Response to the LSC Consultation on Delivery Transformation
This response to the consultation is from The Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA).
• Our members supply approximately 86% of the systems currently in use in solicitors’ firms who provide Legal Aid.
• We are not in a position to comment specifically on all the questions raised in this consultation which relate to the way the administration is transformed but wish to comment specifically on the provision of software and systems to enable the LSC’s electronic world to be fulfilled. We will not therefore respond to the formal questionnaire but solely by this document.
• The transformation to a completely electronic service will be greatly dependent upon software suppliers providing the systems providers need. Indeed it could be said that without their full co-operation the vision cannot be delivered.
• LSSA has tried for many years to help LSC achieve its objectives in this sphere but it has been a constant tale of unfulfilled promises, late delivery of specifications, last minute changes of specifications (even when problems had been pointed out months before) and even having to cope with LSC announcing to their providers that software suppliers will make changes to meet new requirements within a month without even telling them.
• If there is to be any chance of the proposals succeeding then all this has to change radically.
• LSSA and its members are willing to take part in these changes and encourage LSC in its ambitions. However it should be noted that new systems take time to develop (in theory LSC has in the past agreed that this should be at least 6 months – never achieved) and, in particular, test. The failure to test LSC OnLine properly accounted for some of its problems.
• LSSA has had numerous working parties endeavouring to help LSC deliver what they need from their providers but it would seem that those efforts have been undervalued or downright ignored.
• LSC should take note that to some suppliers legal aid systems are only a small part of their portfolio of services for solicitors and therefore there are many competing calls upon what R&D resources each supplier has available. Involvement in design and discussions of outcomes at the earliest possible stage will militate against this and allow proper time for development.
• The intention to commence the new system in 2010 gives such time but only if it is properly used and decisions made early.
• LSC should also understand that alterations to existing systems are generally not chargeable to users (other than the annual maintenance fee) and therefore changes are generally a cost to the supplier rather than the user. Totally new features may be able to generate income but in most cases that will not apply.
• LSSA consider that the opportunity for sales of new systems (unless there is a total redesign of it – unlikely under option 1 and also option 3 as any new system should take advantage of the experience of the old) is overstated in the Impact Assessment as it is considered the market size of Providers is likely to reduce rather than increase as a result of electronic working. If this is correct then the costs associated with option 3 are also overstated for Providers.
• LSSA members will be able to deliver the changes required under Option 1 by 2010 provided they are fully consulted and (preferably) involved in the technical issues of delivery.
• In addition it is essential that specifications are agreed and set well in advance of that date (with full on line testing service) and they are not changed at the last minute. This fixing of the specification (together with appropriate validation rules) needs to be done at least 6 months before implementation date and longer than that ideally. The longer time there is, the better providers can be trained to use any new systems which will be a key to successful implementation.
• Similarly other electronic services can also generally be provided, subject to the same caveats.
• LSSA believe the selection of option 1 is practical in making the smallest changes for providers but that option 3 would be a better solution. A fully functional case management system would deliver better data quality and as indicated we do not consider there is a significant market wishing to take on legal aid who do not already provide it, and that most providers already have partial solutions already. We would therefore answer Question 8.2 by saying that a case management system should be regarded as essential. If any providers were disadvantaged by this then the financial support provisions envisaged by Carter should be applied to them.
• We respond to Question 8.4 by submitting that manual submission by individual line should not be permitted and in effect only the bulkload option be available. This provides an integrity check between the accounts and submission which is not available under manual submission. Failure to require this minimum standard will lose the opportunity for much better data quality.
• It should be noted that whereas electronic billing is not an issue as far as provision is concerned, it will impact upon the general practice management software (PMS) used by Providers and therefore involve greater testing to ensure compatibility with the rest of the PMS. This will take time.
• We welcome the comments in the Impact Assessment on the statement that LSC will engage with suppliers to ensure they have sufficient time to make any necessary changes. However we have heard it all before – many times – and this will need to change as outlined above.
• We are concerned though that the statement that suppliers will be able to evaluate whether changes in their systems will be necessary once the specification is available is more of the same old approach. We say and they jump. The new system of delivery is not going to work unless there is a radical change of attitude and a full involvement in partnership with the software supplier industry as a whole.
• LSSA commend the approach adopted by HMRC who have a written strategy for engagement with Third Party Vendors and support it with a special Software Developers Support Team. There are regular meetings at high level with the Heads of all types of Duty and as a result the spread of electronic filing has moved forward in a very positive and collaborative fashion. Full details and contacts can be supplied and a similar scheme is recommended to LSC and also MoJ.
With the appropriate changes and involvement outlined above LSSA are very supportive of LSC’s objectives and will work with it to help deliver them pro-actively.