What You Need to Know About Building Leverage in Your Firm with IT
When Frontier Solutions first started working with law firms many years ago, our focus was largely a singular one: we were always on the lookout for new opportunities to help firms save money on IT costs with unique ways of packaging our services. We understood that no two law firms are created equally, so instead of trying to get people to change to fit our business model we tried to change our model to compliment theirs. You could choose from a retainer model if that was best for your organization, a break/fix model if that was more to your liking, etc.
Although we thought we were doing the right thing at the time, it wasn’t until we made a significant shift in our thinking that we really started to help our customers in a meaningful way. With this new line of thinking, not only did we see massive reductions in IT costs across the board (certainly more so than we had in the past), but we also unlocked a way to help our clients increase billable hours – thus supporting them as their firms started to grow at an incredible rate.
What was this new line of thinking? It was the product of a lot of time, effort and hard work… but it was also almost startlingly simple. We decided that instead of focusing on helping our law firm clients save money on IT costs, we would focus on giving them LEVERAGE within their businesses instead.
In this context, we’re using the term “leverage” to mean “the ability to use something to maximum advantage.” That “something” was IT – an idea that forms the foundation of many modern day businesses, but one that is also often misunderstood a great deal. Leaders in law firms across Calgary knew that they had to rely on IT, but they weren’t sure how to make the most out of what was quickly becoming a mandatory investment.
Frontier Solutions, however, did.
A New Approach for a New Era
This entire shift – both in terms of the way Frontier Solutions operated and with regards to what we were able to do for our customers – began by moving towards a partnership approach. Up until that point, we asked what types of IT services a business wanted and then we delivered them.
The problem is that sometimes “what someone wants” and “what someone needs” are two different things.
We didn’t get into this business to profit by selling people things they can’t use, so at that point we realized we needed to shift our point of view a few degrees. At the beginning of a relationship with a new client, we began to sit down and get to know their business on an almost intimate level. We would talk about why the business was founded, what they wanted to do, and where they hoped their organization would be in five years.
In other words, we put ourselves in the best possible position to understand not only where they were in their business, but where they wanted to go, too. At that point, they could now leverage our expertise to guarantee that IT was going to form the bridge to help them get there.
Again, every law firm is a little bit different – so it’s hard to get very specific about the positive results this change brought with it. However, this much-needed sense of leverage that was gained by our clients could be broken down into three pretty distinct benefits.
An Increase in Up-time
One of the major ways that we gave our firms leverage was also one of the most immediate: we were able to increase system up-time.
In the past, we took a decidedly break/fix approach to IT. Not wanting to charge our clients for something until it was absolutely necessary, we would wait for something to break, then we would snap into action and fix it. The problem was that this was a very reactionary approach to IT management – and one that almost always caused downtime while we waited to address a problem that has already happened, instead of working proactively to stop it from ever occurring in the first place.
These days, we proactively upgrade assets before they reach end-of-life. We monitor networks and other infrastructure components so that we can address small issues today before they become much larger (and more costly) ones tomorrow. We also backup as often as possible, guaranteeing that in the rare event that downtime does occur, it’s as minimal as humanly possible.
Our clients can now leverage the technology solutions that we’ve designed for them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. When you’re billing at $350 per hour, which some of our clients are, the ability to have unhindered access to emails, case files, and the like became a real profit driver.
A Simplified Budget
This in turn bled directly into the second most important way that we gave our clients leverage: we simplified their IT budgeting significantly. In the past, we used to leave certain tasks up to the client – things like figuring out computer usefulness, server upgrade timing, etc. We weren’t in a position to tell the client when a piece of hardware needed to be retired to make room for something more advanced – they would tell us, and we would act on this information.
But the problem is that these clients weren’t experts in IT – they were experts in the law. We were the experts in IT, which means that we should have been the ones recommending to them when the time was right to make certain strategic moves.
Not only did this guarantee that people were always getting the most out of their investment – it also helped dramatically simplify their budgeting, too. We became a part of the annual budgeting process, and because we were involved from the very beginning, we could help our firms not only foresee unexpected costs, but plan for them, providing a fixed monthly cost that would encompass all of their technology needs.
Leveraging a clear financial plan from the IT side of things had a trickle-down effect, and our firms could now confidently budget the other functions of the business.
Removing the Mental Weight
But finally, the biggest way that we helped build leverage for our law firm partners is also one of the longest lasting. Managing IT for even a small business can quickly become a full-time job, which is an issue when you’ve already got one of those monopolizing all of your time.
Even though we were a technology partner under our old structure, we still left our clients to carry a lot of that weight. By becoming a much more proactive organization, we were able to eliminate all of that mental weight of IT from their plates overnight. Instead of worrying whether or not their backups are current, whether or not their antivirus has been patched or whether or not they need to purchase new network attached storage, we worried about it for them, so that they could instead focus on the most important thing of all:
Being lawyers and fighting for the rights of people all across Calgary and the surrounding areas.
The truth is, even if you only spend a few hours a week working on computer-related issues, that’s a few hours that you’re not focusing on the important work you’re trying to do elsewhere. Likewise, the amount of real estate those issues take up in your subconscious brain is far, far greater than we realize.
Instead of forcing clients to become defacto chief information officers themselves, we gave our clients leverage by way of true executive level accountability. In the old days, many of our clients felt like they were the ones ultimately responsible for their IT, and it was weighing on them. Now, we’ve taken that burden from them, and in the best case scenario, IT is something they never think about anymore, and in the worst case scenario, they know they have someone who will take the lead if a problem ever does arise.
Adding It All Up
To be clear, the purpose of this article is not to persuade you to go out and hire us or any other IT company to solve all of your technology issues – an IT company is certainly not the only way that a law firm can increase their leverage when it comes to IT. However, if your firm’s relationship with technology feels more like the “before” picture that I’ve painted in this article, I do want to show you that there is a better way.
Our firms can now devote 100% of their time, passion and energy to the thing that matters most: winning cases and building the best possible practice they can.
That’s exactly the type of leverage I’d like to see your firm build, too.
When we made this shift in our thinking, in truth we only "tacked" about three degrees, but the results for our clients were massive. What is the three degree shift that your firm needs to take in your approach to IT in order to gain the type of leverage that can propel your business forward? That’s a conversation that I’d be happy to have with you – feel free to reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can schedule a getting-to-know-you phone call and start to figure that out.
Chantale Benoit is the CEO of Frontier Solutions, a Calgary IT support company that has been helping small businesses get the most from IT in a way that allows it to drive their business forward for the past 23 years. Learn more about Chantale and Frontier Solutions here.
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