Digital transformation is now widespread – Amazon, Airbnb, online banking apps and even the move to autonomous cars are prime examples. Fundamentally, it is fuelled by client demand for a user experience that enables individuals to access and consume services/information, the way they want it, when they want it and from the device they want to use at any point in time. This is achieved by automating paper and other ad hoc business processes, thereby creating business efficiency and enhancing service to clients.
Digital is shaking up both the law and the way legal services are delivered. Clients and employees are becoming accustomed to technology-enabled conveniences and a superior customer experience in their personal lives and expect the same in the professional environment too. So, for legal services providers, core to digital transformation is automating and digitising manual processes; joining disparate information to gain visibility and insight into the business; and empowering employees to work in the way they want and from where ever they are.
Additionally, in an ever-increasing competitive and digital environment, achievement of strategic objectives of the firm – be it winning new business, expanding into other markets, or anything else – will need to be driven by informed decision-making, and delivery of better value (not lower costs) to clients. A digital transformation-led approach to business will allow firms to attract and develop the right talent for their firm, and differentiate their offering – all underpinned by the most accurate intelligence in real time.
In reality, law firms have already initiated their digital transformation journey – email is the number one communication tool, the ‘contacts’ in mobile phone devices have replaced the Filofax and so on, which show that digital transformation is real and in no way new or a fad that will go away.
However, to truly embrace digital transformation, the core technology platform that firms use will play a defining role in the long-term and sustained success of their initiative. A cloud-based, enterprise resource planning (ERP)-led approach to technology adoption has proven successful for such programmes in other industries – from retail, manufacturing and construction to financial services, among others. It facilitates cybersecurity, continuous improvement, regulatory compliance and innovation – all of which are key to enabling law firms to deliver an efficient, polished and intuitive service that proactively meets clients’ changing needs well into the future.
An ERP platform seamlessly joins together the different systems and functions – from matter inception, invoice and billing, and financial accounting through to HR, talent management, reporting and business intelligence – in a single system. This unified platform is underpinned by a common data model to facilitate all the business processes, end to end. So, right from initial client engagement through to cash collection and everything in between, takes place on one technology platform.
Consequently, all the data is accessible from a single place with the real-time information available to users, based on their role in the business, at the touch of a screen. This kind of immediate insight to users then enables law firms to proactively optimise operations and service delivery, manage risk and react quickly to business opportunities.
In law firms, where the human resource is often the organisations ‘competitive advantage’ in terms of the expertise of its lawyers, an ERP system streamlines and automates resource utilisation and talent management. This enables the firm to create teams with the best fit skillset, based on availability and experience, to deliver optimal outcomes for clients, while optimising the organisation’s human capital.
Firms can automate all routine, administrative tasks across the business as well as apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to business processes in the background to deliver an efficient and consistent service. For instance, when a new matter is onboarded, the ERP system can automatically analyse all the data (experience, expertise, talent, pricing structure, and so on related to every lawyer) in the system, based on historical records of cases to determine the best lawyer for the job and ensure the highest success rate. The system takes away the pain of this task and helps the firm safely make informed decisions.
All these benefits of ERP increase manifold when the solution is deployed in the cloud, greatly advancing digital transformation. It makes cloud, mobility, infrastructural resilience and security all standard. From a business standpoint, reporting and analytics become part of the solution in one place, eliminating segregation of data and the potential delays to information access that the user might be faced with when data resides in different locations.
From a technology management standpoint, IT resource can focus on value-adding activities instead of just keeping everything working together. Not only are there no hardware costs to implement the solution in the cloud, firms can also retire multiple legacy/standalone applications, thereby reducing expensive support and maintenance of numerous systems bolted together in an attempt to provide a single user experience and data in one place.
Firms eliminate the burden of time-consuming and costly periodic system upgrades and downtime. ERP systems have the capability to evolve and keep pace with technology developments. With continuous, incremental updates being routine, platform improvements and new capabilities automatically become available, but more crucially firms have the agility and flexibility to fine-tune processes or even course correct to keep up with the pace of change in the wider industry.
ERP systems in the cloud are supremely scalable and hence put very little pressure on IT when more capacity is quickly needed for new projects, new office openings or in merger and acquisition situations.
In this current world where a breach potentially poses one of the biggest threats to a firm, security is the best that it can be. All data and connections are encrypted by default, with clear privacy policies and compliance frameworks coming as standard.
With all of a firm’s management data stored in the same place, reliability of information is unquestionable, which enables people to make faster and better decisions. This capability is then further enhanced with secure system access from any device, in any location and at any time. The productivity benefits to users, be they fee earners, partners, departmental heads or any other, is tangible.
All this cumulatively helps mitigate business risk, reduce operational costs, ensure security, best practice and financial compliance – to positively impact profitability.
A cloud-based ERP approach presents the best way forward for digital transformation to law firms. It is proven in other industries, firms always have the most current technology in place to conduct business operations and indeed innovate – in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
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