Professional Services: An Industry Preparing for a Sea Change, and a Lesson to Eat the Elephant Piece by Piece

People often think it’s ‘eating the entire elephant in one go, or nothing’ when it comes to consuming cloud. Our experience shows that almost always, the best approach is to start small and build up to more extensive cloud services.

This was my conclusion after I attended the latest Alternative Technology & Innovation Leaders’ Summit for Professional Services, where Rackspace was a key sponsor. I met with law firms representing the whole spectrum of cloud transformation maturity. There really is no single silver bullet for cloud success in this unique industry: firms are discovering that they need to experiment to work out what’s best for them.

The summit gathered heavy hitters from the professional services sector who wanted to see and be seen and to learn about solutions that will enable their organisations to be more competitive and impactful. I was particularly keen to put my ear to the ground to hear what people in the legal sector are thinking about these issues, as Rackspace is making a big push into this arena.  Which buzzwords got everyone’s attention that day, both during the panel discussions and at the bar afterwards…

As I had expected, productisation was one of the big themes – law firms are pivoting from an engagement model (fees for time) into a more modern operational model where clients simply pay for outcomes. In an era where we get our music not by buying albums but by subscribing to a streaming service, law firms are realising that a product-based model is the inevitable next step. This model is already being delivered by management consultancies, accountancy practices, and by competitors to the traditional legal services industry.

Thought leaders in the legal sector all know this of course, but what they largely don’t know is how they’re going to execute this tectonic shift, placing the clients’ needs at the centre of their services. Productisation in isolation doesn’t necessarily benefit the law firm, as it can create a downward pressure on fees and costs, and there’s a lot of nervousness in the industry about how to survive this major industry change. I sympathise with this, but as someone who works on the side of the solution provider, I’m also optimistic that if done right, productisation can represent a serious competitive advantage.

During the first day of the Alternative Technology & Innovation Leaders’ Summit for Professional Services, one thing that struck me was the disparity between the attendees – some were much further along their journey into the cloud than others. Leading the pack were the large organisations that already have a platform strategy in place, and who’re talking about how they’re meeting the challenges in realising benefits from Artificial Intelligence. Then there’s a middle tier of firms who’re discussing managing AWS/Azure/GCP and getting hands-on with new technologies, but who could use a hand to get on top of the vast number of options out there. And lastly, you have the companies who’ve not really started their journey yet, turning up to learn without a real agenda in place. They either don’t know where to start, or they do, but they need more ammunition about the benefits before they can get their risk-averse senior management onboard.

“Many of the delegates were keen to tackle moving into Azure, but didn’t know where to start. The common feeling is that they expect application service providers (SaaS) or managed service providers to come and sort it all out for them,” says Tim Bull (pictured), Solutions Director at Rackspace, who was a panellist in the discussion on productisation (“why professional services need to stop talking about services and hours, and embrace products and subscriptions”). “Some firms are already moving into Azure, but are maintaining a hybrid platform operations model which is stretching their IT resources. Many of them are ready to move more of their business services into the cloud from dedicated on-premise infrastructure. Blockers to moving from dedicated infrastructure include waiting out existing service provider contract terms, or writing off sunken capital in infrastructure assets.”

Customers in other sectors may come to us and ask us to move all their data into the cloud at once, even though they’re relatively new to the concept. The legal sector is different – you don’t get this request from law firms. While the appetite for cloud is as strong as in any other sector, there are many unique concerns. Some law firms wish for a better choice of custom, dedicated services tailor-made for the legal industry:

“Several people asked me if there’s a single, agile SaaS provider that would build them a customised Azure solution and run it,” says Bull, who has reservations that such a company with the sector, application, cloud tech and service management exists today. “The challenge is that would require a really new, and very extensive combination of disciplines, and pedigree. A custom sector SaaS service build would require product transformation management, go to market consultancy, application development, systems integration, cloud technology specialism AND managed service operations. At Rackspace, we have over 6000 employees who specialise in the last 2 in this list.”

This may sound negative, but law firms don’t need to build Rome in a day. Despite the obvious advantages of the cloud, a hybrid model that lets you move from on-premise to cloud when the time is right for you, is likely to be the best bet for the majority of law firms. If I could offer just a single piece of advice, I’d tell law firms who are still wondering how to make it all the way across to the cloud to relax, pick the next project, and give it a go. There’s no IT company out there with a single solution that will do this for you, so part of the challenge is to work out for yourself what it is you need:

“Put together a can-do team representing sales, service, CX and IT, with a modest budget and take a crack at cloud-modernising something. The mantra for the team and the project is ‘minimum viable’. Define a tight scope that delivers simple, tangible benefits to your operations or customers.  When you need help in the cloud, Rackspace can support you, but you may need specialist product management assistance first if you are tackling a traditional revenue-generating service.” says Bull. “It’s surprisingly possible to do a few things with a relatively small amount of capital, which will help build some momentum and start maturing your process. Microsoft Office 365 is often a great place to start to give you things like cloud-based email and document storage. “You’d be surprised what you can build in just a week.”

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