‘We can work it out’: building IT supplier relationships to improve the resolution of issues

Not expecting suppliers to do all the running will pay dividends when it comes to solving problems, writes 3Kites’ Paul Longhurst



As two Liverpudlians of no little renown once said, “Think of what you’re saying, you can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright”. Is it possible that this reflects the relationship you have with at least one of your IT suppliers? Either way, it is possible that at least one of them feels this way about your firm. So many of our clients bemoan the service they get from IT suppliers, especially at the point of greatest need such as when a system fails. However, they often neglect to invest the time and energy required to maximise the chance of getting a good outcome at this point. Whilst these relationships are a two-way street, this article is looking at them from the perspective of a law firm to understand what you can do to improve responses from technology suppliers (both hardware/cloud and software).

So what to do? Simply thinking that your firm, as the consumer, can sit back and expect its suppliers to do all the running in the relationship stakes is short sighted, especially when one considers how important IT systems are to 99% of businesses today. As a consumer during my days at Allen & Overy and then Herbert Smith, I recognised the value of building close working relationships with our key suppliers. This took time and energy, and a few beers here and there to ensure it wasn’t always a one-way street at the bar. My payback for this was the ability to pick up the phone to technical staff, alongside the prescribed first line support route, in order to get problems resolved as quickly as possible.

We also provided end-user feedback for suppliers to help with their development plans. Sometimes this would do little for the firm, on other occasions it might lead to innovation that kept us ahead of our competitors. Regardless of the outcome, it was appreciated and returned in kind if we needed to get extra help with an issue that the standard support routes were struggling to resolve.

Another route to building positive relationships is the way in which issues are reported. Suppliers often have customers call them and rant about an ill-defined issue with generic or non-existent details regarding the frequency of its occurrence, the impact, the conditions under which it manifests and so on. This is lazy issue reporting and assumes no responsibility from the customer for the issue. Whilst it may be that the problem is nothing to do with your firm, it is difficult to be sure and such thinking can delay the time to resolution. The best outcome is when the issue has been properly diagnosed, logged with timestamps and then (and only then, unless it is an obvious and critical system failure) reported to suppliers. This should be an agreed process that is fully understood by the relevant staff in your firm and for which there is a defined response from the supplier (albeit that pragmatism can help as below).

The other side of this approach is the frustration of doing all this prep only to be met by a dogmatic support analyst who is following a script rather than responding to your informed reporting. It may be that the only way to deal with this is to breathe deeply and remember that the person on the other end is (probably!) not doing this because it’s you. However, there are still things that you can do to improve the process.  

Reflecting again on my days in private practice, we met with key suppliers to understand what they needed from us when issues were being reported and to find an alternative route that acknowledged our level of technical expertise such that the basic questions and blindingly obvious but ultimately pointless (for the more informed customer) suggestions could be avoided. This wouldn’t work with all suppliers but, for those that did, our time to issue resolution was shorter and their support overheads were reduced. What’s not to like? The firm and its users benefit from good relationships with these suppliers, so make sure that time continues to be invested here to reflect on emerging problems and to evolve processes to suit the reality of the current environment.

All of this might seem like a nice-to-have but unrealistic when a firm’s IT team is stretched. An alternative view might be that it is like (PI, cyber, etc) insurance – it costs you a fair deal of money but pays back should you ever need it. At 3Kites, we’re happy to think that “we can work it out, we can work it out”, so do contact me if you would like to know how we can help your firm to improve its problem resolution processes.

If you would like further help with managing an existing supplier, or any of the other 3Kites’ services, please contact us using the following details:

Paul Longhurst: 07785 254909, [email protected], or https://www.3kites.com/contact-us.  

Paul Longhurst is a director of 3Kites. This is the 34th article in the series Navigating Legaltech.


About 3Kites and Kemp IT Law  
3Kites is an independent consultancy, which is to say that we have no ties or arrangements with any suppliers so that we can provide our clients with unfettered advice. We have been operating since 2006 and our consultants include former law firm partners (one a managing partner), a GC, two law firm IT directors and an owner of a practice management company. This blend of skills and experience puts us in a unique position when providing advice on IT strategy, fractional IT management, knowledge management, product selections, process review (including the legal process) and more besides. 3Kites often works closely with Kemp IT Law (KITL), a boutique law firm offering its clients advice on IT services and related areas such as GDPR. Where relevant (eg when discussing cloud computing in a future article) this column may include content from the team at KITL to provide readers with a broader perspective including any regulatory considerations.

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