Making technology work for you.
Technology isn’t new but the role it now occupies in our lives is. How many of us relied on tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Slack on a daily basis before the pandemic started? Yet now we can’t imagine our lives without them. The digital acceleration over the last year is unlike anything we have seen before and is still shaping the way we work. Businesses in every sector are embracing technology out of necessity, accomplishing in days what would have previously taken years. The legal sector is no exception. In the past they may have moved more slowly than their clients, however this time round, law firms, in house teams, and legal service providers alike felt the full force of the shift to digital and have since grappled to find ways to make technology work for them. For many this has been easier said than done. So what’s the secret formula? Obelisk Support CEO, Dana Denis-Smith shares her views on making technology work for you.
Tech-enabled. The Obelisk way
Even before the pandemic, organisations have searched for a magic solution to all of their problems by focusing on researching and investing big money in the best technology, hoping to bring their digital transformation to life with relative ease. But they fail to comprehend that the true role of technology in a services business is to help better serve the clients. To make technology work for you, you need to understand exactly what the value is that tech will bring and how it will help you to achieve your goals. Importantly, I was keen to understand how tech would behave in the hands of people, not just to build a shiny new tool. #HumanFirst with technology coming after was the approach that I chose to take when I founded Obelisk.
Obelisk was an early adopter of a tech-enabled business model, combining technology with unique human skills to generate the most successful outcomes. But, before making this move towards a more technological solution, I realised the crucial piece in making the business successful was managing the relationships between people on both sides of the transaction and understanding where technology could add value, not only admin. It was only when I could understand this dynamic and we had reached the point that we could not scale without it that there was any value in investing in technology. Knowing the value that investing in technology will bring is the starting point from which to build, not just in the legal sector but for all businesses that wish to use technology to deliver a better service. No-one wants to waste time or money on technology that’s not adding value, and I was no exception. For any project we launch at Obelisk, we start by talking to our customers, consultants and users. That way we understand what their needs are and how we can harness technology to make their lives easier.
Obelisk’s move towards a tech-enabled model began in 2015 and has been a huge success. Before this time, we were using spreadsheets to manage jobs and to match the right consultants, a process which was time consuming and admin heavy, with no automation. Taking steps towards creating our own bespoke technology, Buzz, allowed us to match the right lawyer with the right capabilities within a tight timeframe, increasing our turnaround times and delivering faster, high-quality legal solutions. We are now six years on and our technology has evolved and grown with us. In December 2016, we built and launched Profile to manage the Obelisk matching process and in June 2018 we developed a mobile app version. With the help of an Innovate UK grant we’re now developing our technology further by way of a remote-working productivity tool which will help businesses manage an entire workforce that is working in a blended office/ home model. The tool will ensure that businesses can leverage all available skills and time efficiently.
How to make technology work for you
The last year has been a learning curve for everyone. At Obelisk we’ve had the advantage of technology being a key part of our business long before the pandemic. So here are our top lessons for the legal sector.
#1 Technology isn’t optional
Once upon a time, technology was a choice. Businesses debated the necessity of integrating business models based on new and emerging technologies and employees did not worry about being unable to do their jobs simply because they were not overly tech-savvy. But this is no longer the case and the digital shift does not appear to be slowing down. Advancements in machine learning, robotics and AI continue to automate tasks, enabling businesses to rapidly scale and adapt to the changing context of customers and employees. The future of work lies in technology and, whether we like it or not (and there are those who definitely do not), if we want to thrive we need to embrace the digital transformation wholeheartedly and without hesitation.
#2 Technology is a force for good
Just because the rapid rise of technology has been forced upon so many so quickly does not negate the ways in which using tech properly can lead to a positive outcome. Quite the opposite in fact. For many businesses, including Obelisk, embracing technology is a means to achieve more flexible and high-quality work. Start by looking for the benefits you want to deliver, the administrative tasks you find particularly time-consuming and what you expect of the conduct and attitude of the people in the business. The goal is to find the ways in which a digital strategy can help meet each objective whilst making every step of the experience as easy as possible. Importantly, create clear guidelines and reference points that can be contributed to. People are your biggest asset and you will never get better feedback than from the people that will be using the technology the most. This is a strategy we can apply across the legal sector.
#3 Technology isn’t just for the geeks
At a time when we rely so greatly on technology, technology should not discriminate – it should be accessible for everyone. Clients, consultants and colleagues. Following on from our previous point, in an increasingly tech dominated world, diversity of voices is needed to design how we use technology to get benefit for all. Equally, technology doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Be smart about where you’re deploying time and resources. Use the technology you have, automate new processes, and reorient your business around your clients to support this new way of operating.
#4 Technology will never be perfect
In the legal sector, we’re trained to deliver excellence and perfection in a finished product is a given. Technology on the other hand is in a constant state of development, and as a result cannot always be guaranteed to provide the same standard. As frustrating as this may be, there are still countless benefits to be gained from embracing a tech-enabled business model, even with imperfect technology. Naz Khanom, our technical support manager at Obelisk, explains how this worked for us: “The development of our platform has allowed our core team to gain time back, allowing us to focus on building our customer relationships and operational projects as our business grows. As we learn more about our customers, consultants and users, and our service evolves, we constantly find new things to improve.” We have learnt that the best way forward is to adopt a “test and learn” mindset and appreciate the wins!
#5 Stay curious
Curiosity is what drives innovation, not technical skill. Whatever your area of practice or business interest, technology’s capabilities will continue to evolve so you need to keep learning. You have to be able to see change as a learning opportunity. That means being prepared to explore new ways of doing things and adapting and leading in the new ways of working.
As well as being open to exploring and adapting, make sure to actively listen to your colleagues and clients, and pay attention to what is going on around you in how people adopt and use technology. It’s up to you to keep up with the game!