Debenhams Ottaway Virtual IT Director
Definition and implementation of a IT strategy for a progressive regional law firm.
To align IT with business and improving reliability and performance whilst bringing expenditure in line with industry benchmarks.
- IT issues were a regular occurrence which hampered productivity
- Expenditure on IT had risen to 9.6% of turnover – a premium price for sub-optimal service.
- Lack of a thought-through and comprehensive IT strategy had led to an ad-hoc “shopping list” approach
Below is a brief overview of this technology journey:
Short-term Tactical Quick Wins
Our initial recommendations were focused around undertaking tactical remediation activities to address immediate challenges including :
- Working with the incumbent supplier to adopt industry-standard processes and protocols to address day-to-day supplier performance issues.
- Determine the hosting and delivery strategy for Peppermint in order to address several long-standing issues.
- Address post-Peppermint, go-live training needs and improve system adoption.
Peppermint Hosting & Delivery
During the Peppermint project, it had been decided, as was common advice at the time, to set up and install the Peppermint solution “on-site” on servers provided and hosted by DO’s outsourced IT provider. In essence we had a 3 way relationship that had to be seamless for any chance for this to work optimally.
This led to significant expenditure of time and energy in coordinating configuration and upgrade changes between the parties, resulting in some system outages, and there was no clear ownership of issue resolution which led to some difficulties. The Peppermint platform puts a significant overhead on the hosting partner and with hindsight DO realised that it requires a deep skill-set in several different Microsoft technologies.
In order for DO to make an informed decision, we worked with the management team and Peppermint to define a clear business case and presented this to the CEO and equity partners who unanimously approved the proposal
||Move hosting of the Peppermint solution from the incumbent IT provider to the cloud solution offered by Peppermint themselves.|
||Change the delivery of applications from “Citrix App” to full “Citrix Desktop” mode.|
Peppermint Training & Adoption
During the Peppermint project go-live phase staff had been trained in the basics of Peppermint with particular focus on the introduction of new feature such as online billing authorisation. Some ad-hoc training had occurred on functional areas but there was not a firm-wide in-depth knowledge of all areas of the system and nor was their a long-term view on system adoption and end-user efficiency via training. DO were also reliant on Peppermint for all aspects of system customisation and development.
||Employ a full-time internal IT trainer / application specialist|
Our secondary recommendations were focused on the DO’s long-term IT strategy:
- Reducing IT expenditure to the market benchmark of 5% of fee income, whilst at the same time extracting better performance and creating tight relationship with IT service providers.
- Reducing risk of the IT outsourced hosting and support arrangements.
- Improving the desk-top application experience & performance for end-users.
- Improving the mobility and usability of remote access solutions.
- Increasing security by implementing enhanced procedures and tools.
Hosting & Service Provision
As early adaptors of cloud and outsourced IT services DO’s setup was typical of a “Cloud v1” configuration. IT services were delivered from a bespoke platform setup and supported by their IT provider with end-users running applications via Citrix.
One of the most significant challenges facing DO was that termination and data-extraction clauses in early cloud-based systems such as DO’s, are not as tight as one would hope and there was a significant risk because of the lack of an exit strategy as it is during such transfers that traditional cloud providers seek to charge excessive rates to undertake the work.
Our strategy therefore had to not only address technical challenges such as system performance we had to address a long-term business risk (and cost) of changing IT partner at the end of the contract term should that be necessary.
Given these challenges BDC developed a vision where all specialist or legacy applications such as Bighand, Videss, and Isokon would be delivered from servers on the Azure platform, whilst other needs such as document storage for teams and individuals and licensing would be via Office 365. All services will be consumed using powerful mobile devices or desktop PCs which would deliver a better end-user experience and address mobility challenges.
It’s rare to find an IT adviser who takes a hard look at the entire business strategy before formalising ideas based on how technology should underpin it.
David is fearless in his independent questioning and analysis of suppliers, ensuring we have made informed value adding choices in our procurement and day to day management of our technology needs.
Paul Khan, CEO Debenhams Ottaway
||Move from a bespoke private cloud setup onto the Microsoft enterprise platform.|
The recommendation to move to Azure and Office 365 not only aligned DO with Peppermint’s own strategic direction, it was also a recognition that, in our view, the “Microsoft Cloud” approach will become the de facto IT platform of choice for the majority of medium-sized firms.It’s particularly interesting to note that since going live in mid-October, there has been a lot of press relating to Farrer & Co and other major law firms announcing that they are planning to follow the same strategy as DO and move to the Microsoft Azure platform. Contributing factors include :
||Removal of Citrix|
During our review, we had identified the challenges of operating Peppermint in a Citrix environment. Having thoroughly investigated this avenue, it was our conclusion, based on the impact on end-user experience and system stability, that delivering Peppermint via Citrix was not a sustainable option.
Role of the IT provider
The move to Office 365 and Azure and removal of Citrix simplifies and clarifies the role of the IT service provider.
The provider is no longer focused on management of the infrastructure and essentially becomes a true service provider able to focus on:
- the support of end users.
- the management of other 3rd party suppliers.
- supporting enhancement project activities.
Should the worst happen and the provider not adhere to service standards their replacement is easy as the infrastructure will not need to be changed or data moved.
Service Partner Selection
In order to implement our vision it was essential we had a service provider who could deliver it. This also gave the opportunity to ensure that the vision set out and agreed by the CEO and partners stood up to external assessment.
|Recommendation||Undertake a competitive partner selection process|
The project was managed by the firm’s powerful IT steering group which was responsible for (and to which we at BDC were accountable to) governance and delivery of the IT strategy and its component projects.BDC ran a detailed and unique procurement process that covered everything from ‘fit’ with DO’s culture; through to an assessment of capability, ROI, customer credentials and an ability to deliver on a tough SLA. Our invitee mix therefore included large generic IT providers, niche, nationally-known, legal-sector specialists and local IT service providers. This rigorous process gave DO the confidence that our vision was leading-edge and could truly give the benefits outlined rather than being another case of IT consultants over-promising and under-delivering
Conclusion & Implementation
The implementation of the strategy was an extremely complex project which involved changing all aspects of DO’s IT setup. This was a true “ice berg” project.
During the execution phase our role became that of the project “critical friend” and sponsor. Having worked with the Quiss technical project to define a comprehensive project and risk minimisation plan, the vision was successfully delivered despite the complexity of this strategy.