Effective Technology Enablement Starts and Ends with Understanding the User

There is so much focus around “innovation” in the professional services industry at the moment, and I have written about many of the challenges with this. These include the technologies people are exploring, the methods being used, the changing needs of clients or the way in which collaboration has an essential role to play. Arguably though this all counts for nothing if the technology in question is not deployed effectively and successfully adopted by the end-user.

Over the previous months, numerous people have contributed articles around this topic exploring the different aspects from law, accounting, property and in-house. What I can say with certainty having reviewed them all is that there is more consensus on approaches and importance than any other topic. Rather than link across to the many excellent articles which I would encourage you to read, instead, I will draw out ten takeaways from across the articles, adding my own perspectives and challenges to each.

Takeaway 1: Always start and end with the user

It sounds so obvious and yet it is so often overlooked. Involving the end-user in the process right from the outset will ensure that they are bought into the need to change. Having them involved in the process will ensure that they feel invested in the efforts and ensure a greater degree of success. Finally, checking in after the process will ensure that they are actually using the technology and feed in any challenges to the adoption of the future roadmap.

As a challenge; why is it that so often the very people the IT is for are not involved enough: is it perhaps that this makes the process harder?

Takeaway 2: Focus on the problem you are trying to solve at the outset, not the technology

Many articles made the point around ensuring that the starting point was not the technology but rather the problem. Again, this sounds so obvious and yet so many get carried away with the new shiny technology that they skip over the question of whether it is fixing a problem that really needs to be solved. Starting with the problem can also enable you to better assess ways to address the problem and also determine whether you have existing technology that can be applied. Simon Farthing from LexisNexis makes some good points in his article around the fact that this focus on the problem at the outset will also help adoption down the line.

As a challenge; why is it that people seem to say this but in reality often start with the technology: is it that it takes different skills to define problems than to select technology?

Takeaway 3: Ensure there is a robust process for technology evaluation and deployment

Having a robust process for technology evaluation and deployment is essential to ensure both an accurate assessment of the different options and then a structured path of deployment. There were some excellent and in-depth thoughts set out in the article by Lindsay Lovell of Busy Lamp around this topic. It is also worth considering the process that is used in technology selection, and Mo Zain Ajaz from National Grid sets out some good approaches for use by in-house, such as peer review and the need to go and see technology in action.

As a challenge; the very fact that this is still a topic rather than just second nature says that perhaps people don’t like to follow process as it can be arduous and time-consuming?

Takeaway 4: Many professionals such as lawyers now expect an active role in technology selection

One area that has changed over the years is the amount of involvement that professionals such as lawyers now want to have in technology selection. As Stephanie Richards of Duff & Phelps sets out in her article, many lawyers not only want this involvement but expect it. As technology enablement shifts from being back-office focused around the business aspects towards being about the way in which professionals practice, this is logical given both the threat and opportunity it can potentially have on their work.

As a challenge; is there a danger of an emerging challenge around decision making in partnerships, more so than in the past, once everyone wants a say?

Takeaway 5: The people you involve will be essential to the success of the change

It again seems obvious to state that technology enablement is really about business change and so addressing this as a way to embed change is a good place to start. The people that are involved in driving this change will be essential to the chances of success in the adoption of new technology.

As a challenge; does this point to the fact that all IT enablement projects should instead be run as change projects?

Takeaway 6: IT should be integrated into the business rather than operating and being seen as a separate unit

Obviously, when considering IT enablement the IT team has a key role to play and in his article Nigel Stott of Hudgell Solicitors explores the question of whether the IT team should be a separate team or should in fact operate in a more integrated way across the business. There is a clear distinction between infrastructure and business change projects and being able to distinguish between the two is important. IT will increasingly be central to enabling the way in which business is done and cannot, therefore, be left as the sole focus of an IT function.

As a challenge; are we seeing a more active need to define the role of IT across the organisation and move away from a functional approach?

Takeaway 7: Design integrated systems and processes

When reviewing how to better enable the business through IT, it is worth considering the good points made by Sophie Adams of Ecovis around the need to design integrated systems and processes. People have very little patience these days and expect IT to be a seamless experience. Interoperability of systems and a real focus on the customer experience are essential in order to ensure that new technology stands the best possible chance of adoption.

As a challenge; while this is undoubtedly the right approach, how do we encourage competing vendors to play nicely in order to make this happen?

Takeaway 8: Leadership of change initiatives will dictate success

A key factor of success in achieving the desired change through technology is leadership. As Reuben Barry of Ecovis talks about in his article, the importance that the leadership assign to the adoption of a new way of working is paramount. Seeing the leadership working in new ways and embracing the changes is crucial to achieving successful change.

As a challenge; this has been said for a long time but is there a danger that many leaders agree with this but merely pay lip service to the approach?

Takeaway 9: User centricity overcomes resistance to change

Resistance to change driven by technology is common. In her article, Amy McConnell of Vodafone talks about how to overcome resistance to change by in-house lawyers. The key to addressing resistance to change is user-centricity. Only by making people’s lives easier will they truly adopt new technology. Unfortunately, anything that is not easy to use and does not make people more efficient in their work will not be adopted.

As a challenge; this is a central theme and yet how many organisations have people with user-experience backgrounds to ensure that this is front and centre?

Takeaway 10: The majority see this as a challenge of internal adoption, and few mention the client

What was perhaps interesting across the articles that people wrote was the large focus towards internal enablement of IT and the way in which to address change within organisations. What very few talked about was IT enablement as a way of delivering better quality services to their customers. How can IT be used to enable better service delivery? So my final takeaway would be that while internal use of IT is important, very few clients will see the direct benefits of this. Therefore it is important to really consider how IT will be used in effective service delivery in the future and how customers will be involved in this process. It might be helpful to review the recent articles on collaboration around this point.

As a challenge; consistently the majority of focus around all things relating to “innovation” tends to gravitate to an internal focus and yet the comms talk of client focus, so how do we begin shifting the focus to have actions match words?

In conclusion, while technology enablement is an important area it is perhaps not the most exciting one; however effective IT enablement is the area that will ultimately determine whether IT-based change will succeed within organisations. There is a lot of commonality in the approaches and the challenges that people see. However, there is perhaps a bias towards seeing this through an internal lens rather than seeing the bigger picture on how IT will transform service delivery and the very real challenges in making this happen effectively.

Simon Drane

Simon Drane

earlsferry advisory
Simon has held numerous positions within the professional services sector over the last 25 years, at a FTSE 100 legal information solution provider, a legal technology consultancy, a law firm, an accounting firm, and a legal membership organisation. Simon has qualifications in law and tax, and deep experience in commercial product strategy. Simon has board level experience of both executive and non-executive roles, and as CEO of a technology startup. He has a strong track record in creating innovative product strategies resulting in multiple new multimillion pound high growth lines of business. Simon led the new investments product strategy area at LexisNexis and created and launched many of the next generation content and workflow product offerings for lawyers. At the Law Society Simon ran the commercial arm of the organisation and restructured a set of commercial investments through taking board seats. He also implemented a new commercial strategy including a significant shift in focus to legal technology innovation including the launch of a legal tech focused Barclays EagleLab accelerator. Simon has also held senior knowledge management roles in both law and accounting firms. Simon established earlsferry advisory towards the end of 2018 to help people with their product strategies, whether they are technology businesses, professional services businesses or investors into these spaces.