Blog – Managed Services Provider Business Technology
News and Information Blog about Telecom and Managed IT Solutions
Technology changes overnight. Once you buy the newest smart phone, there is already a newer phone within a few months. Terms like Cloud storage, Big Data, Encryption, Analytics, Hacking, Social Media Management and eDiscovery are new and many attorneys are not familiar leading to misunderstandings and frustration. Studies show that law firms need to effectively incorporate technology in order to compete with non-law firm alternatives for legal representation, to streamline administrative costs and to improve security.
Virtual office technology helps attorneys work without a renting office space. Most Courts also have electronic filing systems so the days of delivering paper copies to the Court Clerk are nearly gone. Shared files and data management software streamline the work. Social media and mobile versions of websites are now considered essential for advertising. Most large law firms maintain blogs on the firm’s website. Attorneys or firms that refuse to update technology and take advantage of social media will lose revenues and may have trouble staying in business.
According to a recent study, Trends & Opportunities in Law Firm Outsourcing 2014 – 2015 conducted by Williams Lea for Sandpiper Partners, LLC[i], pressure from clients concerned with costs, data security and data protection are driving law firms to outsource back office administration and technology “IT” functions to Managed Services Providers. In fact, data security and protection were the second highest concern per the study[ii].
While administrative and secretarial costs in law firms are being reduced, spending for in-house technology and cyber security are projected to increase[iii]. Look at the high profile cases of security breaches such as Hillary Clinton’s email, Target Stores’ credit card data and Ashley Madison’s back office data. Regardless of a person’s opinion of the entity or person whose data was hacked, the damage to those involved is immeasurable. Law firms and solo practitioners need to protect their data. It is inevitable that a law firm will suffer a similar, high profile security breach. Fear of data being hacked, how to efficiently store volumes of sensitive client and lawyer information are front line concerns for many lawyers and law firms today.
Outsourcing data security and management along with IT support are effective means to both reduce employment costs and improve service in those areas[iv]. Law firms need to prepare for and incorporate changing technology in their practices[v]. A LexisNexis list of 2015 predictions encourages law firms to hire twentysomething “whiz kids” to help with social media and technology[vi]. Big Data predictive coding and technology will be necessary to compete[vii]. Security Breaches will impact law firm insurance policies and protection strategies will need to be addressed[viii].
What do these changes mean for lawyers and law firms?
Finding a reliable outside vendor to assess and implement Managed IT Services needs to be high on the “to do” list. In the alternative, hiring an in-house IT specialist to oversee both data security as well as assess and improve technology solutions for information management will be crucial. Legal practices must change to catch up to technology.
In the instance of a group of attorneys working on a case together, well designed cloud-sharing means less emailing of drafts back and forth within the same law office. All current drafts and filings can be maintained in one central location for all persons on that case to access. This may seem simple given the level of technology available today yet many law firms are slow to update. Paranoia about a security breach also hampers improvement. The Cloud is still a nebulous concept for many attorneys. It is hard to trust what you do not understand. Therefore, it is important to find an IT vendor to assist with upgrading internal data management and security. Hire an expert so you can focus on the lawyering.
Studies show a trend that the majority of law firms are looking to increase technology spending and data security while reducing headcounts in secretarial and administrative areas. Reducing costs with better workflow and improved technology will keep a law firm competitive. Potential clients have more options when legal help is needed so traditional law firms need to modernize and reduce costs.
Clients do not want to overpay nor does a client want to see his/her law firm in the news for a data security breach. Law firms that move to Managed IT Services Providers or hiring IT specialists can take advantage of the newest technology. Most Managed IT Service Providers companies both assess data security risks and offer solutions to possible risks. In addition, those same entities can review workflow systems and offer technology to improve and streamline those processes with Business Process Management and Business Analytics tools. Many also offer social media consulting including developing mobile versions of websites and assistance creating a firm blog.
Technology has revolutionized all industries. The legal industry is no exception; it is just a stubborn industry that is reluctant to change with the times. In regards to revising the interpretation of a long-standing rule of law, it is wise to be measured and consider radical re-interpretations slowly. In contrast, maintaining a competitive edge and securing sensitive information demands a faster response. Law firms that decide to keep up with the speed of technology with high quality Managed IT Services or in-house IT staff will survive to practice measured and considered law for the benefit of their clients.
[ii] Id. at 14
[iii] Id. at 17, 19 and 20
[iv] Id. at 24
[v] 2015 Law Firms in Transition an Altman Weil Flash Survey, http://www.altmanweil.com/dir_docs/resource/1c789ef2-5cff-463a-863a-2248d23882a7_document.pdf, at 13 -14. (“Altman”)
[vi] Id. at #12
[vii] Id. at #17 to #25
[viii] Id. At #17
The Changing Face of Telecommunications and Business Technology Solutions
Emerging Trends and Strategies
Telecommunications and business technology solutions are constantly changing with each passing year, more strategies become redundant and fresh ideas appear. The key to surviving these changes are, as always, to adapt and change with them.
Digitization is the driving force behind the telecommunications market. New devices and technologies are being developed faster than ever and more importantly, they are being adopted by everyday consumers at an equally fast rate. Thanks to a rise in the digitally savvy consumer, we have seen an exponential growth in the implementation of new applications and platforms. We only have to look at the expanding IoT (Internet of Things) to see that once a technological infrastructure is in place, new technology can be deployed rapidly and universally.
The trends that currently impact the telecommunications industry all stem from the above. Wired and wireless carriers alike must choose their strategies based on the environment before them; monetization relies on customer traffic, so the business goes where the customer goes. New business models supported by new services and standards are essential to fight stalling revenues.
Telecom and business operators are therefore forced to adapt, in a climate where people are now more likely to reach for a mobile phone than a laptop to search the web. Revenue pours into OTT (over-the-top content) services such as Netflix whilst bypassing the operator, despite their essential role in making such applications possible, creating a struggling middleman.
New strategies being seen in the vertical markets vary from forging new alliances to make the most of this interconnected landscape, to a shotgun approach of funding myriad digital initiatives. Though a more measured approach is often wiser, there is something to be said for an aggressive stance. One undeniable fact is that technology stands still for no one. Claiming a foothold in your changing industry is vital to staying relevant and profiting from what customers need tomorrow, not what they needed yesterday.
The Digital Roadmap
With the emergence of these new digital trends, the crisis faced by most business operators is not if they should change, but how. For the larger entities in the industry, this change is arduous. Bigger companies are mired in their existing structures, from software architecture to operating procedures. Long-standing partnerships can become millstones. Smaller companies are starting out with cutting-edge systems, unburdened by legacy products that are rapidly being overtaken by mobile internet and cloud technology services.
The twin goals of increased revenue and customer satisfaction are directly tied to tapping into these new technologies. Exciting and relevant content, online security, quality services and the perks of the online world (paperless billing, chat support, ease of access, business process management, interactive KPIs) are among the things that drive businesses to other sources to meet technology demands. All of these offerings and more are already available elsewhere.
The activities and trends of consumers are road signs which point us towards potential revenue streams. Telecom companies move huge amounts of data each day; monetizing that activity is as simple as adjusting data pricing plans or targeting content to suit.
New Technology, New Consumer
The trends of the industry, from increased interconnectivity between devices to constantly evolving platforms, provide valuable insight into the customers of 2015 and beyond.
While telecom providers and business operators struggle to keep up with trends, they face a difficult balancing act. Modernization is not without cost, as they must research new technology, upgrade systems and maintain newer networks. Meanwhile, the new customers being reached with these methods are not necessarily producing an equivalent revenue. The pressure is on for the telecommunications industry to find a viable model for growth which can meet demand without collapsing under the strain of expansion.
The key is to make smart bets based on these trends; to recognise that they represent not just new revenue streams, but warnings about how to manage current streams. For example, in telecom, 4G networks are already saturating the market heavily, while the new 5G standard waits in the wings. The emerging breed of consumer who understands technology and can compare prices at the touch of a button will always shop around, so telecom providers should be working harder than ever to reduce their operating costs. Performance can be improved with software-defined networking and small-cell networks are able to increase efficiency.
Price is only the first step. With the advent of online reviewing, word of mouth is more powerful than ever. Reputable service and customer experience are vital, especially among customer segments which value quality or luxury products over price.
The value of a recognised brand name goes a long way in these emerging markets. Customers are still unsure of new technology and want to see the companies they know and trust moving into these new territories. The interconnected nature of new technology inevitably comes with vague new terms like the ‘cloud’, which set alarm bells ringing. Telecom providers are perfectly positioned to lead the way in providing security and privacy safeguards.
Tomorrow’s Digital Ecosystems
The telecommunications industry monitors these trends and is acting on them now. Companies large and small are already implementing new partnerships and strategies, forming digital ecosystems that will be the foundation of future trends.
For example, Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners is funding start-ups to the tune of US$620 million, while giving manufacturing a digital overhaul through a project called Industrie 4.0. Meanwhile in Sweden, TeliaSonera has moved into the fashionable side of electronics with Zound Industries. Internal research and development departments across the industry are poised to take the first steps in innovative services.
Telecom providers are notably tapping into the new audience of multi-device users to take advantage of the relative cheapness of smartphones and smart gadgets. At the cutting edge, AT&T is involved in IBM’s smart cities which take the Internet of Things concept to an idealistic level. When a user can be surrounded with technology to the degree that it determines their office lighting and vending machine experience, there should be a clear prompt for all telecoms providers to look at the wider world.
The result of these digital trends and the strategies being used to exploit them is a telecoms industry moving ever closer to the world of computing. There is a degree of catch-up taking place as telecom providers implement digital ecosystems comprised of applications, devices and services that mirror those used by Google and Microsoft. These companies already synergize their entertainment with their advertising and their shopping with media content (and all things between).
Telecom providers must enter this world of interconnected services with a strong armoury of digital assets. They must understand the nature of digital ecosystems and the value of the right partners in the right places. They must know the costs of change and what aspects of their structure need to be left behind, while having plans in place to monetize the new kinds of big data and advertising that they will encounter. Business customers will be key in making or breaking telecom providers who follow these trends, having more stringent demands on service and reliability.
All vertical markets are seeing strong trends towards a digital, interconnected market where the consumer has more choice than ever before. Existing business operators must identify the needs the digitally savvy consumer and position themselves to meet those needs before the next company does.
Simplifying the Transition to a Managed Services Provider from Traditional Information Technology
MSP (Managed IT Services) v. Break/Fix Tech Support Services
Most Tech Support businesses operate in the traditional style of break/fix tech support and pre-paid tech support models. We’re going to look at the benefits and pitfalls of these models in comparison to a Managed Services Provider (MSP) and ways to move between models with minimal risk.
What’s wrong with the old way?
For clarity, break/fix tech support is the traditional structure of billing for payment in arrears of repair work, pre-paid refers to a very similar system but with payment in advance of work. Both models rely on the customer to request the break/fix tech support company’s services, usually in response to a technical failure.
These models have been in place for a long time because they have a lot of benefits. However, those benefits tend to be most effective in the short-term and decreasingly effective thereafter.
The benefits are nonetheless clear. break/fix tech support is the obvious starting point for a break/fix tech support business, taking orders as they are commissioned, building up a client base for jobs completed. Selling this kind of service is straightforward, as the customer simply receives an invoice for the amount of hours completed and the rate charged.
Even business clients and professional customers will often find it easier to pay in this fashion. The direct approach is attractive for obvious reasons, has little risk and set-up involved and is understandably the clear first step needing Information Technology (IT) and Telecom assistance.
The pitfalls are less obvious but will become apparent over time. There is a misalignment between the needs of the business and the tech support company. The business needs their systems working all the time, but instead must suffer downtime waiting for repairs. The tech support business needs a steady flow of work, but customers in this model are only calling for support when they absolutely need it; so if something breaks for months another tech support may be needed for a faster turnaround as revenues dry up. The business’s fixed costs, such as Information Technology (IT) staff, generally stay in place while outside tech support costs are sporadic.
This reactive arrangement which can be very stressful as your company waits by the phone for resolution of a problem. Even worse, the break/fix tech support business only sees your company when something goes wrong. This can lead to mistrust, even when there’s no fault in tech support services.
Breaking away from pre-paid or break/fix tech support can be difficult because the mind-set of hourly pay for clearly delineated work is hard to shake. However, it does provide a great foundation, especially in the early days of business technology for companies, on which it was a sustainable model.
Managed Services Provider to the rescue
We can define a Managed Services Provider as proactive, outsourced Information Technology (IT) support for a fixed fee. Rather than waiting for breakages and charging to fix them, this model is based on ongoing support. It is in the best interest of the Managed Services Provider to keep systems running 24/7 because they are not being paid every time something breaks down or goes wrong. Businesses also are able to finally have all systems running efficiently rather than having small tech support problems linger on for years.
Managed Services is therefore a great way to cut out downtime between jobs and build positive relationships. The company has a fixed monthly or annual cost instead of paying out when things go wrong, feeling more like insurance than emergency response. Our clients are able to unburden themselves of Information Technology (IT) support, having paid for peace of mind provided by the SeDanGroup. They can expect a constant level of support (depending on the terms of your Service Level Agreement) which keeps everything flowing smoothly and in short, is prevention rather than cure.
The benefits are clear for the company, too. Customers are kept for the long-term, paying monthly and enjoying dedicated support with fewer unexpected breakages. They are far less likely to move to other providers when SeDanGroup is already on-call. These pre-paid fees are easy to keep track of, allowing a company to forecast revenues based on a quick headcount of their clients and their respective packages. Reducing risk in this fashion is always desirable and makes planning easier, as your company no longer has to rely on chasing tech support problems day-to-day.
There are other extraneous benefits, too; notably the sales positioning that Managed Services offers. Customers already paying a trusted company like SeDanGroup for Information Technology (IT) support will look to us first for all additional Information Technology (IT) matters. New computers, network upgrades, offsite backup of data, software packages, strategic consulting and more are likely to be referred to our company. Warranties will often be managed alongside this kind of ongoing support and when manufacturer warranties expire, our company is ideally placed to provide new ones. Needless to say, Managed Services businesses tend to have more value at any given time.
The Cautions of Switching to a Managed Services Provider
When taking on a Managed Services model, a company must realize the risks. For small companies in particular, changing the company’s entire operating model can present big challenges and potential pitfalls. The key is in knowing what hazards await and how to manage expected risks.
The road to Managed Services starts with promoting a more robust service. Before making the leap, it’s wise to assess your business and the potential profits to get an idea of what to expect. You should know what your company can offer and what your costs will be before attempting to scale to Managed Services.
The first step is reducing costs. You can do this in various ways, such as using remote support software to minimize downtime from callouts. You may consider using tools to lock down the user’s systems to prevent installation of other software or tampering with settings. There will often be a first-time cost incurred to you as we spend time assessing the current systems and performing remedial maintenance to bring it up to standard. Reducing costs also means clearly defining what is offered in our services, as you can charged more for additional duties. You can also proactively book separately billed maintenance health-checks, or include them in higher-priced packages.
You will have dedicated staff for your ongoing tech support. This will likely involve having staff on-call, to promptly attend problems as they arise. You may also have to sacrifice legacy software or old operating structures to make this transition work. We ensure that your helpdesk system supports fixed-fee reporting according to your Service Level Agreement.
Make the most of the pro-active operation of Manages Services to monitor company systems for potential breakages and prevent them, while taking steps to improve overall system performance and software upkeep. We know about network faults before our customers does because of the right monitoring software, especially if we set error detection to automatically alert your company’s help-desk team.
There are tools on hand to help. Consider, especially during our first week of set-up with a new client, the value of server and systems documentation, disk clean-up and de-frag, remote support software, malware removal and maintenance utilities. We test everything installed to ensure it works correctly and works remotely when applicable. Be prepared to incur some time costs in training the customer’s Information Technology (IT) or admin staff to use new support tools and protocols for logging a problem. Demonstrations are invaluable.
Consider and analyse all these aspects of a Managed Services Provider before committing to the change. You must know that our workforce can handle all sorts of repairs, you must be sure that you can update your systems within budget, you must know where and how your company can grow and that your staff will be amicable to this change.
Your Move to a Managed Services Provider
When you decide to scale your business, start with educating yourself and your staff. Take on a few Managed Services contracts and see how we operate first hand, fine-tuning your service as we learn about your business processes and culture.
Remember that one size does not fit all; you do not have to abandon break/fix tech support entirely, instead can use it as a opportunity for your Managed Services Provider to assist with telecom including VoIP phones and internet (data) connection packages.
A company which has prepared itself for the risks of a new model will always be better off than a company which has not and stayed behind. With a handle on the kinds of service agreements SeDanGroup offers, how to market them and how to deliver a proactive support system instead of ‘putting out fires’, you can make the transition to Managed Services sooner than you think.