Archive for the ‘Legal IT’ Category

Legal IT – do you need a specialist service provider?

October 22, 2012

The need for an efficient, reliable and secure IT function is nowadays vital for any organisation in the legal sector. Their IT needs are specific to their sector and the Support function has a necessity to be able to cater for their demanding requirements.

With this in mind, it can be asked: Do they need an IT service provider that specialises in the legal sector? Or can any provider do the job?

Why are law firms different?

First of all, it is important to understand the specialised requirements of the legal sector. Law firms are unlike many other types of organisations in terms of the demands from end users and the non-standard organisational structure.

Typical end users are high-fee earners (Lawyers/Partners) who work long, late hours and sometimes weekends, dealing with highly sensitive documentation which they might access from different (and sometimes personal) devices.

Because of this, they need highly efficient data access 24x7x365 with minimal downtime, as well as a high level of data security. Mobility (home working) or BYOD support might also be necessary as end users often need to work from their smart phones, tablet computers, iPads and personal laptops, as well as their home PCs.

As for a law firm’s structure, this can vary considerably. This could include a main office in the UK with satellite offices or partners around the world, in different time zones. This is becoming more and more popular as the legal sector expands towards Eastern countries. Otherwise, it could consist of a network of partners across the UK linked to a central office – possibly hundreds of professionals who work from various locations or only collaborate intermittently with the organisation. These complex structures need a more flexible, scalable and secure IT system than other more common ones with only one building from which all end users work.

Supporting a law firm

There are various IT solutions to support legal firms, which depend on the size, structure and specific needs of each organisation. The main issue is supporting lawyers/partners, who often work beyond their normal working hours or are based in a different time zone, at any time of day or night.

More common structures use an internal IT service with support staff working on a night rota, taking calls from their home. Other structures require more complex models.

Global law firms might have an IT department (or trained Secretaries) in every office or country, and use a ‘follow the sun’ model for their out-of-hours support. But they might find that a central IT department based in only one location, which acts remotely to support all satellite offices, is more financially convenient and better suited to their needs, than having a Service Desk for each office – especially for 1st line support or, in any case, for operations which can be performed remotely. However, to support different countries means having to work with different time zones, so the IT Service Desk needs to be staffed on a 24x7x365 basis to be able to cope with these demands.

An alternative model which could work for UK-based organisations (with or without satellite offices or partners abroad) is having an in-house IT Support function for normal office hours, managed internally or by a service provider, but using a shared service desk for the out-of-hour calls and peak service times. The shared service will also be available for when overseas offices in other time zones require support.

Sharing IT support with other law firms, as long as the number is contained and the participating organisations are similar to each other, also means sharing costs. Hence it could be a very cost-effective solution to have total coverage.

A shared service centre can also be a good solution for smaller law firms who cannot afford high levels of skills and would like a more economical, yet still highly efficient IT service, sharing costs as well as skills with other similar organisations.

Big fish or small fish?

When choosing their support provider, law firms might go for well-known global organisations with a wide-ranging client base. The supposed benefit is that they have a lot of experience, in several different environments as well as an overall good general knowledge of all sectors.

This solution might be suitable for some law firms for which IT does not have a strategic function. For others, a general knowledge of all sectors might not be enough. For a strategic approach to IT, where it is used to create value and is not only a business supporter but an enabler, it is necessary that the provider has a good understanding of the market they will be dealing in.

Great customer service is essential when dealing with users in the legal sector. While larger service providers may rely on their name to generate new business and care more about “sealing the deal” than making a good impression on new clients, this is not the approach for the smaller, niche firms. The latter strive to deliver great customer care as it is their work and not their name that wins clients over.

Skills and flexibility

A smaller, niche support provider has important skills available to suit a law firms’ needs. Having had experience specifically in the legal sector, it is able to fully understand the needs of their organisation and compare them to other firms that are similar to them, putting forward some ‘tried and tested’ ways to improve their IT service.

They can also provide more flexibility in the service they offer. As what they offer is not standardised but bespoke, it can change with the organisation as needs arise, without charging more for every little change. Larger service providers tend to sell standardised models which can be quite inflexible, where they can only include a certain number of calls and charge for anything extra as well as any change to the model. In particularly busy periods the charge for the extra tickets can be very expensive. The same is true in case of a business restructure or merger which involves a change to the IT support model.

Do you need a specialist?

Overall, the choice of service provider depends on how the strategy for IT is set out for the law firm – whether they just need a cheap generic service or they see IT as a potential valued add-in which can help their business become even more successful.

A generic service provider does not necessarily lack knowledge of the legal sector. However, a legal specialist is a safe choice for those in need of a service which is already legal-proof and has a strong track record in dealing with a number of organisations successfully.

Ian Parker, Service Desk Manager

See the blog on Plan-Net’s website: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/news/item/172-legal-it-do-you-need-a-specialist-legal-it-service-provider.html

Legal IT: A New Model to Suit Changing Demands

June 6, 2012

As law firms change in structure and size, often expanding globally, their IT support model also has to evolve. With a great deal of growth expected to come from overseas countries, particularly from Asia, some alternative thinking is required to accommodate the scaling of IT support services to meet the increased, non-local, demand.

Current IT support delivery models are likely to be centred around a large centralised Service Desk providing all in-hours support and which is provided by an in-house team.  Out-of-hours and global support is then provided by any number of different configurations, often including complex rota systems utilising staff and/or contractors, or an externally provided shared service (perhaps even a combination of the two).  Such 24×7, or ‘follow-the-sun’, solutions do work and may be reasonably inexpensive but are frequently difficult to manage and do not provide a consistent level of good service across all locations.

Additionally, we’ve also recently witnessed a change in demand from end-users based in what have traditionally been outpost office locations.  These end-users, aware that they’re based in locations of new growth, now expect the same level of service as their counterparts in the more established offices.  This means receiving the same quality, response and availability of IT support services.  Arguably, these demands are reasonable and there should no longer be a difference in the IT support received, regardless of location.

To summarise – with growth predicted to come from abroad, and with a demand for a consistent delivery of services, regardless of office location, a revised approach to the provision of IT support services is needed.

An alternative concept of providing IT services may be to work to the ‘troughs’ in demand and not the ‘peaks’.  Let’s explain what is meant by this.

The bulk of an IT support service, perhaps 70 to 80% of it, is provided during a core period and is utterly predictable.  This portion of the service represents the ‘trough’ in demand, i.e. it is unmoving, consistent and therefore easy to plan a team around.  The ‘peaks’ in demand are portions that are prone to variations, e.g. the magnitude of spikes in demand, the volume of out-of-hours support activity, or the support demands from overseas offices.  It’s the smaller and less predictable portion of the service (the 20 to 30%) that consumes a disproportionate amount of management time, whilst still resulting in an imperfect service.

The trough and peak concept essentially shifts the main focus of in-house service provision to the larger and unchanging part of the service, where service excellence is the goal.  A more scalable approach is adopted for the peaks which strive to meet the same levels of excellence as the main portion of the service whilst easily being able to deal with the variations, however subtle, in demand.

Traditionally, an IT support service must align its own capacity model with its demand curve, i.e. when demand for support begins to build on a weekday morning, then the Service Desk opens.  As the demand curve increases during the morning (to its peak at around 11am) so does the number of support analysts that are available.  Then, later in the afternoon, as demand falls, so does the staffing on the Service Desk until, ultimately, it closes.  At this point, an out-of-hours function takes over until the cycle starts again in the morning.  With out-of-hours support activity, a measured amount of resource is available that can manage the anticipated out-of-hours, and/or global support requirements, until the main Service Desk reopens.

The single biggest issue with the traditional method is that resourcing for both the in-hours support needs, and the out-of-hours/global demands, is based upon meeting the peaks in demand.  If the service needs to be extended, all that can be done is to add analysts to the capacity model which will see significant step change in cost.

The following line graph shows a fairly typical weekday demand curve (i.e. ticket logging activity by hour of the day).  Demand builds in the morning and tails off at the end of the day.  The main peak is mid-morning with a smaller peak in the middle of the afternoon.  In this example, the bars represent a capacity model based on 7 analysts working 7.5-hour days, with staggered starts, and an hour for lunch, with Service Desk opening hours of 7am to 6pm.

On the face of it, it could be said the capacity model is a good fit for the demand curve.  But on closer inspection, the capacity model has failings:

1) Demand begins to build before the Service Desk opens.  These calls may be picked up by the out-of-hours service, but the people manning that service will soon be finishing their shift, so they may just ‘log and flog’ so that the support can be picked up by the in-hours team;

2) Resource does climb throughout the morning in line with the demand curve – however, the maximum available capacity isn’t quite enough to meet demand at the busiest time of the day.  This may well lead to an increase in abandoned calls at this time;

3) Then, due to staggered lunch breaks, resource again doesn’t quite keep in step with demand;

4)  The analysts’ shifts end slightly ahead of demand, and finally:

5) The Service Desk closes, switching to the out-of-hours service, just before the day’s demand has fully settled down.

By working to the peaks in demand, our well-considered capacity model doesn’t quite fit demand (and nor will it ever), and if we need to scale-up in line with business growth, all that can be done is to add extra analysts and attempt to further match the capacity model, as best as one can, with the demand curve.

Managing resource for an out-of-hours service has similar challenges.  A capacity model must be derived that meets maximum demand.  If the out-of-hours service is based on staff, equipped with phones and working to a rota, such a rota can be very difficult and onerous to manage.  If the service needs to be expanded, all that can be done is to add resource to where the gaps are emerging, even if it means that the resources will be underutilised.

If, however, an in-house core service is delivered to the troughs (which will still be the greater part of the service), and a suitable high-performing shared service is identified which can handle the peaks, i.e. the lower-volume out-of-hours activity, peak time overflow and variations in throughput, then an improved and scalable service model will be achieved.

The following diagram shows the same demand curve but with a reduced in-house capacity model.

In this example, the box represents 5 analysts, as opposed to 7 in the earlier diagram (a 28.6% reduction in headcount).  This team would still manage 71.4% of the in-hours call volumes and can spend its time focusing on delivering an excellent service.  The remaining support, i.e. the peaks, the increasing and decreasing demands at the start and end of the normal working day, and the out-of-hours piece, can be handled by a shared service which integrates with the main in-house service, but which can manage variations in demand with ease, scale up or down when required, and may demonstrate cost savings.

To use a term that I like to use, this model allows you to concentrate on the steak and not the peas.  Instead of working very hard to manage the smaller percentage of support activity at the edge of your service, focus on the bulk in the middle, and utilise the availability of a well suited outsourced service to manage the smaller, less predictable volume.  Savings can be made, the all-round service improves, you have a scalable model that’s less onerous to deliver and your customers (all of them) are happier.

It’s worth finishing with some guidance on how to transition from the current model to a new one.  The answer is found in the data contained within your IT Service Management tool.  It is essential that your existing service is fully profiled, from ticket origin through to logging, first-time-fix, escalation, and finishing at resolution.  An effective data analysis process needs to be conducted on your ticket management data so that your full service, and how it is used, is fully understood.  This kind of analysis is typically above-and-beyond the standard reports you might get from your ITSM tool, but instead is a data-mining exercise which performs a distillation of your service, against which a new model can be defined.  With such an analysis behind you, the decision of how much to keep in-house, versus what to outsource, is a reasonably straightforward piece of cost analysis.  Whilst adopting the trough and peak model may seem too greater a step to make, the required due-diligence to see if it’s viable won’t impact the delivery of your services at all.  So, at the very least, it would seem to be a prudent move to investigate it as an option.

 

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

 

This article appears on ITSM Portal: http://bit.ly/LzkyGG

NEWS: Plan-Net expands UK’s only 24/7/365 shared, legal-dedicated IT support service

April 17, 2012

News release – for immediate release

17-04-2012

Service Provider Plan-Net Plc. is extending its unique 24-hour legal-dedicated IT support service to include more clients. After successfully running it with selected organisations for a period of time, the shared service is available to a limited number of City law firms.

Plan-Net’s central London legal-dedicated service centre caters for all of the requirements of a modern law firm; 24-hour availability, including weekends and bank holidays, high levels of customer service and security, high response rates, specialist knowledge of legal technology, and global reach.  The service is also modelled to align with each client’s individual IT support operations.

Plan-Net are restricting the number of firms that can participate in order to maintain quality levels of response, fix-rate and customer service.

Richard Forkan, Director at Plan-Net, said:

“Speaking to our clients in the legal sector over a number of years, it has become clear that a gap in the market exists for a legal-dedicated service that can meet the unique requirements of this sector.

With law firms under increasing pressure to maximize chargeable hours, the need to keep fee earning lawyers productive is not just limited to standard working hours.

We’re also seeing more and more UK law firms expand internationally and specifically in the middle and Far East requiring IT support to be truly 24/7.

The only options available to law firms in the UK at the moment are either to invest in their own in-house out-of-hours capability, which is a huge expense, or use a generic service which doesn’t accommodate the unique service models, applications and customer service requirements of individual legal firms.

Our legal-dedicated service has been built in specific response to the market, combining the cost savings of a shared service with the specific expertise and service levels needed in the legal sector.”

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Notes to the editor

  • There are limited places available in the Shared Service Centre. Law firms that are interested in participating should contact Plan-Net on 020 7353 4313 or send a message through this Contact Us form: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/contact-us
  • About Plan-Net

A specialist in transforming IT operations into high-performance, cost-efficient platforms for business success, Plan-Net is the service provider of choice for organisations in need of a tailored solution to suit their specific needs. Its focus on achieving high levels of availability, capability, response and customer service benefits clients demanding tangible competitive business advantage from their IT.

Plan-Net’s Support and Consultancy Services have helped clients enhance IT performance, flexibility, security, cost-efficiency and user-productivity for over two prosperous decades.

Website: www.plan-net.co.uk

Blog: https://plannetplc.wordpress.com/

Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanNetplc

  • Press contact:

Samantha Selvini

Press Officer, Plan-Net plc

Tel: 020 7632 7990

Email: samantha.selvini@plan-net.co.uk

Just how much of a saving is the reduction of heads from an IT support team?

March 20, 2012

ImageIn a bid to meet the demands of an FD who needs to see cost savings across the organisation, often it’s a portion of an IT team that have to go.  On the face of it, it’s an easy choice.  Those within an IT team will often perform the same functions as one another, therefore, if one or more leave the team, it can still perform all its required tasks, albeit a bit slower than before.

But what might not have been considered in such decision making is the organisation’s profile of staff’s expected IT skills and the speed-of-service demands.  If the two are considered together, an optimal ratio of IT staff to company staff can be derived which can be used as a benchmark against any planned reductions in heads.

Definitions:

Staff’s expected IT skills – Some business environments may have a low expectation on its staff in terms of their IT skills.  A law firm is a good example as it’s more beneficial to the organisation if their legal teams are fee earning (by practicing law), instead of being able to clear their own printer jams.  Other organisations, perhaps a software house, will have employees who are more than capable of dealing with common IT issues.  In these examples, the law firm is clearly going to need a greater ratio of IT support people to staff members than the software house.

Speed-of-service demand – An investment bank, or indeed any organisation that is wholly reliant on IT to trade, will tolerate only the most minor of IT interruptions, whereas some business types might be able to suffer IT delays for hours, or even days, without any particular impact on their business.  Those with the need for greater speed of service, or even immediate need for service, will require a greater ratio of IT support people to staff members compared with those that don’t.

If these two aspects of a business’ IT culture are considered together, one can begin to determine the optimal number of IT support people to staff members.

For organisations with a low expectation of staff’s IT skills, but who need rapid IT support, a ratio of 1 support person to every 50 members of staff, might be appropriate.  The other extreme, high staff IT skills coupled with lower speeds of support, may lead to a ratio of 1 support person to every 200 members of staff.

Then, if there is a need to cut heads, a more informed choice may be made, i.e. just how many heads may be lost without: a) requiring the established IT culture to change, or b) having a detrimental impact of the organisation’s ability to trade?

Of course, this thought process and logic need not only apply to difficult times, when reducing costs is a priority.  It can apply to times of business success and be used as a means of determining the best IT support fit for the business.

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Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant