The legal marketplace is truly dynamic. The opening up of new markets, increased competition and demands from clients mean law firms need to maintain their competitive advantage, keep fee earners and staff happy and reduce business process times, complexities and costs.
Furthermore, the increasing pace of mergers, acquisitions and general re-structuring of business is driving a need for flexible business models and information technologies that can quickly embrace change.
Law firms are realising that success in such a fast moving marketplace hinges on whether measures are taken to maintain competitive advantage.
One method of creating and maintaining an edge on competitors is by adopting a seamless roaming capability as part of its wider technology strategy. With the emergence of wireless technology, seamless roaming is now not only a real possibility for legal organisations but is achievable more easily than ever before.
Seamless roaming, through mobile and remote technologies, isn’t just a ‘nice to have,’ it can play a vital role in the way an organisation communicates internally with its employees, with its clients and in the delivery of legal services.
It not only enables the IT infrastructure to be extended across the entire workforce over various devices (eg laptops, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phones, Personal Digital Assistant’s (PDAs)), regardless of the workforce’s location, but allows access to and from ‘external’ users, ie clients. Seamless roaming can also support the growing trend towards flexible working, providing home workers with resilient and secure access.
The main business application that brings truly advantageous benefits to seamless roaming must be the ability for remote and mobile workers to access and update real-time information – more efficiently and faster.
A lawyer, for example, would be able to access a client’s details or further information about a particular case, from the server located at their office, instantly whilst away from the office.
A practice considering seamless roaming must avoid thinking that the wider strategy is only about the technology itself. It is mesmerising when having to consider the mechanisms necessary to support a mobile workforce in combination with a range of devices that must be seamlessly integrated into the infrastructure. But before a technological introduction is made it is vital that the seamless roaming element should be seen as part of a much bigger picture that includes the business and people processes as well.
Once the above points have been taken into consideration a practice will need to consider how it will integrate the strategy across its organisation. The adoption of a modular, evolutionary approach to implementation is recommended, rather than a revolutionary approach that takes too long to deliver benefits, meets yesterday’s business needs and runs out of that crucial project energy.
To help implement, roll-out and manage a seamless roaming strategy, a law firm may consider partnering with an IT services company that specialises in the chosen area. The benefits of working in this way are many. They include instant access to people who are not only experts in the technology, but also have an understanding of the business processes and people requirements to deliver benefits to the legal sector. There is also the advantage that it is the responsibility of the IT services partner to keep its employees up-to-date with the latest technologies.
This not only prevents them going down technological dead-ends, but also enables it to cross-check solutions. The IT services partner should also have relevant value-add experience, such as the ability to manage projects, well informed proposals and good accountability.
The choice of service partner is one of the most critical decisions to be made before embarking on a seamless roaming strategy. Organisations need to be careful of selecting a partner that is too tied to a particular technology solution. The partner needs to have a relationship with a number of suppliers and the ability and agility to identify what the right solutions are for the business need. A law firm should take the following recommendations into consideration:
· Before commencing the project, the service partner needs to develop a detailed picture of the existing purchasing environment and breakdown of expenditure.
· It may also be beneficial before commencing the new project for the service partner to conduct a comprehensive pilot of the new design. A clear testing and feedback mechanism is required to test any new design effectively, in tandem with existing processes. This enables any potential problems to be identified prior to going live with a new system. Additionally, it also ensures that business-critical operations are not hampered.
· So that all parties understand exactly what is expected of them, it is vital to set clear objectives and responsibilities at the start of the project. As the original business objectives evolve and change, retaining control of the project may require re-evaluations being carried out at a later date, so flexibility and a shared cultural approach pays dividends.
· The service partner must ensure that the right software package for an organisation’s needs is recommended and the correct level of resources is provided. Furthermore, it must review and redesign the business processes to achieve the agreed benefits for the organisation, rather than just reflecting what happens now.
· Using an IT service company, the organisation does not need to know how to implement, operate or support the seamless roaming strategy. It just needs to know how to use the technology effectively to support the request and delivery of services, cut costs, add value and ultimately stay ahead of its competitors.
· The organisation must appreciate where business acumen fits in. Goalposts must only be moved with adequate communication and awareness of the implications.
· End-users must feel confident, through being fully empowered and trained, if they are to get the most out of the new investment and ultimately drive its success.
It is a truly exciting time for the legal industry. New developments within remote and mobile working technologies now hold the key to greater competitor advantage and most importantly satisfied customers and employees. The key to successfully implementing a seamless roaming strategy is to choose the right partner who will support you now and throughout the life-time of your seamless roaming strategy.
Andrea Pointing, Business Development Manager, ITNET