As most of us in the Legal IT/Finance Systems world know, the End of Life for Elite Enterprise (currently scheduled for 31 December 2022) is rapidly approaching and I wanted to take a moment to highlight some areas of focus that with the right effort, will help make the transition to a new Practice Management System (PMS) a smoother endeavor.
I will highlight a few problem areas and how to avoid some common issues that should make your journey to an alternative PMS a less bumpy affair. Don’t fall in to the trap that the end of life for Elite Enterprise is what’s driving the move. The main target of any new implementation is to improve efficiency within your business and is therefore an opportunity to bring modern ideas to the table provided it improves your internal processes.
I have seen a growing number of law firms engaging in external consultancy firms to help instruct and guide them through the selection process of their new PMS. If you are an Elite Enterprise client then presumably you are already in discussions about your next move and if you are not, you probably should be. Having managed 3E implementations on behalf of TRE and experienced the service from afar, leveraging the support of an external consultant in this capacity certainly has major benefits for the law firm. It works well on different levels in terms of protecting the stakeholders of the project by protecting the best interests of the law firm. They provide an independent input throughout the entire process (including the project lifecycle too) but always with a significant bias towards the client (they are getting paid by the client after all). Having this level of representation during the implementation (including monthly Steering Committee’s throughout the project) adds a tremendous amount of value to the law firm and ensures vendors are held accountable to whatever wonderful promises are given during the sales pitch! They also serve to help safeguard client/vendor relationships amongst many other value adds.
Some of the obvious focus areas during this selection process are Business Planning, Software Analysis, Vendor Reputation, Demo’s, Decisions and Contract Negotiation, which are all vitally important, but an area that also needs important consideration is the impact the project will have on client’s internal teams and resources. There is an enormous demand on the client’s internal resources, which can be a common oversight during Business Planning on these type of projects as to some board members/leaders within the organisation you are simply replacing a Finance System. Therefore, why does the entire support structure have to change? The system will evolve the business, subsequently your teams will need to evolve with it.
Early open discussions about increasing head count during business planning of the selection process is vital, as investing in a new PMS does not come cheaply. If this is overlooked, you will then have to hold unpopular conversations with business leaders further down the line about how you need to realign the support structure within the firm to accommodate the project and the system. Asking for an extra five FTEs is not an easy conversation to have.
Discussions on whether to backfill staff to release the SME’s involvement of the project, or re-aligning your current team structures to support this type of implementation up front, is a very good idea. You will benefit over the course of the project if preparation for the internal teams starts during this selection process.
Remember, this is something that may only happen once in 20 years, so it is vital that this effort has sufficient dedication from the business. The investment shouldn’t stop at the vendor’s product and services.
In summary, defining a project team ahead of the project launch whilst ensuring there is sufficient coverage to perform the vital day to day business tasks, is an important balancing measure that you need to tackle to allow the firm to support this kind of project and to carry on operating as a business. Sounds basic, however, it is a common oversight. I have experienced first-hand where firms have over extended their staff to form the project team and yet are still expected to deliver their daily business tasks. This can put pressure on timelines and deliverables, which inevitably cause delays to the project. It is unrealistic to expect your staff to continue to complete their usual daily tasks as well as complete the project tasks. Consider the FTEs required during implementation, for GO LIVE transition and beyond to effectively support your new system.
Another area where you can get ahead of the game is to spend time understanding your current processes including any customisations that make up your processes (again basic, but fundamental to a successful implementation). During my time in the industry, I have encountered several Law firms that do not know the full extent of their current procedures. Notably, around old legacy style integrations where there is no internal knowledge of the solution, what it does and having to maintain a physical machine just to keep the solution functioning! This lack of knowledge can result in wasted effort during the strategy/discovery phases of the project as well as delaying the decisions required to complete defining the scope of the project with the vendor.
It is a good idea to review your current processes in advance of the project launch. Some things that may have been a necessity 5-10 years ago, may no longer be relevant today so focus in this area will help the success of the project.
Ask your vendors for access to a demo instance to help your SMEs understand where potential deviations from your current processes are needed to help alleviate complex, costly customisations as having an understanding of stock functionality is the best foundation to build out custom solutions. Potential custom solutions may be avoided with the hindsight of user experience and could save the firm ££££.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges on the project is around the conversion process. I’ve seen this cause critical delays to the project.
I always advise clients to spend time reviewing and cleaning their data upfront to ease the pain usually endured during your data mapping and conversion cycles. Typically, this is the biggest obstacle within this type of implementation. Focusing on data integrity is probably the best counsel there is before embarking on the 3E implementation journey (or whatever product is selected to replace Elite Enterprise) as the same principles apply for any implementation. Focus on specific areas such as incorrect lzero flags, which can result in an imbalance in the target system because the complex nature of identifying receipts/reversals; Vouchers that are paid that have open balances, paid vouchers not linked correctly to cheques, etc. Furthermore, review your UDFs and ask yourself if these are adding value to the business. Are they necessary? The less complex the data, the easier it is to convert and balance post conversion. It is also worth giving thought to future proofing your data particularly in the GL. You may not need Office now, but what if you expand? Will you ever need to report at department level etc.?
Ask the vendor up front for staging tables of the new system to give you an early indication of how the data should look, which may help identify any obsolete or inaccurate data. A good starting point is a system in balance. Many Law firms have lived with historical imbalances until this point but now is a good opportunity to address these differences. Bringing the legacy system into balance will ensure you are about to build the new system on good foundations.
Obviously, all firms are different and there are many ways to prepare for a new PMS project and I’m not professing that the discussion above will avoid the standard pain and suffering during the project, but it will certainly help you position your firm for the implementation beast that awaits you!