Ascertus blog

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Ascertus Blog

Time for a Chat with Your Support Partner About Quality of Service?

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Quality of service is often a subjective concept with people defining its components and metrics differently. From a technology vendor’s perspective, superior quality of service is a combination of a reliable solution and a high level of support. Here are five signs that a conversation with your technology vendor is in order:

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To SharePoint or to Best-of-Breed – That Is The Question!

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The frustration of legal departments when trying to secure budget from the business for legal-specific solutions is an open secret.  Typically, in corporate organisations, the IT department holds the overall budget for technology and so has the final say in what tools the legal department can deploy.  Invariably, due to a lack of understanding of the requirements of the lawyers, IT departments prefer to deploy solutions that they believe will be beneficial to the whole organisation – from an adoption, cost, implementation, maintenance and user benefit perspectives.

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Responsiveness, Responsibility and Reliability

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What makes a good Support Helpdesk?  The latest survey conducted independently by iManage highlights that Ascertus is very highly rated for the quality of its Support services by customers.  We have also significantly improved our rating from last year.  Such instances are always a good time for introspection – what are we doing well and how can we improve our offering even further?


It boils down to the holy trinity of the three ‘R’s – responsiveness, responsibility and reliability:

Responsiveness

In the last few months, Ascertus has won a significant amount of new business and therefore the number of seats we are supporting has increased significantly.  Like any Support organisation, we have agreed Service Level Agreements (SLA) with individual organisations of course, but our objective is to always be responsive to customer requirements – regardless of the SLA.  It’s imperative to acknowledge and record receipt of the issue in a meaningful way, be it with a phone call or a personal email to the customer by a HelpDesk team member, reassuring them that we will deal with the problem in a way that is least disruptive to their organisation.  At Ascertus, to make sure that we achieve this, besides the core support team, we have additional support technicians on call, so we always have the bandwidth.  Clients are never impacted by changes in our workload.

Responsibility

Typically, customers reach out to their support partner because the measures they have already undertaken haven’t worked.

Larger clients usually reach out regarding higher severity cases, which whilst less common will have a much greater impact on the business, when they do. So, we are mindful of the effect the situation is likely having on both the business and individuals, and have escalation processes in place to ensure that cases are speedily progressed.

On the other hand, smaller organisations who don’t have dedicated IT resource in-house are generally more reliant on their support partner for lower priority issues, which purely based on SLAs do not require the same level of responsiveness, but occur more often which has a bearing on the businesses’ day to day operation. We appreciate that low priority cases (based on SLA criteria) may appear higher priority to those affected, and we are aware of our responsibility to such situations.

Therefore, sensitivity to customer requirements in both situations (higher volume, lower priority / lower volume, higher priority) is a must.

Even where there’s an issue that impacts a product we support – although the fault may not be of the supported product – we try to help identify the problem and point them in the right direction for further assistance. Our customers appreciate this responsible attitude.

Reliability

When requesting support, consistency is key. Support technicians with a wealth of in-depth knowledge and experience individually is important but their ability to work closely together and pool knowledge will greatly enhance the support service. This ensures that regardless of who in the team a customer speaks to, they always get the same, consistent quality of care. At Ascertus, Support undergoes regular training so that the team is up to date on the various solutions the company provides, but also more broadly on the technological landscape, given how quickly technology is evolving.

In addition, we have well-embedded internal processes for record keeping of conversations, notes and communications, so that in the absence of an individual, service is never compromised.

We are delighted that the quality of our Support services is being recognised by customers. We are constantly fine-tuning our processes and looking for ways to enhance the service so that we can address issues in the most speedy and effective manner.

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Corporate Policy Must Change in Favour of Digital Signatures

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I’m often asked by lawyers, especially working for an in-house legal team, to send them a physical copy of the newly agreed contract for a deal with a ‘wet ink’ signature. I’m informed that it’s corporate policy and it baffles me! I can send the document with a digital signature via email within minutes, but to send the same via post, I need to scan the 30-40 pages, print, sign and then post. On receiving the document, the lawyer likely follows the same process to send a signed copy back.

Aside from it being a highly inefficient and cumbersome process, in today’s technology-driven world, there’s a business rationale behind digital signatures:

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A private Hosted System Provides a Great Test Environment Too?

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The benefits of privately hosted systems are many – ability to scale up or down, technical support, cost-effectiveness and business continuity.  I’ll steer clear of using the term ‘cloud based’ because it’s become a highly emotive and suspiciously regarded term by the legal market.  


However, there’s commercial merit in using a hosted systems supplier, not necessarily for production systems’ environments, but as a suitable, alternative solution for non-production environments, such as test, development, archive and training.  By selectively locating these ‘other’ server environments on to a hosted platform; and outsourcing the maintenance of business solutions (i.e. document management, CRM, practice management, etc.) to an external, securely administered platform of remote data centres (e.g. Microsoft Azure) – law firms can reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Surprisingly, implementing a hybrid approach to using discrete hosted systems is currently a little used strategy.  The benefits are several, for instance, it offers a cost-effective approach to development and testing of software for both major and incremental upgrades. It allows firm’s to adopt a need-based methodology to resourcing development and testing platforms, regardless of whether the exercise is being undertaken in-house or by third party developers. For instance, to upgrade to or test new code in a document management system, the IT department may require a test/development environment that is a complete replication (same processor power, memory and disk capacity) of the firm’s entire production network for only a fraction of the time. So rather than investing in dedicated test and development hardware that potentially gathers dust for the majority of time, a privately hosted environment can provide the necessary resources exactly when needed; and crucially, the firm only pays for capacity that the IT team in fact uses.

Instead of incurring capital expenditure on underutilised server hardware, test and development environments can be maintained under a ‘pay as you go’ operational budget. There is no upfront purchase cost and the technology does not depreciate in value. Importantly, the savings and efficiency gains made by the firm through adopting a private hosted approach for selective environments can be appropriately passed on to other more business critical projects.

a privately hosted environment can provide the necessary resources exactly when needed; and crucially, the firm only pays for capacity that the IT team in fact uses.

Some law firms are – in my view – making the mistake of entirely discounting using private hosted solutions, not just for document management systems, but for other firm-wide systems too.  Firms will do well to investigate private hosted technology systems as part of an integrated larger business strategy.  A private hosted environment can be complementary to on-premise deployments – i.e. a private hosted environment for test and development, business continuity, disaster recovery and select technology systems; but on-premise infrastructure for practice and case management systems to allay any potential concerns that some law firm customers may have.

Law firms cannot afford to delay updates to business critical applications.

Taking this approach can also help with ensuring that law firms upgrade to latest software versions in a timely manner. By way of an example, with the Microsoft Windows 2003 Server and SQL Server 2005 now unsupported by Microsoft, many law firms are currently being forced to upgrade various systems, including iManage Work (formerly HP Worksite) – irrespective of whether the time is right from a business standpoint. A private hosted solution as well as test and development environment outside the firewall provides resources in parallel, which is less disruptive to business.

In today’s larger business environment where IT underpins law firms and their customers, the pace of technological change is rapid. Law firms cannot afford to delay updates to business critical applications. Hence, the virtue in a carefully structured, two-pronged privately hosted and on-premise technology systems strategy.

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SaaS vs. Hosted – the debate rages on!

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Cloud computing is gathering momentum in the legal sector – organisations can’t ignore the benefits of low costs and flexibility offered by this technology. From talking to firms, for many the toss up is between Software as a Service (SaaS) and Hosted models of cloud computing. Both cloud computing standards have valid reasons to exist of course, but firms should carefully evaluate the merits of each and suitability to their needs before committing to either model.


Let’s look at the fundamentals.

SaaS systems are based on a ‘multi-tenancy’ environment whereby a single instance of the software runs on a server (which could be located in any jurisdiction in the world) and serves multiple tenants/users.  So by their nature, multi-tenancy systems require the software to be shared across all users of the system, who connect via the same front end, but the embedded business logic allows individuals to see only their own data.  Potentially, there are security and data protection issues to be wary of.  You as a firm are beholden to your software provider for the state of your technology – i.e. the software provider decides when to upgrade the system (regardless of whether the timing is right for your firm) – as the software upgrade is designed to occur for all users simultaneously.

ensure that you always retain the option to change your cloud service provider or even move to an on-premises solution, should the business need arise

On the other hand, Hosted solutions, (also called ‘multi-instance’ architectures), operate software installations individually for each firm, giving each organisation its own instance of software.  You have the choice and flexibility to run on a version of software that’s right for your firm at any point in time.  You can also decide the level of support and business continuity required and as you also ‘own’ the software installation – so you have full control over your data, your documents and their accessibility.  The solution is fully scalable – up or down.  The hosted model is quite simply a method for outsourcing your systems in an externally managed data centre rather than your own.  This for many Professional Services businesses is more acceptable to clients, than the thought of their data being stored in a shared SaaS environment.

Another area worth exploring is the capability offered by both models for offline working

When assessing such solutions, think about the future too.  Ensure that you always retain the option to change your cloud service provider or even move to an on-premises solution, should the business need arise.  This requires determining how you can get access to data and how quickly, which is generally simpler with a hosted solution.Another area worth exploring is the capability offered by both models for offline working. Most hosted solutions enable the system to manage the connectivity, but if a SaaS solution is your preference, ensure you understand from your service provider the options available in the event of the system being unavailable.

There have been some high profile instances recently when SaaS solutions have failed, leaving end users without access to their systems.These are only some of the issues that you should be mindful of.  The crux is – whatever model you chose, ensure that it is the right one for your business, that it is secure and complies with all the statutory data protection regulations and that it offers you the flexibility to easily change course, should you need to in the future.

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The Contract Management Conundrum

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Recently, I met the head of an in-house legal department at an organisation who mentioned that they were in the process of renegotiating many of their contracts because they simply couldn’t find the documents in question! Surprising though it may sound, in reality it isn’t.


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