Mobile Strategies in Law

June 30, 2003

To begin on a positive note, the mobile networks now deliver consistently good connectivity and coverage not just in the UK, but on a global basis. Standard airtime tariffs continue to fall and most organisations take advantage of some cellular added-value services, such as text, mobile data, vehicle tracking etc. However, there are many areas where a better knowledge of what is available and the most appropriate tariffs would deliver greater value for money.

Obviously most companies do not use the available, now traditional, technology as efficiently as they could. Most would also admit to wanting to improve cost control and information flow. Before this can be done, we need to understand what is available and how it can be applied to the business to provide greater returns.

Talking Technology

The increase in mobile data options, as a result of GPRS – and with 3G now on the horizon – means we are all about to enter a new era in mobile technology in terms of information access on the move. This, in turn, means a new set of issues for decision-makers in this field.

Many hundreds of companies are already using GPRS in almost as many different ways. This is not surprising as most of these companies were using data over the GSM network and, quite sensibly, they are now doing the same thing but over the faster, cheaper and more reliable connection that GPRS offers. Making the move to GPRS should be easy but should still be justified by the business.

It is essential that companies analyse their requirements for mobile information on a very individual basis. After all, not everyone in the office needs to be able to send and receive e-mails when they are out. However, for some there is an absolute and compelling argument for this information to be at their fingertips at all times of the day and night. The cost justification for the latter is easy to make. For the former there is none.

There are many questions to be asked about the need for new technology. For example, who should have access to Personal Information Management (PIM) applications (eg e-mail and calendar) via mobile handsets? Does this group of people also require access to the Internet or the company’s intranet? Is there an argument for wireless LAN technology? What are the cost implications of each of these options and can they be justified in terms of expected business development? Which options deliver the levels of security that are needed as a standard for the company and what is the cost impact of this level of security? And, when should you implement?

An in-depth knowledge of the existing marketplace and the emerging technologies is a necessity for companies to find the right solutions for their needs. This is definitely not an area where one size fits all. However, there is a good range of options and there is certainly one that suits every circumstance. In the legal sector the security of data is an imperative and there is a growing need to be connected on the move. However, there has to be a level of control of the costs to ensure that they do not spiral out of control.

Managing the Cost

It used to be very difficult and time-consuming to switch from one mobile service provider to another. Times have changed. With competition for existing business at an all-time high, the providers are making it simpler than ever to move and, of course, competition breeds better deals for the business consumer. So, businesses should not feel married to their incumbent supplier if they are not delivering in terms of cost and service.

Finding the right tariff bundle, however, may not be so simple and it may be that the bundle will vary from one individual to another or from one department to another. Close scrutiny of the terms of each deal and a good knowledge of a company’s users should throw some light on this issue. However, companies should keep a constant eye on the tariff situation from all providers and switch accordingly. The wrong bundle with the wrong user can severely impact the cost effectiveness of a mobile strategy.

Then there are improved billing systems that enable companies to have a better understanding of their spend breakdowns and any patterns that might be emerging in the use of mobile devices. This, in turn, improves the quality of reporting that is possible on usage and allows for better policing and tariff maintenance. Another advantage of improved billing services (not provided by all suppliers) is the ability to recover a proportion of the call costs. This is done by splitting the bill into business and personal calls to enable companies to recoup those that do not relate to the business in hand. Another application of this method is in “time-billing” whereby clients can be charged back the calls that are made on their behalf and, more importantly, the time that staff are inputting to their specific account. For many legal firms this can provide vital information that positively affects the bottom line.

But, it isn’t just detailed billing systems that help to manage and, in many cases, reduce the costs of mobile products. Clever use of switching technology can have an incredible impact on a company’s telephony costs. It is now apparent that office to mobile costs represent around 50% of the total landline bills for UK businesses. The cost of a land to mobile call far exceeds the cost of a mobile to mobile call on the same network. The switching technology can enable calls to be made over the appropriate network thus reducing the company’s phone bill by an average of 40% ¯ a substantial saving whatever the type and size of organisation.

Picking the Products

Organisations must embrace new and emerging technologies to retain or create a competitive advantage. Personal Information Management (PIM) is the most popular application for most companies, with remote access to e-mail at the top of this particular chart. Access via GPRS handsets, RIM Blackberry, PDAs and smartphones are all options for this application and it is important to choose the right one. To that end, it is vital for organisations that do not have the inhouse expertise to discuss the issues with a company that can help. That company should be able to demonstrate a strong knowledge of mobile data and it should have the ability to deliver and support all of the solutions.

Also, many companies will need their mobile users to remotely access business information in the form of an intranet or other databases. Again, a range of solutions can now deliver a very good ROI , eg, remote access to case references. Knowing the right technology to implement is the key.

Over the next year we expect to see many more mobile applications as 3G matures. With this exciting new technology we can expect to see remote conferencing and the ability to deliver real time images and video, cost effectively, via mobile handsets and devices. Once again, these will begin to deliver a whole new set of benefits to organisations in terms of their internal and external applications. Of course, MMS is already here and video messaging will arrive in the second half of 2003.

Then there is simple texting (SMS). This is a widely used technology that has been adopted by the consumer market in droves but few organisations are taking advantage of its potential as a cost-effective tool for messaging. It is now almost the most reliable of all available media:

  • most people have a mobile
  • they usually have it with them
  • texts are 100% guaranteed to arrive
  • texting is secure.

Some groups now use text to confirm appointments (eg doctors), up-date audiences with simple information (eg, banks for rate change or overdraft status) or remind customers in the form of sales information (eg price changes or renewal reminders). It is not difficult to see how legal firms could make more use of the technology, eg appointment reminders or information up-dates.

Getting the Timing Right

The issue of when to implement is key to all organisations. Few like to be at the head of the curve, trying out new technologies before they have been tried and tested. However, there is an argument that taking a mild risk can put you light years ahead of your competitors. This is an individual choice and one that many are struggling with on an on-going basis.

The most recent dilemma to strike the telecoms decision makers is whether to wait for 3G or whether to implement a GPRS solution today. This is really quite a simple issue to solve. If a company has an application that will deliver some commercial benefit and it works over the current technology then there is no reason to wait. That company can start to enjoy the benefits of their application and those benefits will still be delivered when they migrate to the newer, quicker 3G technology. In the main, the two technologies are not mutually exclusive and it is hard to imagine an application that will work on GPRS but not on 3G.

It is the business case for the application that should determine its fate and not the underpinning technology. If there is a requirement for an application then it should be implemented as soon as possible. If not, then there is no dilemma.


As the mobile landscape changes it becomes ever more important to have IT and telecoms departments up to speed with the available options in terms of cost control and developments in mobile technology. As the mobile handset becomes more than a standard voice device – which is already happening – these disciplines will be even more important.

The most important issue is to get all of the facts to hand before making a decision. Talking to companies that know the telecoms arena inside out is vital. Marry that with your business and a strong mobile strategy can be developed. The timing should be when it is best for the company and costs should be controlled at every step. Keep all of this in mind and you too can look forward to a long and successful mobile strategy.

Peter Johnston is MD of Isis Telecommunications (