages and put them in the personnel manuals. (He’s into green activism)

It gets worse. A staff person comes into his office and oh no, they ran out of toner for the copy machine. The technology staff person has to drive across town to the supplier to pick up some toner, but unfortunately when the toner is changed, the copier simply breaks down. The third time this month. The HR person is ready to quite again because he just got off the phone with Director of Programs who has postponed his scheduled job reviews of performance for the second time this month.

The technology staff person, who is really stressed out, dreams of an intranet for the office. He spends the afternoon putting together a proposal that scopes out what an office intranet would like, what software/hardware it would need, training, and ongoing technical support. He put together a project budget that is roughly $35,000 and sends it off to the executive director.

Guess what the executive director’s reaction is?

ROI thinking to the rescue!

The legal services technology staff member convenes the organization’s technology committee which consists of program staff people. Over the course of several meetings, they do the following:

  • Brainstorm and discuss how an intranet might save money and time:
    • Reduced costs from paper, toner, and copy machine repairs
    • Saved staff time waiting to use the copy machine or waiting for it to be fixed
    • Saved staff time manually updating binders

  • Design a work diary form and ask a couple of key staff members to fill it out so they use it to quantify the time savings.

  • Conduct interviews with key staff to better understand how it might improve staff effectiveness. They hear a lot of complaints and suggest that they also let the executive director know this in a staff meeting scheduled to discuss the topic.
    • Improve staff morale
    • Improve collaboration on staff
    • Get new staff members up to speed faster on procedures
    • Staff reviews are done in a more timely manner, job performance improves.

  • Research the Internet for published studies that show how an intranet can improve staff productivity and efficiency. These are provided to staff interviewed and saved to use in a written memo or ROI case report for the executive director..

  • Ask the HR Director/green activist to research whether they can reduce their carbon footprint by using less paper in the office.

  • Put the Intranet discussion on the agenda for full staff meetings that are attended by led by the executive director.

  • Committee brainstorms about the content of the ROI memo for the executive director. They decide to include the following:

    • Since the executive director of the legal services organization has an MBA and did his graduate work in team management and leadership, they describe the key benefit of a Intranet as a way to improve team
    • They decide to tell the story of one staff person and how much time they would save time with an Intranet. They present some vignettes about how more timely time reviews, up-to-date procedures, etc would improve work performance.
    • They integrate highlights of research.
    • They include a cost/benefit analysis converting the benefits into dollar amounts.

What’s the executive director’s reaction?

Scenario #4: The Value Chain and Going Beyond Efficiency

This statewide legal services organization has offices all over the state and many staff members with different areas of expertise. A lot of staff who needed to attend meetings in other offices or trainings and mentoring. The organization was considering investing a video conferencing system to connect all their offices. Since it was huge upfront investment, they looked at how they would be using the technology:


• Staff Efficiency: Analyzed the staff cost of travel time, gas, etc. against the cost of the system. There was “saved staff time.” That is the time that wasn’t being spent traveling to and from another office that could be spent doing program work or serving clients.

• Effectiveness: They looked outcomes of being able to do more trainings between offices using the video conference system. They do a lot of staff mentoring. And the video conference system allowed them to assign mentors based on expertise versus geographic location. That provided a huge value, although difficult to quantify.

• They also saw the potential value in improved client service. For example, if a client came into the office with a Medicaid issue, but the person with expertise was in an office an hour way. The client would have had to wait to schedule an appointment or drive over. With the video conference system, we are to serve the client faster.

• Impact: They also look at the cost of the investment and ask what is the impact if we spent this money on something else? For the conference system, they compared the cost/benefit of investing in more staff – an annual expensive versus the one-time large investment of the system.