Ongoing Investment Whitepaper
It can be easy to think that now you have purchased your new tech, whether that be hardware or software, that you can tick that box on your ‘to do’ list and leave it alone. With the vast majority of what you do every day being digital your use of technology and the success of your business is inextricably linked.
By way of example think back to pre-email days. With almost certainty we can say that every legal business now has email. It is widely accepted that without email they couldn’t possibly continue to compete.
The risk facing businesses now isn’t just in terms of being unable to compete but also businesses safety and security. Most insurance policies require you to operate up to date hardware and software. Should there be a data breach the ICO will look on it very unfavourably if that breach is found to be down to old, no longer supported hardware or software.
Ongoing investment does not mean that you need to buy the latest product/software the minute it becomes available. It means your current infrastructure, physical and virtual assets, and your use of these though training, support and deployment must be regularly reviewed and considered.
This white paper is designed to help you understand your responsibility in terms of ongoing investment to mitigate risk, exploit business opportunities and ensure you are rewarded with a return on your investment.
It is our recommendation that all the software you use is under a mainstream support contract with the supplier. If the supplier no longer supports that product, it is our advice that you either upgrade to a supported version or that you find an alternative supplier. Do not use software that is not under mainstream support. A critical issue with unsupported software is that it may not be recoverable, and if that software is required for your operation there can be no guarantee as to how quickly the situation can be recovered if at all.
More and more products, such as Microsoft 365, are deployed as SaaS (software as a service) solutions. Software was traditionally purchased outright, normally at considerable expense, with an annual maintenance contract that provided cover for support and updates. With the emergence of cloud computing SaaS is often now the preferred choice of deployment. Unlike traditional software you do not purchase and own the software outright, but rather subscribe to the service and use it for as long as your subscription is in place. This avoids the need for considerable capital expenditure, moving the payment schedule to operational expenditure. In turn budgeting is easier and spikes in your cashflow can be avoided. It also protects against using software that is no longer supported. SaaS products will normally provide updates and upgrades as part of the service, meaning you are always using the latest version of the software.
That is not say that software purchased outright should be discouraged. We would encourage you to understand the product roadmap and end of life date so suitable planning can be undertaken. We would also recommend that you renew your maintenance contract annually to ensure that you will be supported in any event.
When considering how to purchase software we would point out that to compare a maintenance contract where the software has been purchased outright against a SaaS subscription where there has been no outright purchase would not give you a like for like figure. You will be excluding the initial capital expenditure which may very well have been written down over a number of years leaving just the maintenance contract as the expense. If you do this, you should expect the cost of the SaaS solution to be considerably greater than a maintenance contract.
Software asset register
To assist you manage your estate and ensure that all users are using up to date and licenced products you should have an asset register detailing all your software, where it is deployed, who supports it, how many licences you have, and the commencement and termination date of the contract/s. This will help you to track usage throughout your business, reconcile invoices/costs against known use and ensure renewals are dealt with promptly. It will also help to highlight software that is unused and therefore need not be maintained, reducing your costs.
Computers and laptops may seem like a large expense and there may be a reluctance to budget to upgrade and update your equipment regularly. The cost of computers and laptops has reduced considerably over the past twenty years and their power and our reliance on them has increased greatly. Most computers will have a 3-5 year lifespan and degradation of performance can occur earlier. For a computer that costs as much as £1000 this still presents excellent value for money at less than £1 per day over a 3 year term. The cost of having a member of staff unable to work because of a computer failure is disproportionality so much higher that budgeting for 3–5 year equipment refreshes is essential. You should consider whether having a spare computer available for use in an emergency is a worthwhile investment, allowing an instant swap out should someone run in to irrecoverable issues.
Hardware asset register
Like software, all hardware should be listed on an asset register. As items become decommissioned, they should be removed from your asset register and new items listed. Items should be disposed of using appropriate methods in accordance with WEEE directives. You should have an internal decommissioning process and should receive a certificate to state the equipment has been wiped of all data and disposed of correctly.
Getting the most from your current software
Ongoing investment does not necessarily mean an ongoing need to change supplier or spend more money. Your investment strategy, whilst looking at the wider technology sphere, should also consider training, support and deployment of the products and services you currently use.
Are your staff sufficiently trained? Would one or a few training sessions resolve the majority of IT issues your team face on a day-to-day basis. If the answer is yes, then purchase additional training resource. This relates to both new staff who may have joined after the software was purchased and initial training given, and existing staff who may not be using the software as efficiently as they might. Some LSSA members providing ongoing inclusive training as part of their licence fees. This allows your team to receive regular training and improve their use of the software at no extra cost. Make the most of these services and ensure you are maximising your use of the software. LSSA members welcome the opportunity to assist their customers to maximise use of their software products and a call with your account manager or client representative will quickly provide you with assistance and guidance.
Are your staff sufficiently supported? You may think this is just down to the software supplier and a poor support service is a reflection of that supplier. All LSSA members have a vested interest in ensuring their users are supported and assisted. We appreciate that issues with software tend to come at the most inopportune times so it is essential that you report all issues to your software supplier so that they can assist you. It is also important for you, in order to build up a better picture of the experience of your staff in using the software product, and for the software supplier to look for trends across your users and potentially across their whole user base. Your software supplier should provide various methods of logging calls with email, self-service, instant messenger, and telephone being the most often used options. To help your supplier identify an issue we recommend you provide them with as much information as possible. An email that simply says you have an issue with your computer will invariably require a considerable amount of investigation before a solution can be found. However, emailing to say that on a certain client, when producing a certain letter from a certain machine with a certain build the following occurs will help the representative identify the issue quicker and in turn provide a timely solution. Step by step instructions and screen grabs can help. This will allow the support representative to carry out investigatory work prior to contacting you, reducing the amount of time you are engaged in resolving the matter.
Many firms opt to replace software because they require new features that the incumbent supplier did not offer but end up defaulting back to old working practices and therefore not making full use of the new features and functions that the newly purchased software has. Not only can this lead to dissatisfied users it calls into question why you went through the effort to replace your current software product if you were not going to exploit the features. Your initial implementation should go beyond simply migrating the data and concentrate on how and when your firm will use those new features. Ideally you will co-operatively set goals with your software supplier for the deployment, use and uptake of these features. Assuming you have the implementation right and the data was transferred and you are making use of the features as you had hoped this is not a sign to stop. As you familiarise yourself with your new product you may find better, faster ways of processing your work. That information should be shared with your peers and your internal processes updated accordingly. Similarly, changes to how cases are processed that require updating templates and business processes should immediately be made to your software product. In the same way that a database is only as good as the data input, an automated business process is only good as the accuracy of the process it is emulating. If you have new templates to use but your software product continues to generate the old templates your staff will stop using them and soon all the good work that went into setting them up will become forgotten. Your software supplier will want to assist you in making these changes and continuing to benefit from your investment in their software.
In addition, your software supplier will be continually deploying new functions and features. These will normally be communicated to you through account managers, webinars, tutorial videos or website/customer portal updates. Whilst we appreciate it can be hard to prioritise watching tutorial videos and attending webinars when you have busy case loads and a full diary, it is an essential part of your ongoing investment. It could be that an item you sorely wished for has been developed and is ready for us but unless you engage with your software supplier and read the information they provide this may pass you by. Where you see a new feature you believe will benefit your firm ask your software supplier for further advice. This may take place as a demonstration or training sessions. Once done consider how the function should be implemented and then, like with your initial implement, set targets for deployment, use and uptake and measure yourself against these.
It is the collective opinion of all members of the LSSA that law firms who embrace their software are invariably the most successful users who see the greatest return on their investment. Conversely firms who attempt to re-implement old practices with new software or who do not engage with the project and ongoing investment will not experience such significant returns and often become disinterested in their software. Old software is a hindrance rather than a help.
LSSA members are here to help their customers make the most of their software and all embrace the opportunity to engage with their customers by providing advice and assistance on how they can go about achieving this.