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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
With multiple countries still inlockdown and traditional office environments swapped for home offices, the pandemic has bought the need for a flexible, robust cloud deployment into sharp clarity.
Cloud adoption was already becoming mainstream, with 90% of companies on the cloud and an estimated 60% of workloads running on a hosted cloud device in 2019. However, the sudden and drastic increase in remote working has placed a strain on infrastructure, highlighting stresses and fractures in many environments. As a result, manybusinesses may be asking themselves if they’ve adopted the right type of cloud or if they will need to change in order to ensure long-term profitability and sustainability in a post-pandemic world. It seems unlikely that we will revert to the traditional office-based 9-5, therefore businesses will need to be virtually agile and able to adapt to the new ways of working and doing business.
In order to operate and compete effectively in the new commercial environment that awaits, as well as deliver an enhancing employee and customer experience, businesses will need to be strategic when it comes to choosing a cloud solution and vendor. However, we’ve noticedthere is still a lot of confusion when it comes to the cloud marketplace and the types of solutions that are available. So, we’ve put together a quick-start, high-level guide designed to give busy business leaders a clearer understanding of the different types of cloud.
Which type of cloud deployment is best?
The three core types of cloud offer broadly similar benefits, but the one you choose will be dependent on the business requirements you have identified.
A public cloud consists of cloud computing resources which are owned and operated by a third-party provider and delivered over the internet to the general public. Microsoft and Amazon are two of the most well-known public cloud players, holding 50% of the marketplace as of February 2020, but IBM and Google are also key providers.It’s typically used to deploy web-based email, online office applications, storage, and testing and development environments.
With public cloud, all hardware, software and supporting infrastructure is owned and managed by the cloud service provider. Not only does this result in a lower initial financial outlay, but it also removes the need to budget and plan for infrastructure upgrades. Maintenance is usually factored into the contract cost, but businesses should double-check what’s included or they could risk being stung with an inflated bill.
One of the key benefits of public cloud is its easy scalability. Businesses only pay for the resource they use, but this resource can be ramped up or down to meet fluctuating user demands. It can offer increased reliability due to the vast number of servers involved. If one data centre were to fail, the load would be redistributed among the remaining centres making total failure unlikely. However, this is not to say thatdowntime is no longer a risk. Microsoft, Google and AWS have all experienced prolonged outages in the past 12-18 months, so it’s important to review outage reports.
Also known as a corporate or internal cloud, a private cloud consists of cloud computing resources which are used solely by one group, rather than the general public. It can be delivered by physical on-premise servers, located either at your business or in your datacentre, or it can be hosted by a third-party provider. In either case, though, the services and infrastructure are always maintained on a private network and the hardware and software are dedicated solely to your business.
Private cloud is typically adopted by those in highly regulated industries or those who deal with highly sensitive information such as financial services, government services, medicine or pharmaceuticals. It’s also a good option for mid- to large-sized organisations who are wanting to retain greater control over their environment.
Businesses are increasingly shifting their focus to a hybrid cloud approach. Often referred to as ‘the best of both worlds’, a hybrid deployment involves combining on-premise infrastructure or private cloud with public cloud. This approach offers high levels of flexibility, whilst maintaining some degree of control on-premise for sensitive data and applications. Public cloud can be used to deliver high-volume, lower-security needs such as webmail, whilst the private cloud is used for business-critical, sensitive operations like finance. Public cloud can also be used to extend the capacity of a private cloud when there are huge spikes in demand, for example, the deadline for online tax submissions. The application runs in a private cloud until demand spikes, at which point the business can tap into the public cloud for additional computing resources.
Choosing a vendor
Once you’ve decided which model best suits your requirements, the final step in to select a provider.
Regardless of whether you’re opting for public or private cloud, security must always be a top consideration. With all businesses handling confidential and sensitive data at some level, they must be confident that their chosen cloud provider has robust security systems and controls in place.
In the public cloud space, there are plenty of big names to choose from. Many offer broadly similar benefits so the decision often comes down to cost and the ease of migration/integration. For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is often more cost-efficient but if your business has already invested largely in Microsoft then Azure can offer a simpler integration.
The decision process surrounding private cloud providers may be more complex. You will need to evaluate resiliency, service level agreements (SLAs) and whether additional services, such as patching, maintenance and upgrades, are included and balance this against the cost.
Why should you consider investing now?
The pandemic has changed the way we work for the long-term, if not permanently in some cases. Now businesses have seen the success of remote working first-hand, they may question whether large offices are necessary or even if all employees need to be in the same geographical location – or time zone. If they want to continue working in this way, at least in some capacity, that the cloud will be necessary to achieve this.
Internal systems can have capacity restrictions, be more open to security compromises and require costly upgrades. In comparison, the cloud can offer huge scalability, flexibility and, in some cases, greater security. For those companies whose operations have remained largely the same and have the budget, then investing can not only enhance your operations but could save your money in the long run.In order to achieve the full benefits though, businesses must have a clear understanding of their business requirements so they can select a vendor and solution which will support this.
Investing in a company’s IT systems is now a regular part of planning.
However, it’s easy to focus on only a few areas of the business instead of taking a holistic approach. In order to avoid this scenario, the company must look at all areas of the business to build a robust IT infrastructure.
How to manage your IT investment
Connecting the dots
The challenge of migrating legacy systems and platforms can put businesses off IT improvement. It is a time-consuming process, especially if the business has expanded through M&A activity or partnerships. In most cases, data will be stored on different systems and in different formats, so consolidation is quite significant and will inevitably require a sizeable investment.
This issue can often go ignored as staff grow used to working with disparate data sets and systems. However, this severely hampers productivity as employees have to navigate multiple programs to find client information or historical data. It is also likely that mistakes can be made when the data does not exist on a single accessible platform. Well-thought migration and consolidation, will streamline processes and allow the business to focus on delivering results.
Bringing on help
To achieve the best possible results, IT investment often needs to go beyond in-house systems and tools. As competition increases, businesses need to improve both their output and processes; this is where investment in outsourcing providers can prove invaluable. However, many often overlook this solution, largely due to historical views of outsourcing.
It is important to remember that outsourcing does not mean replacing the internal team with a third party. That is an option but is by no means the only choice available. More often than not, outsourcing provides enhanced support on projects and services, alleviates the burden of certain processes or simply provides advice on current business practices. If outsourced effectively, the IT team will have more time to develop and improve processes, while the third party deals with the day-to-day tasks.
Planning for the worst
IT investment typically aims to improve current technology or streamline certain processes, but there can be a huge gap when it comes to planning. Businesses are so familiar with using technology they often forget to strategically plan how to mitigate risks and unforeseen issues that can occur when things go wrong – be it a system failure, security incident or transport strike. When the company is hit by an unexpected event, staff can often scramble to continue their working day. Without a clear strategy in place, the business risks financial loss due to the inability of staff to work effectively and efficiently. This doesn’t even take into account areas, such as reputation damage and regulatory penalties.
IT has a vital role to play in providing a comprehensive, structured and strategic business continuity plan that is able to respond to any challenges that can impact company operations. A key barrier to making improvements in this area is due to how the company views its IT priorities. Regulation, data protection and the general running of the hardware can seem like the most important parts of the business. However, if you do not account for the day-to-day, these large-scale IT challenges will not matter – the business will simply suffer from a lack of planning.
IT investment is a vital part of how a company operates. However, it cannot focus on a single area of the business. Simply investing in cybersecurity alone will not improve internal processes or streamline activity. To build a comprehensive IT operation, you need a balanced approach that takes into account all aspects of the business.
With the UK government continuing their phased return to normality, many businesses are now planning how they will manage the return to work process for their employees. Thousands of office workers, such as those in financial services, recruitment and law, have been working remotely since the lockdown announcement on Monday 23rd March. Now, these restrictions are beginning to ease; employers will need to carefully review their workplace to determine how and when it is safe for employees to return.
Employers should take all reasonable steps to allow employees to work effectively from home. However, if they cannot do this and the workplace is not an establishment that the government have said must remain closed, then employees can return to work if it is safe to do so.
2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
Employers have a legal duty to protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety. They should carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with their employees or trade union to determine which guidelines to put in place. Where possible, businesses with more than 50 employees should publish their risk assessment online.
3. Maintain 2 metres social distancing where possible
Employers should redesign workspaces to maintain 2 metres distance between employees. Measures may include things like moving desks, staggering start times, creating one-way walkthroughs, opening more entrances or exits, or restricting the number of people allowing in meeting or break rooms.
4. Where social distancing cannot be maintained, reduce transmission risk
Employers should look at putting barriers in shared spaces, creating shift patterns or fixed teams to minimise the number of people in contact with one another or ensure colleagues are facing away from each other.
6. Reinforce cleaning processes
Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, with attention paid to high-use objects like keyboards and door handles. Hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities should be provided at entry and exit points.
The role of technology
There are already reports of employers rushing out to buy the latest tech in a bid to make their offices safer. Some businesses are utilising existing building technology to track the numbers of employees in the office at any one time. In contrast, others are considering surveillance options like thermal sensors, motion detectors, and contact tracing to track the movements of infected employees.
Some of this technology requires significant investment and may be out of the reach of mid-market and growing businesses, particularly during a pandemic when they need to scrutinise every financial decision carefully. There’s also a question of how surveillance will make employees feel, even if the technology is for their benefit. In a time where tensions are already running high, and employees may be reluctant to return to the office environment, the last thing your business wants to do is add to the stress.
However, there are options in technology you’re already using, such as Microsoft 365, which leadership teams can repurpose to help manage the return to work and meet government guidelines with little to no extra cost.
Shifts in Microsoft Teams
Shifts is a schedule management tool that helps you create, updates, and manage schedules for your team within Microsoft Teams.
Features in Shifts
Schedules: Team Owners can create a schedule from scratch or import an existing one from Excel. It shows days at the top and team members on the left-hand side. If you are an owner of multiple teams, you can toggle between different shifts to manage them.
Day Notes: Add notes to share relevant news or reminders with your team.
Groups: Name groups by job function or location to keep organised.
Shifts: Choose a slot to assign a shift, then add activities or specific tasks, so individuals know what they need to complete.
Requests: Review requests for time off, shift swaps, or offers.
Time Clocks: Allows employees to clock in or out using a mobile device. Enable location detection to ensure team members clock in from a designated work site.
Share: Once you’ve finished making edits, share your schedule updates with your team.
Office or Facilities Managers can use Shifts to centrally manageand share available space to employees based on location or floor. Managers can allocate workspace, or allow employees to reserve or request it, ensuring social distancing is maintained wherever possible.
App Templates are production-ready applications for Microsoft Teams that can help streamline and improve the employee experience. No coding is required, and all templatescome with detailed documentation and support guides to ensure smooth deployment and configuration.
Company Communicator Bot– This app allows businesses to create and send messages to teams or large groups of employees right where they communicate. Companies can use it to share things like new policies, company-wide initiatives, employee onboarding or company-wide broadcasts.
Incident Reporter Bot– A Microsoft Teams bot designed to streamline incident management in your business. The bot facilitates automated data collection, customised incident reports, relevant stakeholder notifications and end-to-end incident tracking. The bot allows users to report incidents with facilities quickly while providing a centralised location for responders to see and respond to incoming events.
Scrum Status Bot – A simple scrum assistant bot that enables users to run asynchronous stand-up meetings and provides an easy way for users to share their daily updates. Designed to work in Teams Group chats, all members of that group can contribute to the scrum which could help remote project teams keep their projects up to date and on track.
Icebreaker Bot – A Microsoft Teams bot designed to help your team become closer by pairing two random co-workers each week to meet. The bot not only helps facilitate conversation and connection between remote teams but could also be helpful if you need to onboard new team members before everyone returns to the office.
Facilities Bot – Use this bot to send targeted, location-specific updates to employees on Teams, helping manage the use of large communal areas such as cafeterias, kitchens and break rooms.
The office of the future?
The lockdown has shown many businesses that their employees can remain productive and operations can continue outside of the confines of a traditional office. Looking to the future, some may evaluate the cost of ample office space, and if it’s an overhead they really need – or want to – continue budgeting for.
In-person meetings are certainly still valuable, but is there a need for every employee to be in the office for the same set hours each day? Technology has made it vastly easier for teams to remain in contact, and itmeans your business is no longer geographically confined when it comes to hiring talent.
While there’s no one size fits all policy, this could certainly be an excellent time to review your operations and ways of working to see if changes could make a measurable difference to your business.
Since the UK announced a lockdown on Monday 23rd March 2020, more people have been working from home than ever before. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2019 just 5% of the UK’s active workforce considering home their main place of work. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, an estimated 20 million people have relocated to a home office – an increase of more than 1000%.
It’s, of course, important to note that some industries, such as information and communication, professional services, and financial and insurance services, provide far greater remote working opportunities than others. Yet, even for employees in these industries, this is likely a new situation, with 70% of people saying they had zero experience of homeworking before social isolation measures.
There may have been some unusual conditions to manage during this time, such as childcare, home-schooling and enforced distancing from extended family, but it’s fair to say that remote working, overall, has been successful. Probably more successful than many businesses would have anticipated. Technology has allowed us to replicate the office environment; tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom have made it easier to remain connected and productive; whilst the flexibility in working hours has allowed employees to tailor their day to when they work most productively and to deal with personal commitments.
Even though some parts of the world are beginning to slowly return to normal, remote working won’t be going anywhere. Plenty of businesses have now seen first-hand that they can still operate and that their teams can remain productive outside of a traditional office structure. Plus, employees will expect at least some level of flexibility now they have experienced the benefits and shown minimal impact on their role.
As the UK lockdown happened so quickly, many businesses weren’t fully prepared to roll out remote working on such a large scale. Therefore, if you want to continue to offer remote working and ensure that it delivers for your business, then you need to ensure you are set up and operating in optimal ways.
4 key areas to review for successful remote working
1. Embrace cloud technologies
Mass remote working can put huge pressure on on-premise IT infrastructure. If the environment is unable to cope then employees may face a degraded IT experience, ranging from system slowdowns and insecure connections through to the risk of total failure, increasing frustration and hampering productivity.
Embracing cloud-based application and infrastructure resources can help ease this pressure, offering greater flexibility and scalability, with the capacity to cope with fluctuating demand. Employees can access their working environment from anywhere, at any time, on most devices – provided they have a stable internet connection.
However, choosing the right cloud computing model for your business processes is vital for long-term sustainability and profitability.
Public – Offer massive scalability and cost-efficiency benefits. It’s ideal for any customer-facing applications such as eCommerce. However, there can be some security concerns as it uses a shared infrastructure.
Private – Offers higher levels of security and direct control. It’s typically adopted by those in highly regulated industries or those who deal with highly sensitive information such as financial services, banking and medicine.
Hybrid – Offers high levels of flexibility and is the default model for many businesses. It maintains some degree of control on-premise for sensitive data and applications but allows the massive scalability of the public cloud when required. Maintenance and complexity should be carefully considered to avoid security issues.
Cloud technologies are also making it easier than ever to remotely set up, secure and manage workspaces, no matter where users are based. Mobile Device Management (MDM) in Microsoft 365 helps you secure users’ mobile devices, with the option to create and manage device security policies, remotely wipe a device, roll out new applications and view detailed device reports.
Making the switch to Software-as-Service (SaaS) applications – where applicable – is beneficial for remote working, offering several resource-related benefits.
The pay-as-you-go model offers enormous flexibility and scalability, making it easy to quickly increase capacity to match business requirements. Software upgrades, support and maintenance costs are typically factored in which not only ensures you are always on a supported version of the application, but direct vendor support is available without additional hidden costs.
Furthermore, subscribers can access the software easily from any location and supported device with an internet connection, negating any reliance on additional hardware and complex VPN connections. For example, applications included in Microsoft 365 can be accessed via a web browser, desktop app or mobile app (with iOS and Android options available).
Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD)
WVD is a comprehensive Microsoft Azure-based desktop and app virtualisation service, which allows businesses to create a virtual Windows 10 desktop environment and deliver remote apps to any device. This allows employees to access the same desktop environment remotely as they would in the office. It’s particularly beneficial for companies who have large groups of employees performing the same role and requiring access to the same environment.
With in-person meetings and daily huddles off the table, technology is vital for employee communication, fostering strong relationships and productive, efficient collaboration.
Furthermore, it allows employees to collaborate in real-time by offering a centralised hub to access and share files. The core Office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) are all accessible in the platform, meaning files can be opened, edited and shared directly within Teams. Not only does this provide a better, more streamlined user experience, it also helps prevent things from getting lost or dropped – as often happens when documents are emailed back and forth for editing.
Microsoft is continuing to add more features to Teams, including background noise suppression in video calls, the ability to read and write messages without an internet connection, private chat channels, pop out chat and meeting windows, 3×3 video grids for meetings and more.
SharePoint is a web-based collaboration platform, which integrates tightly with Microsoft Office. As it is highly configurable, usage varies from organisation to organisation, but some of the most common use cases are:
Content and Document Management: Allows employees to store, archive, track, manage and report on documents and resources. They can easily access files wherever they’re working, ensuring they always have the most up-to-date version. SharePoint integrates tightly with numerous Microsoft 365 applications, such as Word and Excel, allowing multiple employees to share, access, edit and collaborate on files. Robust document versioning makes it easy to a history of changes and, if necessary, roll back to a previous edition. This feature is particularly valuable where you have groups collaborating on the same document. However, employees can also work independently by checking documents out. This is ideal where several edits need to be made and you need to prevent others from working on or reviewing the document until you’ve finished. Once the document is checked back in, others are free to access, edit and review.
Intranet and Social Network: A SharePoint intranet or intranet portal allows organisations to better engage employees by providing a centralised location to manage internal communication and information. You can share rich multimedia, personalised news and companywide, departmental or intra-departmental announcements. In some organisations, Yammer has superseded the social network functions of SharePoint as it offers many similar features with a familiar social media style layout. Alternatively, you can include a Yammer feed in a SharePoint site such as a highlight of the most recent conversations.
Collaboration: SharePoint contains features to support teamwork such as; project scheduling, shared mailboxes, social collaboration and document storage.
File Hosting: SharePoint Server hosts OneDrive for Business, which employees can use to store and synchronise personal documents, as well as publicly or privately share them with others when needed.
Custom Applications: SharePoint also contains an enterprise app store to further customise your platform.
There is also a two-way integration between Microsoft Teams and SharePoint. Every time a Team is created in Teams, a SharePoint modern team site is automatically created to support it. All documents uploaded to the Team are automatically stored in the SharePoint teams’ site.
3. Agile Working
Replace bulky desktops with laptops
The portability of laptops gives them the edge over desktops when it comes to remote working, allowing employees to easily change up their working location without needing to change device.
Fortunately for businesses, laptop costs have come down to match workstation costs when it comes to ‘the standard workhorse’. Many office-based workers will be used to working on multiple screens so may wish to replicate this setup at home, in which case you should also invest in a docking station that retains those critical USB/HDMI ports and wired connections associated with desktops.
The downside to working from laptops is bad ergonomics. Encourage your employees to build an optimal working space, with things like a supportive chair, using a riser so the laptop screen is at eye level, and angling the keyboard down. This is will help avoid things like back pain or muscle aches and strains.
Cyber-security attacks and breaches are a risk that all businesses must face. They can be incredibly disruptive, with the potential to cause significant, lasting financial and reputational damage. Such an attack can be even more difficult to handle when employees are working remotely, therefore you need to ensure you have a secure set-up to reduce the risk as much as possible.
Security Training for Employees
Human error is one of the biggest threats to your security. It’s all too easy to respond to a phishing email, download malicious content or click on a dangerous link. Plus, with the security threat landscape in a rapid state of change, employees often aren’t fully aware of the risk their actions can pose. Ensure you provide regular training and updates to ensure your staff have as much knowledge as possible.
With remote workers, the physical assets (e.g. laptops, desktops, tablets) are not in the office so you must have the best security software installed and kept up to date. Ensure devices are protected with a robust anti-virus solution and are updated regularly. Patch management can help as it will automatically update all devices on the corporate network, including those not physically accessible. You should also consider updating your remote working policies to state that employees should not use their own devices to access companies files and data when remote working, as you don’t know what level of security software they have installed. Modern endpoint detection and response solutions (EDR) are designed to operate outside the corporate network, helping prevent malware, enabling rapid threat detection and allowing you to initiate immediate response actions.
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Solutions
With remote working increasing the risk profile, SIEM tools are a crucial part of the data security ecosystem: they aggregate security-related data from multiple systems, such as firewalls, server and PC event logs, antivirus applications, plus more. They analyse that data to catch abnormal behaviour or potential cyberattacks and then alert internal or outsourced security teams.
Typically a SIEM tool on its own is not enough and they are backed up by a Security Operations Centre (SOC) to ensure that security experts analyse any alerts generated by the systems. Generally, most mid-market businesses will outsource this capability so that their own internal IT teams just see the information that matters.
Multifactor Authentication (MFA)
Passwords are not enough to protect your devices and data. They’re often not as strong as people think and even if you follow best practice, they can still be breached. Once your password is leaked or on the dark web, then that’s it, your account is at risk of compromise – or multiple accounts if you reuse the same password. Multi-factor authentication involves an additional step to further protect your account. This may be a one-time code sent via email or text, an in-app push notification, a biometric method such as a facial scan or fingerprint, or a physical device like a USB.
There are also plenty of other 3rd party applications which support MFA using recognised security apps, such as DUO, Google Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Using a VPN helps increase your online privacy by allowing you to have an encrypted connection over the internet, so is a good idea for those accessing business-critical systems or handling sensitive data. A business VPN will give employees the ability to remotely access private network resources, often necessary for completing work tasks. Accessing legacy systems can be difficult when using a VPN so an alternative may be to use SaaS instead.
A final thing, from a security standpoint, to consider is obtaining a security accreditation for your business. Preparing to undertake the accreditation process is a great opportunity for you to gain a clear picture of your current risk profile and identify and address gaps. There are a couple of options to consider:
Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus: Are great places to start if you want to ensure you have covered the basics and have a good foundation in place which you can build upon. It is a government-backed scheme, designed to help reduce the risk of cyber-attacks by implementing five basic controls. Cyber Essentials Plus is recommended for businesses with remote employees (e.g. home or client sites). It is also typically a minimum requirement if you wish to engage with government or MOD projects.
ISO 27001: It is the best practice internationally recognised standard for an information security management system (ISMS). It helps businesses manage the security of assets, such as financial information, intellectual property, employee details or third-party information. Achieving this certification provides independent, expert verification that your company manages information security in line with international best practice.
Is there anything else you should consider?
It’s not only technical requirements you need to consider if you wish to roll out remote working as an option for all your employees. There are many cultural and social issues to consider as well, with isolation, loneliness and a lack of human connection all reported as common problems by remote workers. Whilst technology will go some way to help combat these, you need to ensure you have a well-rounded, strategic plan for long term remote workers.
Businesses whose boards have strong digital skills enjoy benefits including 17% greater profits, 34% higher return on assets and 38% faster revenue growth according to a report by MIT SMR.
Any of those advantages would put a company in a powerful place against their competitors, so how does this one difference deliver all three? And if it’s so impactful, why do so few businesses have IT on their board?
6 reasons why having IT on the board makes such a difference
1. IT and business alignment
Businesses without IT leadership on the board often have a siloed or even antagonistic view of IT. In these environments, IT is often labelled as a non-contributor to the business since they aren’t directly creating revenue. Even worse, an uninformed board rarely considers how the essential work of IT allows revenue-generating departments to succeed.
Resentment easily grows between departments in this scenario and causes in-fighting, loss of talent and a stressful work environment. This leads to long-lasting reputational damage, a reduction in business productivity and ultimately, lower revenue.
Once senior IT executives are present on the board though, they can clearly communicate IT’s value, potential and contributions. Improving alignment and collaboration whilst reducing friction across the business.
2. A lower technical debt
Digitally strong leadership is aware of the concept of technical debt and invest intelligently to eliminate it. Businesses without IT executives or their IT support provider on their board, are rarely even aware of technical debt and make flawed business decisions as a result.
Problems accelerate for non-savvy businesses if misconceptions such as IT being a ‘necessary evil’ or a business ‘cost’ get out of control and begin influencing the board’s decisions. This causes technical debt to accumulate even faster – narrowing cash flow, increasing job disengagement and lowering the business’ productivity ceiling.
If IT has a voice on the board, they can address these misconceptions and release the stranglehold on investment and advancement they cause. This reduces technical debt, improves day to day operations (and thus profits) and re-opens the gates to innovation by strategically investing when appropriate opportunities arise.
It might sound crude, but if someone’s job or ego isn’t at risk, genuine change and progress don’t happen. Having board members who are accountable for IT multiplies the impetus for delivering on IT’s full value and encourages greater performance. This ultimately accelerates project delivery and the achievement of companywide and departmental KPIs.
In businesses without IT representation on the board, the strategic direction of IT rarely fits with the overall business strategy and maybe even works in a competing direction.
A simple example of misalignment would be if the business wanted to increase customer engagement and service, but IT had an ongoing implementation of a business management solution like ERP or Practice Management with a poor CRM system built-in.
If IT had representation on the board, they could have seen the misalignment and raised it prior to purchase. Even if the software was already bought, they could have reviewed an additional CRM product that integrates with the other line of business applications and makes up for the existing solution’s shortfalls. While there would be additional costs, the CIO would clearly define ROI in advance, with support from marketing.
IT leadership on the board can also lead to other projects which deliver on the business strategy. This would create overarching benefits, from back-office automation in any sector through to shop floor management systems in manufacturing, and perhaps AI or general process improvements in legal firms.
However, more commonly than misaligned strategies, businesses without IT on their board rarely have a real IT strategy at all. Usually just having a budget and a refresh cycle documented; putting them far behind the pack.
5. A more pressing attitude to risk management
A board without IT leadership can place a disproportionate amount of focus on extraneous risks whilst critical IT risks go unaddressed. Even if IT has a solution to hand, the board may still deny funding since they don’t understand its importance.
Consequently, increased downtime, business disruption and lost money should be expected as the underlying infrastructure becomes neglected. Downtime alone costs the average business about £4,300 per minute – a painful sum for a non-savvy board’s inaction.
But downtime is not the only risk a board without an IT presence will fail to address. Cyber-security, reputational damage, data loss and other critical issues will go neglected without the correct emphasis from IT.
When IT has its place on the board, the correct emphasis is placed on IT risks since there’s an inherent understanding of their importance. Pressing issues can be correctly raised, evaluated and solved by top-down management, reducing downtime, disruption and the associated costs.
6. Broadened horizons
If you look at a CIO’s job description, you’ll see requirements like:
Create business value through technology.
Strategic planning of business growth objectives.
Ensure tech systems and procedures lead to outcomes in line with business goals.
Oversee the development of customer service platforms.
Manage IT and development team personnel.
Approve vendor negotiations and IT architecture.
Information risk management.
Establish IT policies, strategies, and standards.
Develop and approve technology futures and budgets.
Beneath the IT-specific language, these are all essential skills for a board member to have. Without IT leadership present at board level, these are skills you’re missing out on.
But specific skills aren’t the only thing boards with no IT representation miss out on. Thanks to their unique mindset, a proven business executive with a vast knowledge of Information Technology and its application can challenge assumptions and find opportunities in overlooked areas.
Why do so few businesses have IT leadership on their board?
Based on all these factors, you may assume every business has IT leadership at board level. However, you’d be wrong.
For a start, most IT support providers lack a mature enough offering to include true board-level assistance. This makes it nearly impossible for businesses who outsource their IT to have IT present on their board. (IT support providers with this level of ability do exist, but they’re rare.)
Many businesses also still ‘tolerate’ IT, rather than seeing its value-enhancing potential.
You may realise the illogic in this excuse. While the salary may be large, it would likely be a fraction of the potential increase in revenue a savvy board can drive, let alone the potential at the bottom line. However, short-term costs are often a driver for many businesses, so they cannot see the value they’re missing out on.
But there’s a reason that excuse makes even less sense and it’s that, if you’re smart, getting the skills doesn’t cost a lot either.
Taking advantage of an outsourced service like a CIO on-demand service gives you access to exactly the same calibre of seasoned IT executive, without the costs, risks and hassle of hiring and leading an internal big hitter.
Digital transformation and automation are hot topics – they’ve been hot topics in one guise or another since IT was born. But despite their proven effectiveness and capability to enhance the way a business operates; many businesses only pay lip service to improving their internal processes in earnest.
Why is this? The two most common reasons are that either they’ve been burned by a project or initiative that was sold to them using automation and digital transformation tags as buzzwords which then failed to deliver substantial results, or they’re distracted by the more visible (but less impactful) new campaigns being generated by marketing or sales.
This obsession with searching for new horizons whilst leaving the internal business to fall into disrepair is seen all too commonly. Even in manufacturing, companies who have been improving their production processes relentlessly for decades seem to have forgotten to apply the same fervour for efficiency gains in the back-office. There are huge gains to be made from automation, but it must be business-led and with a focus on ROI.
So, how do we begin?
1. Understand where you are
This early on, you shouldn’t be looking at the tools to conduct your automation. Nor should you even be looking for external consultants. You need to instead get a general feel for what could be improved and what should be improved in the business.
This is a straight forward exercise of breaking down the business into its component parts – typically into departments. Then list all the business operations/processes within that department, such as client onboarding, lead-processing, invoice processing and debt collection.
You should then break down these processes into steps and actions. If you can use a flow-chart then great, else just map it out in a way that the team understands.
Regardless of what method you use, it is imperative that you are as precise and detailed as possible at this point in your journey. Every concurrent step follows on from this one, so ensure you start on steady footing. The more detail you add, the simpler it is to see areas that can be automated which saves future you time and other resources.
2. Determine priority areas
As you go through your analysis you’ll start to see areas that can be improved quickly. You’ll also typically see that many internal processes can be broken down into two core types of task – actions and approvals.
Taking a typical and traditional expenses procedure as an example: An employee would open an expenses sheet and enter the details of their claims, scan in all their receipts, print the form and receipts, sign the form, hand it to their line manager, they sign-it, it’s scanned back in and finally sent to accounts for payment.
You can see from this that even with simple tasks, there’s a good deal of steps and many opportunities for automation. However, there are also some stages that are impossible to automate – the signatures are a notable example. These can still be digitised, however.
The real purpose of this step is to gauge how and where automation/digitisation can make an impact. By identifying processes that have wide stretches of actions which could be automated or lots of approvals that could be digitised you can create a priority list of tasks that you should address to have the biggest impact. The more steps and touches by people the greater the potential impact.
3. Look at technology
Thanks to the rampant rise of technology and globalisation, you are likely to be able to find tools and applications that fit your requirements relatively easy.
Of course, many systems will be able to take over many parts of your operations and the processes within them. If you can find one system that can deliver greater efficiency and ultimately customer service then it’s potentially going to save you costs, integration headaches and upgrade hassles.
On the flip-side it’s important that during this stage you find a system that maps directly to your requirements, rather than trying to change your operations to fit a system – which can happen with complete business systems that blend various applications and operations, i.e. Practice Management Systems in law firms, ERP in manufacturing, etc.
You may have to create a blend of systems to deliver a highly configurable system. As in essence you then get a much more powerful solution that will deliver you greater results and potentially a greater edge over your competition. Lots of tiny improvements soon mount up into a measurable advantage.
A clear requirements analysis is really going to help you see the gaps when looking at software solutions and systems. Do understand that it’s common to buy a total business system and then not use large pieces of it because those parts don’t truly map to your operations, i.e. you use the accounting and service elements but don’t use the CRM functionality – potentially using a 3rd party solution that integrates better.
4. Plan the project
Once you’ve mapped out your processes, bundled them into relevant categories, evaluated where the big wins will come from and have a solid system/application more or less identified then you have a clear starting point. Now it’s time to look at the project delivery.
A clear time-bound plan along with sensible milestones is essential to deliver returns from a digitisation project. You should be working in conjunction with vendors and (if relevant) developers, along with internal affected teams to create a project plan that you all buy into and approve. It’s important to of course consider costs, not just the hard costs but also the soft-costs – which will often make or break a project in terms of delivering a business-enhancing result.
If you are looking at numerous digital transformation projects, it’s important not to fall into the trap of rolling out too many projects at once or back-to-back. Too many companies go for fork-lift upgrades where they change numerous projects at once and that can cause fatigue and frustration in the user base at best. Create a considered road-map that will give staff time to become accustomed to new ways of working or new systems before undertaking more change.
5. Go hard on testing
Testing can never be overrated. You can only ever deliver an effective digital transformation project through a rigorous and considered testing plan.
Ideally, you’ll be able to pilot the new process or system in a real-time test environment. That way you can see the difference whilst ironing out issues as you go, prior to a wide-scale rollout.
This is increasingly possible now since many applications and systems are now cloud-based, allowing you to trial a system in a fully-fledged test environment without signing up for long-term contracts.
If there isn’t a way to preview the effectiveness of the new process or system, it’s important to agree what success looks like with the vendor far in advance of signing an order or contract. Too many businesses sign-up on a sales person’s promise. A project can fail because clear deliverables aren’t agreed at the start.
If you have stakeholders, i.e. users of the system, ensure that they are happy with the testing. Without stakeholder and user group sign-off you can find yourself surrounded by disgruntlement and finger-pointing. Make sure you tie everyone into success.
6. Go Live
Once you’ve signed off your testing and pilot as a success, it’s time to finish your roll out and go live with your new system. If you’ve got to this stage successfully everyone should be raring to go (communication is everything) and fully trained.
You should now be following your project plan as you bring the solution live. It’s also important to document and analyse any issues that arose along the way. Discuss them in a ‘lessons learnt’ session with the project team during or after the rollout. We all grow through difficulties, and our experiences can help those who follow after us on other projects.
7. Evaluate success
After you’ve delivered your automation project it’s important to formally look back to what your objectives were at the beginning. Did you meet them? It’s also important to do a formal follow-up meeting. Ideally once everything has been running for a few months and then maybe after the first year.
If you can clearly demonstrate the value and business enhancement over a period that’s exciting. It will also transform a boards perception of IT. It will drive it to the centre of the board agenda – which it should be right now.
8. Start again
Digital transformation doesn’t have a clear end. It’s all about continual improvement and so should in effect be a never-ending cycle. It’s very unlikely that the change you have instilled is perfect and can’t be improved.
If you want to grow your competitive advantage and/or profit margin you should be managing change as you go; whilst also revisiting the whole process in specific time-frames. This could be every 3 months, 6 months, annually or longer if appropriate (unlikely).
Ideally, now you’ve gone through the motions, innovation, automation and transformation should have become part of your standard operations. Your board will hopefully be demanding it.
Digital transformation is without a doubt a buzz term. In reality, it’s LEAN and continual improvement rebadged. It’s something every business should be doing in a structured manner to survive and thrive in a global business environment. The challenges are there, but you can gain than ther is to fear.
The legal business landscape is still changing at pace and thus the firms within it need to change to protect their client base, their staff, their brand and their margins. IT systems and platforms now sit at the heart of every firm and are key to supporting these important areas.
Within the IT estate, the practice management system is king and generally includes other important solutions, such as case management, document management and CRM. There’s certainly a renewed vigour in the legal sector around technology and the practice management system is the place where most firms are looking for an advantage.
There are however several common mistakes which all sizes firm continue to make time after time when it comes to choosing a practice management system.
1. Following the herd
The legal sector is notorious for having a herd mentality, particularly around IT. It’s common to see firms choosing the same practice management system based solely on another firm’s decision. And sometimes, before that firm has even implemented it!
It’s a dated strategy, basing decisions on what others are doing rather than being driven by specific strategic objectives. Whilst 10 or 20 years ago, in a smaller, less competitive market, there may have been some merit from being in the same boat. However, in an ever-increasing competitive market, this is no longer a sound strategy.
It’s important firms choose new business systems on their own strategic objectives and/or operational requirements. And to do this properly they must understand what’s available in the market and what’s possible; however, this needs to be a continual process, not just a something done once every 5 to 7 years.
To achieve a competitive advantage and increased margins, you must map the right technologies to specific and documented requirements, both operational and strategic. This doesn’t mean ticking off a features list – it’s about being in control of the sale and having a concrete understanding of the desired business outcomes before even looking at software products. If a firm just follows the herd, they aren’t generally in control of their firm’s direction and the move to a new practice management system is often unstrategic. This will significantly impact a firm in a rapidly changing landscape.
Many firms choose new practice management systems for a variety of reasons:
Their old system is going end of life;
Other firms (the herd) are moving to a new system or
They’ve seen a shiny presentation that promises buckets of gold.
These are fundamentally the wrong reasons to be choosing new software and will often lead to failed projects – at least in terms of a return on investment or getting any sort of competitive advantage.
New software purchases should be driven by the business need, defined by the business strategically and led by the business board. Strategic objectives should drive the decision-making process and it’s important to define the objectives you wish to achieve post-implementation. It’s therefore essential to analyse and define the real business requirements upfront to ensure the right business outcomes are delivered.
Many firms also don’t know where they stand in terms of the maturity of their IT systems and capabilities, particularly how they use their systems. It’s essential to do work upfront and baseline where they are now across areas of the business and defining the key project success factors on a departmental and firm-wide basis. It’s also critical not to simply focus on the fee-earning side of the firm. Marketing, business development and back-office functions are more critical than ever when looking at a practice management system.
3. Looking at one solution to fit all IT requirements
It’s common for firms to believe that using a single IT solution to deliver multiple functions is a sensible move. This (with the exception of the smallest of firms) is a significant mistake.
Practice management, case management, CRM and the like are important business functions and you will struggle to find a package which delivers great functionality in every area. Whilst one may deliver great case management and finance functions, you’ll often find other areas are mediocre. This leads to frustration in some departments and missing out on critical features that can deliver a significant business advantage.
Typically, firms should be looking at solutions to deliver for specific business needs. They need best-of-breed (balanced against budget and ROI) and shouldn’t be afraid to purchase new systems and integrate them the core line of business applications, i.e. their financial and case management systems.
There’s no harm in having in-built time recording or CRM but not using it and choosing a best of breed add-on solution if there’s a clear business case or return. Too many firms also end up changing their operations negatively to fit into a system, rather than choosing a solution that moulds to exactly what they require. This is quite possibly the worst thing you can do as it hampers growth, flexibility and innovation.
4. Viewing IT related projects as the IT team’s responsibility
Most IT projects these days are business improvement and change projects; practice management systems’ probably being the biggest business change project most firms undertake. Although a practice management system may be software-based and run on an IT platform, the outcomes are definitely business ones, be it generally operational or departmental. To push these projects to the IT team is therefore negligent at best.
IT or course plays their part, but often, particularly around Practice Management, they shouldn’t be leading the project. They have their responsibilities, but generally, they shouldn’t be solely accountable for the business results.
If a firm has a CIO, they’ll typically be the link that bridges the ‘business side’ of a firm and the ‘IT side’. Ultimately they’ll take overall accountability for successful project delivery. However, most mid-sized firms don’t have the luxury of a CIO.
With that in mind, it’s often sensible to build project teams and boards to own the delivery of a project, such as including key stakeholders, relative partners, departmental representatives along with IT. This way everyone has buy-in, rather than pointing fingers, shrugging shoulders and saying the change was forced upon them.
5. Not checking the contractual details and deliverables
Lawyers, of course, pay attention to the contractual details around the general terms of business when engaging with a software vendor. However, they often forget to ensure that the contract factors in successful project delivery, in terms of clearly defining the deliverables at various stages of the project life cycle.
It’s critical to define the stages and key milestones of the delivery, typically alongside staged payments. This certainly helps focus the mind of the vendor and ensures that expectations are managed on both sides.
Vendors will often link payments to key stages of project delivery. However, these staged payments are not typically in place for the firm’s benefit, but rather simply to ensure the vendor is paid. It’s, therefore, a good idea that a firm leads in defining project deliverables and what the measurements of success are prior to signing any deal.
These need to be documented clearly, agreed by both parties and then form part of the contractual terms. Too often are firms left with a solution that doesn’t provide any advantages over the one previously in place, because they did not define ‘success’ at the outset.
Firms need to understand that they are entering into a long-term partnership with the software vendor when they select a practice management system. Contracts are typically multi-year so pay attention to the vendor’s obligations, the service level agreements and where additional costs may come from. This is more critical now that many vendors are delivering their services via the cloud and thus firms are getting multiple services from traditional software vendors, not just software licensing and software support.
I understand that firms do not change their practice management system very often but, when they do, see it as an exciting stage of transformation. It’s a big business change project and the risks are significant. However, the advantages are also significant if managed and implemented correctly.
Your business’ Internet connection now means so much more than just being able to browse websites. So many programs, services and features rely on an Internet connection that if yours went down, you would feel an instantaneous impact.
Businesses constantly use the Internet to communicate with their clients, collaborate with colleagues and access cloud-based systems such as Office 365 and Salesforce. Using the Internet is so ingrained in our workday, there’s little you could do without it.
You couldn’t send or receive emails
You couldn’t access any cloud application services or files in cloud storage
You couldn’t access any websites or web services
You probably couldn’t use your telephony system
The only good thing which comes from an Internet outage is… well, there isn’t one.
How much does a lost Internet connection cost?
Internet outages cost UK businesses nearly £7 billion in 2016. Whilst that was a few years ago, don’t think the age of this stat makes you safe. This figure is set to increase year-on-year and so will now be something far higher.
The table below shows the impact downtime has on varying sizes of businesses based on both the productive time lost and the cost of an outage.
The results of the study investigating the cost of Internet outages
Businesses experience an average of 4.7 outages per year – each of which cost a mid-sized business an average of £3,644.
Internet outages are clearly expensive and so your business should be doing everything to prevent them. Luckily, it’s not difficult to reduce the chance of your business seeing an outage.
How to prevent an Internet outage?
Difference between broadband, leased-lines and 4G services.
Before considering getting two Internet connections, you must ensure your primary connection is the correct type for your business. There are three main types of connection:
Broadband – Generally only good for very small businesses. This is the same connection you likely have at home. Broadband connections share bandwidth with other customers meaning lower performance at peak times and fluctuating performance. Broadband typically has a non-existent Service Level Agreement (SLA). This means if you go down, you aren’t going to be a priority to the service provider. You may have an SLA in your contract, but they are typically valueless.
Leased line – Good for growing and medium-sized businesses, necessary for large businesses. A leased-line is a private connection which only you can utilise – guaranteeing consistent performance. SLAs for leased lines operate more rigidly – giving you better uptime guarantees and faster resolutions when issues occur.
4G Connectivity – Good for satellite sites or rural offices. 4G has become a popular solution for certain niche scenarios such as remote offices or areas where other options are poor or non-existent. Although good in principle, 4G services are typically not enough for full business operations – though they can act as a lifeline if a wired connection fails.
Getting a second Internet connection
Once your primary connection is suitable, the second step is to add redundancy to your Internet connection. Many businesses think a leased line gives them immunity to an outage. However, while you may still get limited connectivity during a wider network outage, you should aim for no loss of service at all.
Since we operate leased lines for many of our clients, there are a few best practices and common mistakes we’ve seen which you should be aware of when planning your own leased line.
The Last Mile Rule
The ‘Last Mile Rule’ states that the final mile of cabling which connects your business to the Internet should be physically separate between your two connections. This isn’t always possible due to external infrastructure and costs, but it’s worth aiming for.
Having the connections enter your office from alternate directions and cabinets means a physical disruption (perhaps caused by overzealous construction workers) only impacts one cable – allowing you to maintain connectivity.
To take it further, a secondary Internet connection should be run from a different telephony exchange – meaning that an issue at an exchange doesn’t bring down your connectivity.
Manually reacting to an outage is not ideal. It’s stressful, confusing and results in unnecessary downtime for your business. Instead, you want to configure your connection to automatically switch over to the secondary circuit if the primary one is down.
Typically, this is achieved by intelligent firewalls or two carriers (ISPs) working in conjunction via a managed service.
It’s also worth considering using the second connection, rather than just having it sat idle. Many organisations push certain traffic over the secondary connections, such as backups or voice calls. Obviously, if the second line fails (often more likely) that traffic can just fail-back to the primary connection.
Diversify line providers
Rather than going straight to your current line provider for your secondary connection, consider diversifying to another provider instead.
In the UK, BT Openreach and Virgin Media are the two largest owners of cable infrastructure, so if you already have a connection with one, it’s worth diversifying into the other. This is so that if the network provider themselves experiences an outage, you don’t lose your primary and secondary connections because of it.
Another benefit to a diverse approach is that if one of the major providers goes down, you can be overwhelmingly smug that your operations keep humming along whilst your competitors are frantically putting out fires and incurring reputational damage.
What is the cost of two Internet connections?
The direct cost of a second Internet connection will vary depending on local pricing so research your providers. If an identical line is too expensive, you could consider purchasing a reduced capacity line instead, i.e. a broadband circuit to just allow critical services to run in a disaster.
Doing this ensures a primary line failure won’t completely take you down, but you may find it difficult to perform Internet-heavy actions. Consider how much bandwidth you use normally and your usage at peak times to help you choose a sufficiently effective backup line.
What is the ROI of a second connection?
A second Internet connection is a preventative investment, meaning you cannot calculate ROI in the traditional sense. Instead, look at how much money your business is losing from downtime, then map this against the cost of a backup line.
As medium-sized businesses typically lose £3,644 per outage and experience 4.3 outages per year, a secondary connection would save them £15,699.20 on average every year. This can be considered the yearly ROI.
To calculate this for your own business, use this simple downtime cost equation to find your cost of downtime then multiply it by the average length of your outages and multiply it again by your average number of outages per year.
It’s also important to not just focus on the hard costs. You also need to consider soft costs, such as reputational damage. If your operation was offline for 3 days (very possible) then how is that going to impact your reputation?
Does my business need two Internet connections?
This question is akin to asking, “does my business need to be accessible to clients and customers?” or “do my employees need to do their work?”. If you’re a micro-business, then you can probably get away with a single connection because downtime losses are minimal. But otherwise, it becomes not a question of if you should get two Internet connections, but when you should get your second connection.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking a disaster won’t happen to you. Too many businesses put off investing in their business continuity and then take a permanent blow to their reputation rather than enjoying business as usual. Don’t let that be you.