Guest Opinion: Winning board approval & buy-in for managed services
As technology evolves at an ever more rapid pace, there is increasing pressure on legal IT professionals to deliver greater agility, speed and a competitive edge. At the same time, globalisation is impacting many firms’ operations and, with more consolidation on the horizon, back-office IT systems are growing complex to manage and fund. However, earning management approval for new ways of working is the biggest hurdle of all for many legal IT professionals. Alex Holt*, Strategic Lead for Legal Services at IT services company Steria, outlines his advice on how to overcome some of the misconceptions around managed IT services and gain board room approval.
There are a number of challenges that stand in the way of managed service projects. Fear of not having control over your systems, security concerns and a lack of awareness at a board level of the inefficiencies and costs associated with the current way of working often top the list. Below are my tips to overcoming these issues and earning the confidence of the partners to move forward with a managed service project successfully.
Align IT to business challenges
One of the mistakes IT directors often make is highlighting the technology pain points when speaking to the business about the reasons why they want to move to managed service model. Legacy systems, service desk processes and overloaded servers are of course concerns.
However also appreciating and understanding what the hot issues are for the firm first, and using those to start the conversation will have more impact. Leading with the business challenges that the firm needs to address, and tying those back to the IT challenges, is always going to be a much more compelling conversation for the board – and will help put issues in perspective.
Work with the supplier
It is important to remember that the supplier is equally committed to ensuring the project is a success as the firm. Using this to work collaboratively with a prospective partner will mean you don’t have to battle alone, and you could benefit from their experience.
Work collaboratively to define what requirements you have and the options available from the onset. Yes, it does require a bit of work and time investment up front but bringing the partner into conversations with the business early on can help articulate exactly what the service is and how it will address the challenges you face as an organisation, with measurable indicators of success. Prospective suppliers should be prepared to engage in a way which does not involve significant upfront costs while in this exploratory stage.
Often the partners aren’t even aware that there is an issue, or that there are a lot of costs going towards running inefficient convoluted ways of working. Legacy systems, globalisation, and mobile working are all resulting in ever more complicated infrastructures increasing pressure on IT. Client demands for Management Information and data access are also increasingly significant.
Most partners are focused on client work, oblivious to how these changes might be affecting the IT backbone of the firm. With clients increasingly looking for more stringent approaches to business continuity, for example, the compliance credentials offered by a third-party can be a real asset, easing the regulatory burden off in-house IT.
Making the management team aware of the impact of these changes, and how a managed services agreement can help streamline process to drive efficiencies and ensure compliance is an important step towards gaining acceptance.
Build a business case
Once you have defined what you are looking to achieve with a managed IT services partnership, you should work with the supplier to build a very clear business case. Financial modelling for the project is vital at this stage. Demonstrating how a reduction in capital expenditure for buying hardware and servicing that hardware as well as recruitment and space can provide a compelling scenario for the board.
Addressing concerns around a lack of control is another key element of breaking down executive fear surrounding a managed services agreement. Showing how monitoring technologies can enable the business to have as much control as they want internally is often an important aspect to highlight.
Partnership structure means the buy-in process is often more political and, unlike other sectors, often full partnership agreement is required. This can make it more difficult for IT but understanding the politics and how to cater to the needs of the partners is an important part of winning their approval. As in any business there is a need to play the game to win.
Embarking on a major technology project is daunting for many organisations. One of the best ways to introduce managed services and win the confidence of senior management is to start small. Choose an area of the business that will have an immediate impact such as the service desk, mobile working platforms or some development work. The key to success is setting out measurable objectives for the project from the start, and showing the results afterwards back into the business.
The legal sector is still very much in its infancy when it comes to managed service projects, especially when compared to large commercial organisations or the public sector. But with more consolidation on the cards in the future, the practice is becoming more commonplace, offering a way to remove the burden of back office, streamline operations and drive operational efficiencies.
However getting started can be difficult. Unlike organisations in other sectors, law firms are structured in such a way that you may need to win approval from every partner at the organisation, which can take time. Appreciate that it is a long process and work with the supplier through the steps required to move successfully over to new working models with the support from everyone evolved.
One of the UK’s top providers of defendant claims-related legal services, Keoghs, is one example of an organisation generating benefits from a managed IT services partnership. Like many law firms, Keoghs has a legacy infrastructure in place that needs modernisation and streamlining to improve its performance. The firm has agreed a three year contract with Steria which includes a service desk to the best practice IT framework ITIL v3 standards, on-site support, data storage and back-up.
Implementing a virtualised solution is a key part of the firm’s IT strategy. Virtualisation will enable the firm to respond to change much more quickly, scaling up and down by tapping into private cloud services as demand requires without the need for capital investment.
The agreement is an important facilitator for the organisation’s ambitious growth strategy. John Salt, chief information officer at Keoghs commented, “Our partnership with Steria will transform our infrastructure estate and manage it more efficiently. Both parties will work together to drive out cost and improve productivity, innovation and quality. Sharing the responsibility for a well-run back office system will enable the firm to focus on more strategic growth initiatives and drive out unnecessary costs.”
Globalisation, consolidation and mobile working are key trends working in combination to have influence over the modern legal IT organisation. To stay agile and competitive can demand new ways of working to simplify complexities and transform technology into an enabler for growth and innovation.
Understanding the decision-making process and building a business case that caters for the specific needs and objectives of the firm will go a long way to demonstrating the value of managed services to the business. The ultimate goal is reviewing ways of working to move towards a more compliant, simplified approach that delivers accessibility and availability without losing control.
* Formerly a partner at Hill Dickinson, Alexander Holt is the Strategic Lead for the Legal Sector at Steria UK. He speaks regularly at legal IT events about the value of a managed services approach in the shifting legal landscape. www.steria.com/uk