It appears that outsourcing technology support in law firms is once again on the rise. Although cybersecurity and compliance seem to lead the charge in the motivation to outsource, I am talking to more and more firms every day about leveraging external sources to keep up with technology. No matter where I visit across the United States, when the conversation about outsourcing I.T. comes up with potential clients, I get flashbacks to the first time I read the Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” The conversation always seems to be divided between fairytales and horror stories; very often, the same vendor can either be the villain or the hero, based on their quality of service with that particular client. It’s a challenge in selecting the right outsourcing vendor, and quite frankly, there are no guarantees on how to make the correct choice. I often hear about many firms that find mixed results and end up migrating to several vendors very quickly. They find themselves continually in the same predicament as the evaluation criteria rarely changes between vendors selected. In essence, they are just trying to avoid the same problems they experienced with their previous incumbent.
It becomes even more interesting when I get a few questions deep into the conversation. I am still surprised at how often some of the outsourcing endeavors I hear about turned sour, which are usually preventable if approached pragmatically with level-set expectations. Many of these law firms share a familiar story of being forced to make a rash decision after a significant event, selecting service providers based on proximity, personal relationships, or simply price. It’s not to say that if put into this situation these are all doomed from the start. However, several variables should be evaluated together and prioritized based on the gaps and needs of the firms’ current and desired states.
Key considerations, traditionally included in a firm’s evaluation of a managed service provider (MSP), are the following:
- Economic value and return on investment of the proposed solution
- Customer references from the vendor
- Innovation and quality of the solution designed and proposed
- Availability of local resources
These above can all be very important during the evaluation phase. However, to enhance the probability of success when outsourcing part or all of the technology staff in entirety, law firms should additionally consider the below:
- Does the culture of your firm openly embrace outsourcing
- Will the vendor truly allow you to focus on your core competencies
- How long will the implementation and quality control (QC) periods last
- Do you require specific expertise and can the vendor deliver that expertise
- Does the vendor specialize in supporting the technology of law firms including the applications and does that matter to your firm
- Will your firm be able to let go of having total control of key functions
- Does outsourcing reduce or mitigate risk for the firm
- Will the firm get access to the industry’s best practices
- Can the vendor assist you in meeting your clients’ expectations
- Does outsourcing improve the firm’s access and availability to technology
- Is your firm’s technology value proposition for your clients enhanced
- Can the vendor truly secure your network and data and do they have the certifications to back up their security value proposition
- What reporting will the firm benefit from and will it aid in quantifying your success against stated goals
All criteria should be evaluated against what matters for the firm, and should be prioritized as to how important they really are. Too often, I come across disappointed clients who never communicate in detail the impetus for the firms’ desire to outsource in the first place. I generally recommend that firms form a committee of stakeholders to develop a list of goals and then share those goals with the potential vendors on the onset of the vendor evaluations. Then, I encourage firms to speak with the “promise keepers” as they usually meet exclusively with the “promise makers” up until the time people physically show up at the firm to implement a solution. I also highly stress the value of effective project managers in any outsourcing venture. Make no mistake; there will always be unexpected bumps in any integration or implementation. But, how the vendor communicates the different steps in the process (i.e. what happened, why it happened, how it will be remediated, what the overall timelines are, and how it will be prevented from happening again) is a true testament of a good, capable project manager.
When your firm evaluates the economic impact of outsourcing I.T. or technology, you should understand the impact and return on investment beyond just salary and benefits. Take a moment to consider:
- Will the firm be able to accelerate productivity of intelligence workers
- Can you and do you want to shift expenses from a capital expense to an operating expense Will the firm get access to resources and tools you usually wouldn’t
- Will outsourcing enable any particular cost avoidances
In the graphic below, you can see that there are a number of variables to explore for a comprehensive decision on a vendor. Parse out the true “hard-costs” from the “soft-costs”, which may vary from firm to firm.
Communicate the new vendor partnership internally, which is paramount to a fruitful partnership. Prepare your stakeholders and end-users for change. This always helps level-set their expectations during the initial rollout period where most challenges typically arise. Share all the important details: the reason behind outsourcing, relevant timelines, the benefits, along with the vendor selected and the reason for the choice. This should further be communicated to the evaluation committee, especially if it was comprised of a cross-functional team made up of your end-user peers.
If your firm has decided to evaluate outsourcing technology support, keep in mind that it is not a static decision or event. Your environment will change, your technology should evolve, as should the way your firm leverages it to enhance the predictability of outcomes. You should consistently review performance and revisit your initial goals to either revise or overhaul them. In turn, your chosen partner should aid you in the development of a technology roadmap and relative budgets so that the firm can plan for the future and minimize surprises as much as possible.
I was raised with the adage that nothing worth doing right is easy and that certainly applies to selecting the right managed services provider. Outsourcing technology support isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding on many levels if pursued in a comprehensive and pragmatic manner. Take your time, leverage at a minimum the criteria laid out above, choose wisely, evolve with your partner, and you should be able to reap the benefits of what a world-class managed services provider should yield your firm and make your endeavor worth the leap.