James Knight, Managing Partner of Keystone Law, provides an insight on how to design and develop a user-friendly and bespoke IT Platform.

Some businesses grow exponentially without needing to take on any more staff. They may experience many challenges on their journey to success, but internal communications and knowledge sharing are unlikely to be two of them. On the other hand, the number of personnel in a law firm tends to grow pretty much in line with the firm’s turnover, so sooner or later an ambitious firm with a growing turnover will face real challenges functioning in an efficient and cohesive manner. Unless these challenges are addressed promptly, operational efficiency will suffer and the firm’s risk profile will soar, in terms of both compliance and third-party liabilities. If the firm is comprised of several branch offices or is a dispersed law firm like Keystone Law, then these challenges will present themselves earlier still.

The warning signs are easy to spot. An increasingly busy office with a profit margin that seems to be flatlining. A disproportionately high number of secretaries who are disproportionately busy; they alone know how to navigate the confusing labyrinth that passes for the firm’s shared server. A myriad of different tools and facilities, accessible through a myriad of different portals. And, of course, paper everywhere.

The solution to these growing pains may not be obvious to those buried under a mountain of paper and stress, but the chances are that it will look like this: an intuitive web-based intranet on which your personnel can find and do just about everything. An environment where even the most old-school solicitors can reach their desired destination with a few clicks of the mouse, whether they are in the office or at home. A tool that makes collaboration and the proactive sharing of information not just easy, but enjoyable. It is true that this is all easier said than done, but here are some pointers for those looking to create their own bespoke IT platform.

Design it cleverly

It is absolutely vital that the architecture of your platform is cleverly and logically thought out and, most importantly, it is designed from the users’ perspective and for their benefit. It takes a bunch of very clever IT specialists to code your intranet so that it will do what you want it to do, but those people should never be allowed near the drawing board. If the build-phase starts without a logical and scalable architecture then the project will never be a success, no matter how much time and money it receives. Of course, it’s important to give all potential users the opportunity to make suggestions, but it’s equally important not to try to please everyone. So keep it simple, at least to start with. The Keystone design phase took six months; whenever a piece of non-essential functionality proved too complex or time-consuming, it was put on the back burner to be dealt with post-launch.

Give it personality

Build it right and your IT platform will be an environment which your personnel visit regularly and actually grow an attachment to. You have a tremendous opportunity to boost morale, to reflect your firm’s personality and help create the culture you want. So for starters, give your intranet a good name, something that relates to your firm in some tangible way. The name doesn’t have to be brilliant but don’t miss a free opportunity by allowing your IT platform to be known as ‘the intranet’. Ensure your firm’s livery is central to the design and that photographs and internal news pieces can be easily uploaded by your firm’s administrator. On the homepage of Keystone’s intranet (called Keyed-In) there is a ‘What’s Up’ section to announce latest developments and a photo carousel, depicting anything from national sporting triumphs to new meeting rooms.

Make it essential

Your intranet should not just be useful but wholly indispensable because it now hosts fundamental functionality and all the firm’s web-based tools. At Keystone, Keyed-In is now the only way to set up a new client, request money movements, issue invoices, access the knowledge banks, view client ledgers and a whole lot besides. Luddites have no choice but to log in daily, and in so doing they discover a whole world of usefulness which is accessible in seconds. Before long they are regularly updating their profiles, submitting suppliers for approval and suggesting upgrades. Sometimes people only know what they need once you give it to them.

Reap the reward

If your intranet does what it’s meant to do then it will be very well received by your personnel and it will do much more than save you time and money. It will improve morale, reduce risk, increase profit and allow you to adapt more efficiently to the ever-changing world that is now the legal profession.