LIVE WEBINAR | IT Strategy for Law Firms

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In an increasingly competitive marketplace, law firms are under pressure to continually improve their operations and deliver an enhanced experience for clients. While firms can leverage technology to do this, it’s vital that they are investing wisely, intentionally and with purpose – especially given the current commercial landscape of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before responding to requests for new tech or cutting edge IT solutions, law firm business and IT leaders must understand and plan for change. There must be an IT strategy in place, which aligns with the business’s direction and overall growth strategy, which will enable strategic decision making

In this webinar, Chris White, Head of Consultancy, and Robert Rutherford, Chief Executive Officer, will give an introduction to IT strategy for law firms. They will discuss the strategic importance of IT for law firms and how they should organise it.

  • The role of IT in law firms
  • The strategic importance of IT in law firms
  • How mid-sized firms typically organise their IT
  • Challenges facing firms and their IT teams
  • Trends in legal IT
  • Summary
  • Q&A

Free Workshop: Book a free one-to-one strategy session with a senior IT consultant. A one hour, one-to-one workship with a senior member of our IT consultancy team to answer your key strategy questions and kick start your planning

How can I use IT to improve profit margins? | The QuoStar Q&A

How to use IT strategically to improve profit margins


Coronavirus has had a significant impact on my business, and I need to find ways to protect our profit margins without harming the business longer-term. Our IT systems definitely helped us stay up and running during the lockdown, so I know I can’t really cut spending dramatically but is there a way I can use our systems and technology more effectively, in terms of helping revenue or margin in the short and mid-term?  – Managing Director. 


common mistake businesses make is to think about IT purely as a cost. This typically happens when businesses think of IT purely as hardware – laptops, desktops, printers, servers, phone systems – and the software that runs on it. While these are important parts, if you’re really looking to improve margin with IT then you need to move beyond a basic product-focused mindset.  

Instead, you need to start thinking about IT holistically, in the context of your entire business operationThere will hardly be an area that is not affected by IT in some way, so there’s definitely an opportunity for you to utilise systems and technology to improve company profit margins.  

Digital transformation has focused organisations on new opportunities and made technology that was once only affordable to larger enterprises widely accessible. Alongside traditional margin improvement strategies, such as outsourcing and external cost reduction, digital transformation has the power to improve operational efficiency and optimise costs. However, it cannot be achieved simply by purchasing all the latest digital tools and IT solutions 


Discover how to reduce your IT spend and get a better return with
a Cost Recovery & Value Enhancement Audit


How to create a margin improvement strategy

In the current economic climate, it is understandable why margin improvement is top of mind. But, before you rush to invest in new IT solutionsit is important to identify what is not working first.  

Data is the key to making margin improvements. Review your departmental KPIs, expense reports, your budgets, and current sales. Talk to your employees, understand their day-to-day activities and the challenges in their role. Are you neglecting IT equipment refresh cycles? Are employees spending too much time on repetitive administrative duties? Is it difficult to access data and business information? Are your systems – and departments – siloed and not talking to each other?  

Assessing the current state of your business will allow you to understand shortcomings and help you decide where to direct your efforts. Once you’ve found the gaps, you need to assess the potential impact of each one to create an effective plan to address them. You may not even need to make any new IT investments right now; you already have huge potential for improvement in your systems, you just need to investigate.  

Where can you use IT to improve company profit margins?

IT holds so many possibilities to improve company profit margins, but below are just a few examples: 

Use IT to Increase Production Velocity

The shorter the time from order to delivery (of product or service), the lower the overheads per unit produced. Evaluate your process to see if there are ways you can speed up the process. Can you use IT solutions to automate, template or pre-do any of the steps? Are there any steps which could be removed or streamlined further? Are there any recurring problems or blockers which need to be addressed? If you’re dependant on a supply chain, is there a way to use IT to notify you of potential issues (e.g., stock shortages, 3rd party lead-times, demand increases) ahead of time, so you can rectify before it causes real problems? 

Use IT to Increase Customer Retention

Attrition costs money. You need to ensure that your customers not only stay with your business but remain happy and continue to purchase. A CRM system ensures that all relevant customer information is stored in a central location, which can be accessed by relevant Customer Service team, Sales or Account Management reps. You can use this information to ensure communication is more relevant, accurate and frequent, thereby providing a better customer experience and increase the likelihood of upsells and cross-sells

A centralised portal of information also allows any member of the team to pick up communications, say a rep leaves, is on holiday or ill, allowing for a smooth experience for the client. If you build in automation and reporting to ensure service levels are client expectations are met you will make significant inroads in retention.

Use IT to Automate Administrative Duties

Administration is a necessary part of any business, but it’s often time-consuming, repetitive and, sometimes low value. Automated workflows can reduce the burden on employees and allow them to focus on higher-value activities. Some tasks you could consider automating include responding to customer queries, collecting customer data, scheduling appointments, generating quotes, invoices and proposals, and debt collectionIf you actually map out and review your core processes and procedures the like candidates for automation should become clear. I would recommend seeking advice from an IT consultant with a systems analysis specialism about where automation could be deployed and where it would have the greatest effect.

Use IT to Identify & Reduce Wastage

Is quality an issue on some of your products or services? Are you buying leads that your sales team are not following up with? Are you investing in pay-per-click ads that are not generating interest? Are expensive staff spending too much time on administrative work? Data can help you pinpoint these areas of waste and allow you to cut unnecessary spend – which you can then invest in the right areas

What other potential results could you achieve?

  • Improved Efficiency: When time-consuming, repetitive, low-value processes are automated, the workflow becomes faster and allows the entire business to become more efficient. 
  • A Better Customer ExperienceMore accuratefrequent, and relevant client communications help improve the customer experience, thereby increasing retention. Customers are more likely to remain with the business, make further purchases and recommend you to others.  
  • More Informed Decision Making: With access to more and better-quality data, you can make the right decisions that will really drive the business forward. You know what actions drive a return and what doesn’t, you can direct effort and spend to the right areas. 
  • Better Resource Allocation: With repetitive but necessary tasks automated it will free up your employees to spend time on more high-value tasks such as account management, project management and business improvement. 
  • Improved Market Penetration: With improved efficiency and better decision making, the market penetration process becomes easier, resulting in customer base growth, increased customer satisfaction and greater profits.  
  • Easier Project ManagementTracking time spent and how long tasks take will help you manage customer projects more effectively. You can assign resources more effectively and bill customers more accurately for work completed.  

A Final Note of Caution

The restrictions of the pandemic have proved just how vital IT systems are to business operations. While in a downturn it is tempting to slash all spend to the bone to protect those margins, this can cause significant harm in the long run. The extra margin you are looking for is already in the business, you just need to make the improvements to dig it out. If you are unsure where to start, then an audit or an independent review from an IT consultant is a good place to start. Yes, it will require some investment, but this one-off ‘purchase’ will show you where to find the hidden value you need to improve company profit margins 

Are you looking to actively improve your company profit margins?

We will help you get more value from your IT systems while also reducing spend.

QuoStar’s Cost Recovery & Value Enhancement Audit reviews 9 fundamental areas of your business to find areas where you are spending too much, where money is leaking out of your business, and where you could achieve a greater financial return.  

Discover how to reduce IT costs and get a better return from your spend. Click here to find out more about QuoStar's Cost Recovery and Value Enhancement Audit

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Incremental change or all at once? How to approach IT transformation

How should businesses approach IT transformation

A good percentage of businesses will undertake some level of positive transformation using IT, some will spend the money and stay static, but others will end up losing money, market share and more.

‘Big Bang’ style IT transformations seldom work

To put things into context – according to Forbes, Mckinsey and Harvard University, around 70% of large transformation projects fail.

Change is a natural part of any business. Thanks to technology, the increasingly global nature of competition, and various other factors, most industries are moving more rapidly than ever before. However, recently, I’ve noticed that some businesses are attempting to change far too much at once.

Large software implementations, cloud migrations and changes to IT Service delivery are all current top priorities across the board, but, ideally, no business should be running all these projects (or even more) simultaneously. This approach, to be frank, is incredibly high risk and can slow a business significantly, rather than push it forward.

These ‘big bang’ style changes are nothing new. They’ve been happening for the past 20 years or more and, in my experience, typically follow years of underinvestment in the IT estate and tend to happen in five-year cycles. While it may deliver a transformed business, it’s an approach that’s full of risk and shouldn’t really be happening in 2020.

The desire for rapid change is, of course, valid. However, you can’t always have what you want – even with a significant cash injection. While transformation may be achieved eventually, questions will remain about the pain of the journey, the casualties and the outcome.

Why are businesses choosing this approach to IT transformation?

In the current climate, most sectors are under significant pressure to improve their competitive position, operations and their bottom line. This has been amplified by the COVID pandemic as the threats – and opportunities – are very real. However, when the need to change is driven by an external factor, then it’s change under duress and this is not a good place to be.

Businesses who weren’t as strategic and visionary with their IT operations as they should have been will be feeling the stress and this has ultimately led to a panic. They want to transform their business in a single step, so they can jump straight ahead of the curve. Yet this lack of alignment is a root issue, often causing businesses to stay in the big bang transformation cycle.

If businesses still see IT as PCs on desks, applications and technology, and an ultimate cost to the business then large issues will build up and compound. In these circumstances, there’s often little understanding of how IT supports and contributes to the success of other business functions or how it could drive market position, so there’s little proactive investment or it’s diverted into technology without true measurement of ROI.

You are now in the territory where a business has built up significant technical debt and change only becomes riskier and more expensive. Eventually, something must give, and change does happen, but the process is so drawn-out and painful that businesses leave it several more years before they attempt any more improvements. By this time technical debt has likely built up again, multiple red warning lights are clamouring for attention as the top priority, and the business finds themselves stuck in the same vicious cycle again.

Another significant driver for a big bang approach is when a business brings in an external consultant who puts a client-win over reputation. They get into the heat of wanting to win the business and ultimately tell the prospective client what they want to hear without really understanding (at worse) or considering all the factors in play, technically, but also operationally, culturally and strategically. The business hears all the right words and wants it to be true and can become blind to some of the realities.

Incremental change is the way to go

Incremental change isn’t exciting. It’s slow and measured. It appears complex and, at times, expensive. It’s often assumed that the longer an initiative takes, the more likely it is to fail. The early enthusiasm will lag, objectives will be forgotten, and problems will mount up. However, research by HBR actually shows that a long-term project which is reviewed frequently is much more likely to succeed than a short project which is reviewed infrequently.

Businesses need to be brave and adopt a slower way to deliver change. While the approach may not apply to every situation, it does have significant advantages:

  • In a wide sense, long-term benefit flows from staged evolution
  • Naturally reduces or eliminates risk
  • You can still align incremental change to the vision and changing business objectives
  • You can really focus on the tangible benefits at each stage of change, realising value incrementally
  • It’s relatively simple to change direction throughout the transformation
  • It lends itself to competitive and changing businesses sectors

In summary…

Competition is coming from all angles. Businesses are facing new challenges as a result of the pandemic and its aftermath. It’s never been more important for businesses to be agile and innovative so they can grab a competitive advantage. It’s essential that businesses engage with continual change and it should be their natural state.

Big bang approaches can work, but the context and the business situation must be appropriate. When you’re choosing your change approach, then really take the time to measure and evaluate the risk factors. If you’re not at least 70% confident that a big bang will deliver the results, then it should be avoided. Opt for the safer road instead. It’ll be slower but you will still pick up tangible results at various stages on-route.

Whichever approach you choose, delivery and execution are everything.

Get more from your IT with a strategy, on-demand CIO-level Consultant: We help businesses to us IT to gain security, stability and a competitive advantage in a rapidly developing marketplace. Click here to find out more.

8 ways IT Managers can more effectively support remote workers

8 ways IT Managers can support remote workers

Many businesses simply were not equipped for full-scale remote working and, with little time to prepare, it’s understandable why some had to piece together partial solutions just to get everyone set-up and working. However, with large numbers reporting that they’d like to retain some element of remote working and business reaping the benefits (without seeing huge downturns in productivity), it seems this trend could be here to stay for the long term.

To ensure remote working doesn’t put the business at risk, from a security and operational standpoint, IT Managers should begin to review policies and procedures in this area. While things may have worked ‘fine’ in the context of a pandemic, there are likely some gaps that need to be addressed in order to optimise remote working, improving the process for employees and the business alike.

How to support remote workers in 2020 and beyond

1. Complete network visibility

IT Managers must be able to confirm who is working remotely, which devices are being used and which critical applications are being accessed, so they can ensure the business remains secure. This is particularly important where employees are connecting to a VPN.

2. Understand the end user’s perspective

In order to improve the digital experience for employees, IT Managers need to ensure they have the tools and technology in place to identify, assess and resolves issues as they happen. Implementing a monitoring platform that can collect real-time, accurate data from end-users’ devices would allow IT teams to promptly identify issues and prevent issues before they arise. In the case where the issue points to a larger problem across the network, it also gives IT teams a chance to issue a resolution before it affects others.

3. Be proactive

Just responding to IT requests or issues in a timely manner is no longer enough. IT teams need to operate in a proactive manner in order to reduce productivity losses. Implementing a monitoring platform which collects accurate, real-time data from employees’ devices, web browsers and collaboration tools, will help IT Managers identify potential issues and address them before they cause pain.

4. Help end-users to help themselves

IT teams can often find themselves stretched thin, trying to resolve issues for on-premise and remote workers. By utilising the right engagement and automation tools, IT Managers can empower end-users to resolve common problems themselves by implementing a self-help system. This may include creating troubleshooting guides for low-level, recurrent issues, utilising Microsoft Teams bots like FAQ Plus and Quick Responses or encouraging remote workers to log IT issues with certain information so they can be resolved more efficiently.

5. Promote collaboration tools

Collaboration tools have seen huge uptakes as employees look for ways to maintain effective communication across the business. Microsoft Teams alone reported a 70% increase, with active daily user numbers jumping to more 75 million. The performance of these tools is tied largely to the performance of the local device and network, which the IT team has less visibility in a remote working environment. So, in order to be able to provide sufficient support and seamless collaboration experience for end-users, IT Managers should consider solutions which will give them the level of visibility they need.

6. Address shadow IT

When it comes to remote workers, security is often one of the biggest challenges for IT Managers. Away from the office, employees can wind up using their personal devices to conduct business or start accessing personal applications (such as instant messaging, streaming services and cloud storage) from their work device.

It’s critical that the IT team take steps to address this, but at the same time, they should also seek to understand why employees are using these tools instead of company authorised ones. Is it a case that they don’t know the tool is available? They don’t know how it works? Or it doesn’t have the features and functionality they require?

7. Ensure regular communication

One of the most oft-cited downsides of remote working is isolation. It’s important that lines of communication are kept open so remote workers still feel part of the business. To ensure remote workers are receiving the support they need, IT Managers should consider using engaging feedback tools such as email surveys and polls.

Microsoft Teams comes with several personal apps, bots and connectors which IT Managers could utilise to manage the feedback process. Microsoft Forms, which allows users to easily create survey, quizzes and polls, and Polly, which gathers real-time insights with simple polls, are just two examples of the tools available.

8. Implement training and educate employees

Many employees have needed to quickly adopt new collaboration tools in order to effectively work from home. While they may have gotten used to them, having to learn how to use tools ‘on the fly’ probably means they’re probably missing out on features which could significantly improve their day to day activity, productivity and efficiency.

Training will also help strengthen security parameters by ensuring employees are aware of the types of attack, how they should respond and how their actions could affect the business. There was a big uptick in the number of cyber-security attacks during the first wave of the pandemic, but generally, the landscape changes so regular security training for end-users should be carried out on a regular basis.


The switch to remote working happened at incredibly short notice for most companies. What typically would require months of planning, pilot tests and stress tests to successfully rollout simply had to happen there and then, and this has likely created a lot of new challenges for IT departments.

It seems that it might still be some time from businesses can have their entire workforce back in the office at once – if they even wish to revert to that – but there are steps IT managers can take now to improve the remote working experience.

With employees more reliant on technology than ever before, IT teams need to ensure they have effective communications channels in place to understand and address the needs to end-users. A proactive, security-first approach will not only improve the user experience but also help prevent remote working from posing a risk to the business.

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4 technical considerations when upgrading to a VoIP phone system

Technical considerations when upgrading to a VoIP phone system

Plus, with IDSN-based telephony now a legacy product and due to be taken out of service in 2025, it makes sense to invest now and future-proof your business. 

However, as with the roll-out of any new system, there are technical considerations to bear in mind to ensure the transition to a VoIP phone system is as smooth as possible with minimal disruption and risk to the business.  

Preparing to upgrade to a VoIP phone system

1. Is your connectivity suitable to run voice? 

To ensure business-grade call quality, your internet circuit needs to have a guaranteed level of performance. Normal DSL broadband circuits will not be suitable for voice as there’s no guarantee of quality. If there’s a surge in network traffic, voice packets can drop or arrive all at once, making it difficult to understand the call and providing a poor experience for both parties on the line.  

One alternative is a DSL circuit with performance SLAs designed specifically for voice. However, these cannot be used to also carry normal data traffic – for that you need a separate data internet circuit. Instead, a better option would be an ethernet circuit which can provide suitable performance SLAs. If configured correctly for quality of service, an ethernet circuit can also prioritise voice traffic over normal data, making it suitable for simultaneous use.  

2. How long will it take to install your new phone system? 

Installing a new phone system can take longer than anticipatedFrom preparing the hardware and configuring the phone system, through to integrating with the LAN network and porting the number, there are many different elements to consider. Determine how long it will take to install and when you want the new system in by so you can create a comprehensive project plan.  

If you’re installing a new phone system as the result of an office move, you should start planning as soon as you have your move date. It’s vital that you leave adequate time for installing and testing the new system, particularly if your business relies on the ability to make calls in order to operate.  

3. How will you communicate the change to employees? 

Installing new hardware and changing handsets can not only disrupt operations, but it may also affect company culture. Employees may need to adjust to new handsets and feature, or even new ways of working if you’re moving away from physical desk phones to softphone applications instead.  

With any new system roll-out, it’s important to engage employees from the start. When staff feel informed it typically makes the process much smoother and increases adoption rate. With phone systems being such a vital line of communication, you should have a suitable training plan in place. If employees are confident using the features, they’ll embrace the technology fully, ensuring a professional image of the business is presented and providing a better experience for anyone who calls in.    

4. Does your disaster recovery plan include telephony? 

It’s important not to forget about your disaster recovery plan when moving to a new phone system. While the available features and functionality of cloud-based phone systems can increase availability, you still need to be prepared and able to react to worst-case scenarios. Ensure you’re able to answer questions like: 

  • What happens if the phone lines go down or there’s a power cut? 
  • What happens if the system goes down? 
  • Where will calls be routing 
  • What impact will downtime have on the business? What are acceptable levels? 

Support for phone system upgrades 

Choosing and deploying a new phone system is a significant undertakingbut the wrong decision can put your business at risk.  

If you want to ensure you’re making the right investment and your phone system will meet your business requirements, then a managed telephony service is a good option.  

At QuoStar, we can work with mid-market businesses to determine their requirements in order the select the most suitable platform. We can also manage the installation or upgrade of your phone system and provide ongoing monitoring and maintenance to ensure it continues to deliver for your business. 

Find the right telephony solution with a free assessment and quote. Click here to register for a free telephony assessment.

IT project management: 7 common mistakes and how CIOs can avoid them


COMMON IT project management mistakes

IT project management is a key part of business success but it has never been an easy task. CIOs can frequently find themselves juggling cost, time constraints and new technologies, and more often than not this can be the case across multiple simultaneous projects.

While no two projects are exactly the same, they can often suffer from the same teething problems.

1. Being unclear about the goals

It’s important that everyone involved understands their role, responsibilities and deliverables, so don’t underestimate the importance of a kick-off meeting. This should include all the key stakeholders and will help to define and set expectations. If all stakeholders are on board, they will focus their energy towards project completion rather than finger-pointing and complaining they were never consulted on the project outcomes.

You shouldn’t only evaluate your goals at the start of a project. As a project progresses, additional goals or outcomes may creep into the work – resulting in the infamous problem of scope creep. A CIO should take these additional goals, consider if the value they add is worth the additional project resources needed and make a decision on whether to include them into the project’s scope.

Even if an idea is not incorporated into the project due to detracting too many resources from the original project’s goals, it can be made into a separate project which is conducted later on.

2. Focusing solely on the project as one whole piece

While it’s good to see the bigger picture, focusing on the project solely in this way can make it seem overwhelming or unachievable. Instead, you should break the project down into small pieces and assign each one to the most appropriate individual. This will help to make the team feel more comfortable and confident as they successfully accomplish each task.

3. No prioritisation

When you have IT projects running concurrently sometimes team members may end up spending too much time on a lower value project whilst a higher priority one starts to slip. Clear and continual communication is important throughout the lifecycle of each project so everyone involved knows which tasks should take priority and when the priorities have changed. Being upfront can save a lot of potential headaches and hassle further down the line.

4. Little or irregular communication

While every CIO knows that communication is a fundamental part of successful project management, it can be all too easy to forget to set aside time for team meetings or to update key stakeholders. It is important to not only set aside time for regular meetings but to also establish a format for these meeting. Ensure the right people are attending the right meetings at the right time. Having too many people involved can slow things down. Instead you should have key people from each project area attend, reporting on progress and updates. They can feedback to other team members.

5. Not using project management tools

It’s important to use project management tools so you can ensure the project is on track to meet the deadline. There are many tools available which give a good visual representation of a project and its progression

6. Failure to adjust

Even with careful planning and an established strategy, things do go wrong. It’s important not to let the “fear of failure” take over when a project goes downhill. Instead focus on creating a culture of transparent and truthful reporting, which will provide key stakeholders with the information they need for timely decision making. In this scenario, if a strategically important project were to go wrong, the business will be able to set it back on the path to success by adjusting the budget, resources or delivery expectations in line with the information provided by reporting.

7. No delegation

With multiple projects running at once it’s almost impossible for one person to try and stay on top of everything. CIOs need to know how to delegate and ask the right questions of their project managers.

Tackling IT project management issues

For some companies, it may be beneficial to outsource the project management function. It’s also a good idea for businesses lacking project management experience or have cash flow constraints.

External project managers can bring a level of objectivity to the role which can be highly valuable. It can also be cost-effective. You can hire someone with the right experience for a specific project rather than a full-time resource.

Do I need to change my business phone system?

7 signs it's time to change your business phone system

While issues may start as minor irritations, over time, they can have a significant effect on your business operations, and this can end up reflected in your bottom line.

An efficient, effective phone system is a necessity for any mid-market business, and one that can’t keep up will place a stranglehold on growth. If you’re experiencing some frustration and wondering if it’s time to upgrade, then here are seven critical signs that your current phone system is harming your business.

Seven signs it’s time to change your business phone system

1. Your telephony costs are skyrocketing

A phone system may be a necessity, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay through the nose for it. Businesses often accept their bill, regardless of how much it costs or if it keeps creeping up, when it’s actually possible to reduce this spend drastically, by merely embracing newer technology. Switching from a traditional on-premise PBX to a cloud-based or hosted one using VoIP can save you as much as 80% on your phone bill.

Free Download: Moving to a new business phone system – Your guide for success

2. Your telephone systems provide a poor client experience

While your phone system should offer a good user experience for your employees, you shouldn’t neglect your clients either. If clients find it difficult, time-consuming or confusing to try and reach the company via phone, then it reflects poorly on the business.

Consider what experience you would like your customer to have when they contact your business and compare this to what happens. Do you need an individual to monitor and manually transfer all incoming calls, and what happens if they’re busy with something else? Is it easy to transfer calls between staff or are they frequently dropped, requiring the client to call again? If you use call routing, does the call end up going to the right department or person?

Again, individually these might be minor frustrations, but if they happen every time a client tries to call it’s going to harm the business relationship in the long run.

3. You have issues with routing calls

A phone system with limited call routing and be difficult and time-consuming for clients to navigate. If a client has an urgent matter and wants to speak to their Account Manager, the last thing they need is to have to trawl through an endless maze of menus, entering long strings of digits and waiting on hold for extended periods.

If your current phone system doesn’t allow you to customise the call routing features, then it may be time to consider one that does. Even something as simple as being able to route calls based on the business’s operating hours, so out of hours callers have the option to leave a voicemail, can significantly enhance the calling experience for clients and prospects.

4. Your phone systems offer no geographical flexibility

The number of people working remotely may have exploded as the result of the pandemic, but it’s expected that this trend is here to stay for the long run. If your phone system ties you to a single geographic location, then you’re creating a scenario where employees can’t work effectively from home or on the road, or where they need to use a business or personal mobile to keep up with calls.

5. It’s challenging to add new users to your phone system

A mid-market, growth business can quickly outgrow its telephone infrastructure, leaving it struggling to cope with call volume and extra extensions. Traditional phone systems rely on SIP trunks and ISDN lines, and it can be difficult – not to mention expensive – to add new lines to cope with additional capacity. If you add a new office location, then you also need to buy new equipment and add that to the hardware refresh cycle.

6. Your phone system has limited call functionality

Call functionality is valuable for both your clients and your employees. For an optimal client experience, you need to be able to offer more than just the basic functions like mute and hold. If you’re using an auto-attendant program to route calls, do clients have the functionality to rehear the options? Can they easily return to a prior menu if they make a mistake, or do they have to hang up and start again?

Consider, also, the experience for the client once they’re on a call. Do you leave clients waiting in silence while on hold, or are they met with hold music? Do you automatically update them on their queue position and estimate wait time? Little touches like these can notably improve the call experience for the client by setting expectations from the start.

For employees, limited call functionality can seriously hamper their productivity. Limited numbers for conference calls, a lack of voicemail and landline limitations are just some of the things which can make it difficult for teams to work effectively together.

7. You don’t get any data and insights

Data and information are an asset within a business. If you can’t analyse your call statistics quickly and easily you are probably missing out on key data and information that can improve your business operations, sales and customer service.

Do you know key pieces of information, such as how many calls come into the business and each department? How many calls go unanswered? Who never answers the phone and who could be more productive if they weren’t fielding so many calls? Simple metrics like these can give you real insight and vision into your operations and many phone systems don’t have the capability to provide the data or it’s very costly.

What are my options for a new phone system?

If you can relate to one, or more, of these issues, then it’s a key indicator that it’s time to change your business phone system. It could be standing in the way of your business delivering an excellent experience for clients and even hampering your ability to win new business.

One popular solution is to consider switching to a VoIP telephone system, which leverages your existing internet connection, allowing you to make calls over the internet. It’s not only typically more cost-effective, but also offers greater flexibility, scalability and functionality when compared to a traditional on-premise telephone system.

If you want to find out more about VoIP and what’s involved in migrating your business to a new telephone system, then download our free guide for a comprehensive overview.

Free Download: Moving to a new business phone system. Download this guide to find out how to select the best phone system for your business requirements. Click here to access.

6 common problems with phone systems for mid-market businesses

Common problems with phone systems for mid-sized businesses

What are the most common problems with phone systems?

The specific problems with phone systems can vary, but they all impact the efficiency of operations and, ultimately, the bottom line. From overspending on hardware and system usage, through to providing a poor call experience to employees and clients alike, here are six of the most common problems mid-market businesses experience with their phone systems. 

1. Outdated hardware

Unfortunately, this will happen at some point. No piece of hardware is for ‘life’ and will require an upgrade. The average lifespan of a business phone system is around 6-8 years, at which point the system is either out of maintenance or is lagging in functionality.  

Ideally, you should aim to stay ahead of the curve and update your phone systems when you can, rather than pushing them to the absolute brink. While running your hardware for as long as possible may seem like a good idea, so you get the most value from your spend, this doesn’t result in the greatest return. As hardware ages, performance often suffers, and it can be more expensive to repair and update  

Alternatively, with software-based and hosted communication solutions you don’t need to have dedicated hardware in the server room because everything can run in the cloud. Even desk phones are not essential with cloud telephony systems, instead, an application (also known as a softphone or client) can allow end-users to transform their laptop, mobile or other smart devices into a business phone which they can take with them anywhere.  


2. Limited features

Modern phone solutions no longer offer just ‘voice’. They’ve transformed into full unified communication (UC) solutions, which offer a whole raft of productivity-enhancing features. Mobile apps, multi-site integrations, auto-attendants, call recording, click-to-dial, wallboards and call management are just some of the features which might improve your employees day-to-day activity – but they might not be available with your current phone system.  It’s typically these additional features that provide data for KPIs, which give businesses real insight into their operations, thus helping to drive transformation.  

3. Maxed out phone lines

Business is going great and you’ve decided to employ another sales executive to keep up with demand. But there’s a problem, you’ve maxed out the number of phone lines your system can take in.  

As businesses change and undertake digital transformation, it makes sense to invest in a phone system which can give you value right away but can easily scale with you too without an expensive upgrade pathVoIP can resolve these issues with its built-in flexibility and scalability, plus you’re not limited by physical location or installations.  

4. Expensive

Mid-market businesses understand the necessity of a phone system and as a result, often don’t question the cost – even where it’s eye-wateringly expensive. Some might not even be aware of what their phone system truly costs, especially when you start to incorporate some of the soft costs. 

If your business needs to forward international calls or transfer calls to mobiles, then monthly costs can soon rack up.  

5. Downtime takes you out completely

There’s no 100%, guaranteed protection against all downtime, but your business should prepare so you can still operate when it happens. If an outage occurs which takes down your phone system and you have no way to route those calls, then this not only impacts your clients but also means you could miss out on potential new business.  

6. It’s overly complex

A phone system is essential for day-to-day activity, so you don’t want a set-up which is so complex that employees can’t use it without consulting a manual. For a system which is used day-in, day-out by essentially every person in the business, you want something which is intuitive and easy to use. While you may need to provide some initial training on a new system, you should feel confident that afterwards employees will be able to use it effectively.  

What is the outcome for businesses? 

Even just experiencing one of two of these issues with your phone can have a significant impact on operations. Missed or dropped calls, poor client experience and limited functionality are all reflected in the bottom line, so it makes sense to invest in a phone system which can keep up with your business.  

VoIP is often a good alternative for mid-market firmsIt offers the built-in flexibility and scalability which will address many of the issues which occur with traditional on-premise telephony. Any initial financial outlay will likely be recouped quickly by removing the soft costs poor experience incurs, plus your ongoing costs are likely to be significantly lower. 

Free Download: Moving to a new business phone system. Download this guide to find out how to select the best phone system for your business requirements. Click here to access.

7 quick technology wins professional services firms can make right now to emerge stronger from COVID-19

Quick tech wins for professional services firms to emerge stronger from covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on professional services firms worldwide. While the industry may have been able to adapt more quickly compared to others like hospitality, leisure and tourism, they still had the impact of clients’ changing priorities, cost avoidance and reduction measures, and the delay or cancellation of projects. Many enacted full-scale remote working for the first time and potentially had to deploy new tools to help employees remain connected and continue to deliver for their clients.

As the UK begins to roll back COVID-19 restrictions, many firms are looking to the future and considering how to adapt their business strategy to protect their position. While the full impact – and fallout – from the crisis remains unclear, the ways professional services firms operate and engage with clients will probably change permanently.

It’s crucial, of course, that firms think strategically about the mid-to-long-term and avoid rash, high-risk decision making. However, in the short term, low-risk wins can be achieved, many of which require little financial investment. Technology has played a vital role in helping firms respond and adapt to COVID-19, but it also presents many future opportunities for those who are willing to embrace it strategically.

Quick technology wins for professional services firms

1. VoIP

VoIP, particularly hosted telephone systems, is typically cheaper and offers greater functionality, flexibility and choice compared to traditional phone systems. It’s a sound investment for most professional services firms, but particularly those who want to continue offering flexible or remote working for staff.

The portability of VoIP means it’s suitable for both ‘on the road’ and desk-based users. VoIP desk phones are ‘plug and play’ so can be plugged into any home office with an internet connection, while softphone applications allow employees to use their mobile, laptop or other smart devices as their desk phone. Wherever an employee is, their phone number can follow them automatically and seamlessly.

With ISDN due to be switched off in 2025, investing in a VoIP telephone system now will help future proof your firm by ensuring you’re using the modern standard for telephony communication and your technology doesn’t become redundant.

All in all, it’s a relatively low-risk investment. Firms can usually trial the solution first, plus many providers will offer incentives such as free hardware, making it an even more attractive option from a financial standpoint. There are typically very low setup charges, so VoIP is certainly a project that can be delivered without putting a firm at risk.

Looking to upgrade your phone system? Download our comprehensive guide to find out how to evaluate the solutions and reduce the risk of a poor investment

2. Office 365

If your firm hasn’t already migrated to Office 365, then now is the time to do. As a cloud-based solution, it enables employees to work anywhere, anytime, from almost any device, making it a must-have for any modern work environment, particularly one with remote workers. But, Office 365 offers more than just our standard Word, Excel and PowerPoint, the collaboration tools in particular – such as Yammer and Teams – really empower firms.

Even where professional service firms have been using Office 365 for some time, it’s unlikely that they’re taking full advantage of all the productivity-enhancing features. For example, many will see Microsoft Teams as just an instant messaging and video calling platform when it’s actually a complete collaboration platform offering one centralised place to connect. From a single window, employees can instant message colleagues, book meetings, join video and audio conference calls, share and collaborate on files, create group and department channels – and that’s just with the native features of Teams, there’s also plenty of integrators and third-party apps to extend its capabilities.

With over 30 applications in the Office 365 stack, the best place to start is with a gap analysis. Assess what you have and how you are currently using it, then evaluate this against the available features and the functionality you require to determine where to invest.

3. Give IT a seat on the Board

Most business strategies will require technology and processes, but if IT leadership doesn’t have ‘a seat at the table’ then IT rarely works to support the overall strategic direction of the business. This lack of alignment can cause significant friction and lead to wastage, in terms of spend and opportunity. It can also lead to complete project failure, so there must be an IT head that is part of the leadership team.

Giving IT a seat on the Board provides the firm with the knowledge and accountability to deliver real change. A true IT leader can ensure that investments are allocated strategically to deliver a measurable return whilst supporting the business’s strategic objectives and the work of revenue-generating departments. They will be aware of the risks to the business, such as downtime, productivity issues, data loss and cyber-security, which the board might not consider and can advise on the priorities for resolution.

However, if you wish for your IT Manager or senior IT professional to become more involved at the Board level it may be worthwhile considering some mentoring. An external consultant or CIO-on-Demand service can mentor less strategy focused IT Managers to help them develop their strategic and leadership skills, specific to the requirements of the firm.

Read More >> 6 reasons why you should give IT a seat on the Board

4. KPI Tracking

You can only make effective changes if you understand where you are now, yet many professional service firms are still not tracking and measuring KPIs successfully.

KPIs are much more than just numbers; they are a scorecard for company health, allowing firms to measure progress towards long terms goals and business strategy. Instead of wondering what’s working or why you haven’t achieved your goals, regularly measuring KPIs keeps you focused and drives change. It’s essential now and as firms emerge from COVID, ensuring a granular vision of the performance of all areas of the business.

Ideally, firms should set KPIs at the company and department level. Each department may have a long list of KPIs they measure daily, weekly or monthly to track performance but would not report all of them at a company level. For example, the marketing department may measure numerous KPIs to track the performance of campaigns. Yet, at a company level, they would only report the number of leads generated per month, the number of marketing leads that converted to sales, and the percentage of revenue attributed to marketing activity, as these directly correlate to business strategy.

A KPI dashboard gives you the most critical information right at your fingertips. So you can spot trends, address issues and take advantage of opportunities straightaway. However, if you’re starting from scratch, you don’t need to worry about investing in Business Intelligence (BI) software immediately. A simple spreadsheet is enough while you define what is needed and get used to tracking and analysing measurements regularly.

5. Cyber Essentials

There’s been a significant increase in cyber-security attacks, including phishing, malware, ransomware and other attempted breaches, as cyber-criminals look to capitalise on the uncertainty of the situation.

A big security incident is going to hurt professional services firms right now, even more so than usual. With firms already dealing with increased operational and financial pressures, they cannot risk a cyber-attack which will further impact their productivity, reputation and finances.

Cyber Essentials is a good place to start, it really is the basics of security within an organisation. The government-backed scheme helps firms reduce their risk of cyber-attack with five basic security controls. As your firm now has employees working remotely, and particularly if you intend for it to stay that way, then you should be implementing Cyber Essentials as a bare minimum. Not doing so is frankly negligent.

6. Review all your cloud estates

There’s no denying that cloud computing has been essential during the pandemic. It has enabled employees to remain productive outside of the office, collaborate with colleagues and deliver services for clients.

82% of firms increased their use of cloud in direct response to the pandemic, and COVID-19 will likely only accelerate the adoption further. However, with millions of cloud expenditure wasted every year, professional services firms must review what they already have before investing further.

Cloud sprawl, idle resources, and inefficient set-ups are just some of the common issues which result in wastage. Even reviewing something as simple as your software licences can help. For example, recent changes in the licensing of Microsoft 365, could result in a significant monthly saving, potentially thousands. As a result, you could have additional resources to invest elsewhere for a higher financial return.

Going forward, it’s best practice to build in regular reviews of cloud usage and spending. There are many factors that can quickly inflate your monthly bill.

Check out our 12 tips to reduce your Microsoft Azure spend further

7. Technical Skills Training

Technical skills training is an essential investment for any professional services firm. As they help ensure that employees use the software in the most efficient, productive and secure way. Even with ‘standard’ software packages, such as Microsoft Word and Excel, most employees will only be familiar with the basics. So they could be missing out on features that would significantly enhance their productivity. Plus, remote working probably introduced new tools, like Microsoft Teams, which employees may have had to learn “on the fly”.

Training is also critical for strengthening firms’ security defences. 60% of cyber-security breaches are the result of human error, and hackers are well-aware of weakness so are adapting their attacks to take advantage of this. Security training will help employees be aware of the types of attacks, how they respond and how their actions could affect the firm. As the cyber-security landscape evolves so rapidly, organisations should regularly repeat the training to make employees aware of new threats.

When it comes to any type of employee training, it’s often best to involve a third party. Unless you have an internal team are who are familiar with best-practice methods, they may not provide the optimal experience. Particularly when it comes to specialist software like CRM systems or practice management systems.

Next steps for professional services firms

We can’t be sure exactly what the future holds for professional service firms. But it’s undeniable that technology will be a key enabler and differentiator. Law firms, accountants, and other firms have seen that virtual communication and digital client engagement are possible and viable.

There will be pressure to make great changes, but it’s important not to get caught in the panic buying cycle. Start with the quick wins and do not buy technology without a strategy set and clear business outcomes defined. Assess what you can do now, which is low risk and low investment, but will deliver a measurable business gain.

Firms should consider their mid to long-term strategy as well, but while the situation continues to develop and no firm end date in sight, they should build in flexibility that will allow them to adapt.

Get more from your IT with a strategy, on-demand CIO-level Consultant: We help businesses to us IT to gain security, stability and a competitive advantage in a rapidly developing marketplace. Click here to find out more.

7 tips to help you select the right software for your growing business

IT strategy - 7 tips for business software selection success

Software selection can be a daunting task. It’s a process that all businesses go through, and likely more than once.

Having been involved in the software selection process as project lead, I can understand the weight of responsibility you may feel if you are picking up the reins for the first time. Making the wrong decision can sting, from disgruntled colleagues and the cost of running out the contract to then having to go through the whole selection process again.

Not only does your purchase come with a significant cost (where you’ll need to prove justifiable ROI) but it will likely impact the business and its employees for several years.

However, when you get it right the results can be transformative. Increased productivity, greater visibility and better collaboration between departments are just some of the benefits, but to achieve them, you need to follow the right process. Below I’ve outlined some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to selecting the best software for your business. This can apply to any software, whether you’re looking for a new CRM or marketing automation platform or you need to upgrade your accounting application.

7 tips for business software selection

1. Do involve your colleagues

Unless you’re the sole employee your decision will likely impact others in the workplace, so it’s only fair that they should get a say too. While you may have an idea of the overarching aim for each department, it’s unlikely you’ll know every single process, activity and feature they use on a day-to-day basis.

You don’t have to bring them into every single conversation, but it’s important that employees feel valued and that their opinion counts. For example, when viewing demos, I invited our Sales team into the portion of the meeting where we were reviewing sales tools. It took 20-30 minutes of their time and allowed them to see the software in action, ask questions and see if it lined up with their day-to-day activities.

It may seem like such a basic thing, but you’d be surprised how many businesses make the decision at board level without consulting their employees. Then they wonder why there are grumbles when the software is rolled out to those who have to use it day-in-day-out!

If you’re working with larger teams you could nominate one person to collect requirements, feedback and questions on behalf of the department. That way you’re still involving the relevant people without causing too much disruption.

Get advice from one of our consultants on how to select the right software for your business

2. Do fully understand your requirements

Before you even begin to contact suppliers, you need to understand why you’re doing it, why you’re doing it now and what your end goal is. This is your project brief and you need it to share with suppliers and to evaluate options. If you were looking for CRM and marketing automation software, for example, your brief may look something like this:

  • Issue: We currently use 7 different applications to run sales and marketing activity, but none of them integrates properly with each other. Marketing struggles to collect complete data and both departments are working in silos, unaware of the other’s activity.
  • Timing: Both departments will be growing by 35% in the next 6-12 months, so the current issues will increase, and this will affect the ability to meet targets.
  • Aim: To find one centralised platform where we can run, analyse and report on all sales and marketing activity.
  • Goal: To align both departments and increase visibility, allowing us to improve lead nurturing through the entire sales pipeline.

On a side note, if your project brief contains anything like “we want to buy this software because all our competitors have it”, then step away right now. This is never a valid reason for undertaking a project, whether you’re migrating to the cloud, buying new accounting software or any other line of business software.

You’ll also want to include relevant employees in the building of this brief, as you’ll need to get their input on features. I’d suggest each team create a “needs and wants” list. Needs are the features or functionality that they absolutely can’t work without, whereas wants are the ones they would like to have. Ask them to consider what works well with the current software, what issues they’ve run into already and any potential problems they see arising in the future. It doesn’t need to be an in-depth list, but only the people who use the software every single day can tell you how they use it.

3. Do reach out to your network

When we purchase as a consumer, we’re often quick to reach out to family and friends to ask for their recommendations – whether it’s for a new bottle of foundation or deciding which car dealership to engage with. I would recommend bringing this buying behaviour into the workplace as well.

Speak with relevant people in your network and reach out to peer groups to ask their opinion on the applications you’re considering. Ask them about their decision-making process, what applications they considered and why they chose that one. Did the software live up to expectations or are they now facing another brutal evaluation process? Ideally, you’ll want to speak to those in a similar industry and of a similar size to yourself. An enterprise-level business will have completely different requirements to a growing one and what is suitable for one, is unlikely to be for the other.

However, on this note, I do retain a healthy level of scepticism when it comes to online reviews. For every positive singing its praises, you’ll find a negative lamenting the software as the worst decision they ever made. One person will say the interface is simple and intuitive, another will say it’s clunky and makes their job infinitely harder. Of course, some of this comes down to personal preference, but you’ve also got to keep the background in mind. You have no idea how this company went about their decision-making process. Maybe they were mis-sold or maybe their requirements list was inaccurate, so although the software lined up it wasn’t what they needed?

Reviews are also likely the personal experience of a single employee who can also have their motives. Maybe they’re resistant to change, fearful that the software will replace their role or just frustrated that they weren’t consulted even once during the decision-making process.

At the end of the day you can consider reviews as part of the process, just take them with a pinch of salt and don’t base your entire decision on them.

4. Do think long-term

Major software purchases are not a process you want to be going through every year, so you need to consider the future of your business. What are the long-term aims and how does the software fit into the achievement of these. You need software which is flexible and can grow alongside you, adapting to your changing needs.

You’ll likely need your new software to integrate with existing systems, so you need to understand what is possible. Does the vendor have a limited library of integrations or an open API you could theoretically hook anything up to? Are they native integrations or do you need to involve third-party companies? Bear in mind this could come with additional costs, whether it’s a one-off set-up fee, monthly charge or both. Depending on what software you’re looking at you may even need to involve developers to create bespoke integrations and this can send things skyrocketing. That doesn’t mean the software is automatically a no-go, again you need to relate to your project brief. Thinking long-term, what may seem like a big initial outlay could translate into huge ROI in terms of increasing productivity and capabilities.

As part of this, you should also establish how the pricing structure changes. For example, if the amount of data you needed to store increased or you had new team members who needed access to the software.

5. Don’t get distracted by ‘bells & whistles’

Working in the IT industry, I’ve come to learn that technology is the last piece of the puzzle. However, I also know how distracting ‘shiny’ features are. Some software will have hundreds of different features, and with these often presented in a tiered format, you can quickly become bogged down by the detail.

With the rise of automation and with AI being used for things like predictive analysis and decision making, software can do some really ‘cool’ things. So, it’s important to take a step back and consider – is this feature necessary for my business? Yes, it may be cutting-edge, but how is going to help you achieve your goals and do you ‘need’ it right now? Always relate it to your project brief and your requirements list. If this is your first foray into automation, for example, do you need the ability to create advanced 60-step workflows with predictive analysis? Maybe in a few years’ when you’ve proved the ROI of automated workflows and need more advanced segmenting features, but too much at once can be overwhelming.

Remember simply having the software in place isn’t going to deliver results, it’s how you use it that counts.

6. Don’t rush to decide

Unless you have a business-critical issue – like a severe security flaw – you must give yourself plenty of time to decide. You’ll likely be reviewing at least three options, which means you’ll have a lot of information to review and pro and con lists to build.

We’ve all sat through 90-minute demos and by the time it comes to the Q & A portion you’re so saturated with information that you can’t think of anything. I like to give everyone a few days to ‘digest’, think about any questions they have and if they need a more in-depth demo of any of the features. That way you have one list to send back to the supplier, rather than ending up in a game of email tennis. “Oh, I’ve just thought of one more question…”

Do touch base with suppliers during this time, just to inform them you’re taking a few days (or however long) to review the information and will be in touch with questions. Expect them to follow up – after all, it’s their job – but don’t let them pressure you into deciding.

7. Don’t base it all on the flat costs

Moving to a more comprehensive platform is likely to come with a higher price tag than using a library of various applications and connectors, so don’t be immediately put off by the proposal.

You have to consider the cost of time and resources, as well as the information your business is missing. Does your team spend hours each month collecting data from each source to produce a monthly report when it could be done at a click of a button? Do certain tasks get left undone because they’re simply too difficult and painful to complete? Does each department work in silos with no clue what the other is doing – until they run into a problem? Issues like these can be difficult to quantify in terms of pounds and pence, but they will ultimately have an impact on your bottom line. You should also consider the impact on morale. If employees feel like they’re constantly fire-fighting or they’re overwhelmed with the sheer amount of ‘join-the-dot’ work between systems, productivity is going to go downhill quick.

A lack of connection between multiple systems also leaves you with knowledge gaps. How can you make effective business decisions if you don’t have a clear picture? Is this strategy working? What was the return on that activity? Which invoices have been paid? Where are we spending too much time? These questions will only increase and become more pertinent as your business grows.

Key takeaways for effective business software selection

Firstly, don’t let software scare you. There are some great tools out there which really can deliver for your business when utilised correctly. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it has all the answers. Purchasing marketing automation software or migrating to a new CRM won’t suddenly take your lead generation results from zero to hero, but it could help improve the lead nurturing process by giving you a clear overview of all your activities within one place, how they are performing and what is delivering the greatest return. Then you can direct more resources to these activities and improve lead generation as a result.

Just remember – know what you want to achieve, why you are doing it and to take your time. But if you do need a bit of help separating the marketing jargon from tangible business benefits, our consultants have helped many businesses with vendor selection, from practice management systems and ERP software through to cloud platforms and tools.

Click here to book an online review and speak to a consultant about how to choose the right software for your business