That is the question.
After years of working in the professional services industry, we have seen a few great examples of organised and integrated IT landscapes in firms. However more often than not, law firms and other professional services firms are formed through a journey of mergers & acquisitions.
This means that they probably share a brand, but not necessarily too much else. Joint legal entities can be formed, but sometimes it is better, or there is a preference not to. Systems and processes could be harmonized (pun intended :)) between practice groups within the organizations, but there are plenty of cases where they are not, and for good reasons.
Operational impact of decentralized member firms
The same applies to many operational aspects of the previously separated member firms. Finance, HR, Legal, Marketing, ... and IT. This can lead to a large variety of critical IT applications used in the organisation, and multiple applications underpinning the same business function in parallel.
Regularly, and for their own reasons, firms subsequently decide to keep these parallel IT systems running, or at least for a transitional period. This means that someone needs to make sure data integrity is maintained across applications, data is aggregated somewhere and everyone has access to the right data at the right time.
We have seen many creative solutions to overcome this problem. Hence the title of our blog, which refers to makeshift. And sometimes makeshift has to make do - at least for a little while. However, the question should always be asked, whether there is a better way.
Especially if for particular business processes in professional services organisations a lot of manual effort is spent on getting data from A to B, aggregating reports and ironing out data integrity issues in the process. In many cases, billable hours (which directly translate to revenue) are lost over these activities, which is a shame.
It does not lead to better client service, or any value to anyone to spend all this manual effort if there is a better way. In fact, it arguably makes client service worse, if 'the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing', or if data / reports presented to clients contain errors due to application synchronization issues.
And this is the tip of the iceberg as we haven't mentioned value that is missed by not having reliable and timely data in one place or at least, functionally in sync (refer to our Master Data Management blog for the benefits).
Finally, it is worth mentioning information security, since law firms and professional services firms handle a lot of sensitive client data. Having a well-oiled machinery of applications, with data flowing through seamlessly, assists in reducing the attack surface of these firms and allows firms to put in place better controls around their critical data, which they are entrusted by their clients to protect.
Make this more concrete, please
Right - we will, because the last thing we want is for this blog to come across as a sales pitch with no substance. We have seen integrations yield wonderful benefits in law firms and professional services organisations in the following areas:
- Synchronizing all CRM instances globally, so that it is always clear which member firms and professionals are doing business with a client. This avoids embarrassing situations where client staff is approached by multiple professionals without any level of coordination in the approach. It also enables the firm to view clients, the services the firm provides and contact points holistically, thereby setting themselves up to maximize revenue opportunities.
- Ensuring the client & engagement acceptance and independence checking process is seamlessly integrated between the CRM and various back-end applications, resulting in a smooth workflow, which is much easier for staff to comprehend rather than having to access various different applications and spreadsheets. The integrated workflow also limits independence and risk management issues with accepting clients and engagements, since steps are designed to happen in a certain order and guidance around this can be provided in the integrated systems more readily.
- Integrating the CRM system to the Finance system, so invoices are triggered based on the data in the CRM system. Aside from not having to enter data twice, this has the benefit of being able to come to a 'single customer view' in the CRM system, which includes all financial transactions on the various engagements, including debtor status and disbursements/subcontractors.
- Although what we have seen in this industry mostly relates to CRM based integrations, our dream would be to work on a client that wants a timesheet-calendar integration.... or anything that would make the timesheet process any easier. As we all know there is absolutely no-one that works at a law firm or other professional services firm that enjoys doing their timesheet! It is for good reasons that people tend to congratulate leavers of these firms when they go to industry, for no longer having to complete any timesheets (and we can confirm from our own personal experience that this is a massive improvement to our lives indeed). And yet again, all those hours that could have been better spent on billable client work.
So why can't we think up a way to do this better? All the data that needs to go into a timesheet, already exists somewhere. It's just a matter of liquefying it!
Let's do it!
In short, we would love to further this debate, with anyone who is interested. Even if we are not the right party to assist with the integration challenge at hand, we know the landscape well and are happy to recommend a solution that would be a good fit.
After all, we know how much joy a great integration can bring though the experience of working with our Harmonizer clients. And we love coffee, most of all. Any excuse will do.
Please reach out to us in case a conversation would be of interest!
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay