Law firms of all sizes are seizing the moment to rethink the strategic role of the IT function within their organizations and considering various ways that IT can impact their competitive positioning in the marketplace. As my colleague Erik Schmidt wrote recently, a number of these firms are learning that a bold strategic shift to an IT managed services model is helping them achieve greater efficiencies and reduce a variety of IT-related risks.
An IT managed services strategy involves partnering with an expert services provider that assumes operational responsibility for some or all of the firm’s core IT systems and operations. These services are typically run in close cooperation between the law firm staff and the managed services provider so that the IT function, internal and managed service provider teams, feel seamless to the firm’s attorneys and other professionals. The strategy enables a law firm to turn over responsibility for day-to-day IT infrastructure requirements to a service provider (e.g., IT help desk, management of servers and applications, etc.), then redirect those valuable firm resources toward higher value, more strategic functions that drive new business.
But as is the case with any strategic shift in law firm operations, it is essential to get a few things right to achieve the level of success desired with a move to an IT managed services model. Based on our experience working with a range of law firms that have gone down this path, we have identified six keys to success:
- Secure senior leadership support. Obtaining vocal support for the initiative from senior-level partners and executives (i.e., Managing Partner, Chair, CEO) is a prerequisite for success. Change management is always crucial for any new initiative, but top-down support is an especially crucial starting point for the IT managed services implementation. This senior-level buy-in must be clearly signaled to the firm because it is a significant shift from the way IT has been managed for as long as any employee has worked in the organization; although the truth is, once implemented, very few changes will even be observable to the lawyers and most staff members.
- Engage members of the Board. It is also important to keep members of the firm’s board of directors and/or executive committee fully informed about the new strategy and engage them regularly with updates on the transition. In the event that questions are raised about the new approach to day-to-day IT operations, you want to make sure that these individuals are equipped with knowledge of the reasons for the shift and benefits to the firm.
- Assemble a small implementation team. We have found that it is advisable to create a small team tasked with implementation of the IT managed services model and then expand it as necessary. Change is never easy and can be viewed as a threat by some key staff members who may react negatively based on preconceptions, so it is prudent to reduce the internal friction by having fewer hands involved with the transition.
- Simplify vendor management. One of the significant benefits of the IT managed services strategy is that your new managed services provider takes over responsibility for your technology-related vendor contracts. This creates significant opportunities for cost savings as the managed services provider typically receives favorable terms based on the relative economies of scale they are able to obtain. At the same time, it is wise to make sure that your firm’s contract with the managed services provider has no hidden fees, offers real controls over their performance and provides a path to unwind the relationship in the event the firm decides to assume day-to-day IT operations internal again.
- Focus on career opportunities. A critical focus in the shift to IT managed services relates to the people who are impacted by the change in strategy. Our experience has shown that bringing the firm’s IT staff members under the tent at the appropriate time and transparently and clearly communicating the transition plan and how it affects each person — including opportunities for them to advance their own careers — creates the best environment for success at both the firm-wide and individual level. This strategy is about improving the law firm’s long-term competitiveness and the IT managed services model opens up career options for valuable IT employees that might not otherwise exist down the road.
- Act decisively to mitigate risks. Once the firm has made the commitment to move to the managed services model and has communicated plans to staff, it is critical that both the firm and the managed services provider have a plan ready to execute quickly. This reduces the risk of losing key employees and provides the basis for effective change management efforts and a smooth transition.