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I.T in practice: The personal touch

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 93

Remote IT support is growing in popularity but sometimes the best support is an onsite visit.

Many legal practices have an arrangement with an IT consulting organisation which involves “remote” support – where the support is mostly carried out without anyone coming into the firm’s offices.

This solving of a computer-related problem involves first logging a call with the support organisation, which is then dealt with initially by front-line staff – in IT industry jargon, this person is known as a “level one support” person.

If it is then determined that some adjustment or problem-solving needs to be done on a particular server or workstation, the external support person remotely attaches to the firm’s computers through its communications facilities and deals with the issue.

In most cases, remote support works well for both the service provider and the law firm. Without anyone needing to attend onsite, there are usually fewer delays in problem-solving and no additional consulting costs associated with travel time.

Remote support is something that has grown rapidly over the past few years as the tools to do this have increased in terms of ease-of-use and features.

However, many of the younger support staff who undertake level one support are unaccustomed to the “personal touch” that visiting a client brings. Without that underpinning of an ongoing relationship that exists between a service provider and a client, the loyalty that would normally travel with that relationship is eroded.

This is emphasised in the legal profession, where it is the default practice for people to visit lawyers’ offices to conduct business – law firms will often have an expectation that IT support will be carried out personally most, if not all, of the time.

Remote support can go wrong. Some anecdotal examples of personal support incidents serve to emphasise the importance of visiting the client.

Take the incident where a legal secretary rang the IT support provider, quite frustrated, and explained that when she stood up, the system would not accept any of her passwords, and when she sat down the system operated fine.

The level one support person remotely accessed the client’s system server, and changed the secretary’s password – keeping it similar to her previous password. The standing-up-sitting-down password problem remained.

The level one support person remotely deleted the user’s account on the server and recreated, again with a new but similar password. The seemingly trivial problem remained, and the suspicion of a virus
infection was raised. After a series of increasingly heated exchanges about the problem, it was escalated to a higher level IT support consultant.

The more senior consultant’s reaction was swift and emphatic – “Get out there and see what’s going on”.

The problem was solved within a minute of attending onsite. During an overzealous keyboard cleaning incident, a couple of the keys had popped off, and had been replaced the wrong way around. Standing up, the secretary looked at the keys as her password was being typed (wrongly); sitting down, she used the keyboard without looking.

A similar “seeing is believing” incident happened with another legal office, with the solicitor declaring that his screen had turned upside down.

At first, the support consultant believed this to be a practical joke being played on him by his work colleagues, but it quickly turned out that this was a real client, with a real problem.

And, as would be expected, the solicitor had an unusable computer with pressing work deadlines and clients of his own to deal with. The only clue that the level one support staff member had was the solicitor’s declaration that his email “kept getting stuck”.

Again, after a series of frustrating exchanges, a support consultant attended onsite, and the problem was fixed within minutes.

It turned out that when the email “got stuck”, rather than waiting for the slow computer to finish processing the extraordinarily large joke email video clips circulating the solicitor’s office, he would just press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to abort the process.

However, on one occasion he missed the Delete key, and hit one of the arrow keys instead. On this particular model of computer, this was the command to flip the screen image upside down.

In negotiating an IT support arrangement, firms should always investigate what elements of the services provided are to be done remotely, and what onsite attendance is included.

Onsite response times and costs are important, as are the triggers for having someone come onsite – will it be at the practice’s option or that of the service provider?

A final issue that bears serious consideration is that of confidentiality and security.

Remote support may be cost and time-effective, but how will it open up unauthorised access to client information, either for the support consultants or third parties?

To do List

  • Review any arrangements with IT support organisations to confirm problem solving procedures.
  • Instruct staff to ensure that they are clear about when it is appropriate to request onsite support.
  • Assess recent IT remote support incidents to determine whether earlier onsite attendance would have been more cost and time-effective.
  • Check security and confidentiality aspects of any remote support
    being provided.

ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more I.T. in practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing department at http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/lpm/it.

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