Industry interview with IT Finance Services: Formula for IT change

This article was also featured as an industry interview in the December 2016 issue of Briefing. To read the issue in full, download Briefing

It has been said many times that law firms are slow to make decisions. But demand for legal IT expertise is now so intense that delay could cost firms dearly if they don’t act fast – especially when it comes to staffing a change of system. David Gallagher, CEO of IT Finance Services, says: “Firms need a new approach to system selection. There’s no time to spend months, if not years, deciding between system A, B, or C. They all work. What they really need to do is to select a manufacturer quickly – and then hire third-party independent help like a Formula 1 pit crew.”

Gears up for change

“For example, TRE has announced the sunset of Enterprise. Add to that the general churn of firms needing to make a move to a new system as their firm has outgrown the current one. It takes at least nine months – 18 on average – to roll out a new system, and that requires a pit crew of six from the firm and a further four from the vendor.

“Now do the maths. A thousand firms, a year to change and 10 people is 10,000 man years in the next five years.

“It doesn’t matter what car you’re driving. You need an experienced, dedicated pit crew to change its wheels, tune the engine and mould the seat to the driver.” 

Train finance to stay in the game

Effective resourcing of IT projects is crucial, especially when some technology is changing even faster than it can be implemented. Law firms need to learn how to choose and use their IT systems to the max. 

Gallagher explains: “What firms really need to do is gear up for change by making key finance staff such as accounts payable supervisors and revenue controllers more IT-savvy.

“They may not be technical themselves – but they’re great business analysts who could explain to technical people how software needs to be configured to work the way the firm wants.”

He cautions: “But be careful of changes in resources from third parties. You may commit to a system and have a handful of people working with you – but then the Ross Brawn of legal IT is dragged off into other projects, to be replaced by less experienced resource. They’ll try their best, but won’t be the same project asset. Make sure contracts minimise this risk.

“The courses we’ll start delivering in 2017 aim to bring law firm staff up to speed quickly and create more finance systems people.

“We’re all busy, but we need to start training more pit crews to resource changes in systems properly, including backfilling when necessary.”

A firm fit

“Start the system replacement search on 1 January. Explain the issue as the Year 2000 problem all over again to obtain partner buy-in,” he says.

“The leading vendors’ offerings are all fit for purpose and coping with day-to-day business. But there are some pros and cons, and firms need to ensure they have all the information for a decision – especially when it comes to configuration and personalistaion.

“Each firm has its own system for rewarding people, reporting partnership fees and analysing their profitability. So make sure all of that’s handled by the system.

“But remember that the important thing is to ask ‘how’ something is done. A system may have automatic billing – but is that really worth it if you need to press 12 buttons and pass through three screens first?”

However, in addition to asking the right questions of the capabilities of the product, he says, firms should interview the proposed implementation team to ensure that the best combination of people are working to create the best installation for the firm.

“If you don’t get on with the project manager, tell the supplier you want someone else. You’ll be living and breathing with that individual 12 hours a day, every day, for 18 months.”

After all, it’s the project team that will be taking the manufacturer’s base model and tuning it to your firm’s needs, providing that all-important strategic pit stop. It’s those people that keep you in with a chance of pole position instead of starting from the pit lane. 

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