Digital Convergence: From Maybe to Mandatory
BY Justin Torres
Maintaining a healthy level of interaction with your clients is almost as important as acquiring new ones.
The cloud is the new reality
In previous eras of computing, running proprietary software on office workstations was the only way to get things done. License keys had to be bought and managed, computers had to be loaded with software (often from a compact disc) and updating would be such a hassle that programs would be left dangerously out-of-date for years until they were replaced entirely.
Whatever information was created with the software, from client databases to financial records, would only be accessible to that software. Porting your data to a different platform would be unfeasible if the company didn’t specifically make it possible.
But today, web applications are fully capable of doing the job of desktop applications. From the standard office suite of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations to password management and CRMs, everything is shifting to software-as-a-service (SASS).
Web-based software has several advantages: you can access the program from anywhere with an internet connection; workstations don’t need additional program upkeep; and in most cases, your information is safer in an encrypted data center than on your laptop. Hosted solutions also put the maintenance and upkeep in the hands of hired professionals.
Does your online file locker offer personal encryption? Is two-step verification enabled on every service that supports it? Can you get the same experience from the product when on your desktop or mobile phone? Cloud technologies are always evolving and responding to constant innovation. Even if your firm has already begun using cloud products, ask questions to ensure that the services you choose are the best available.
Your favorite web applications want to talk
Web-based services have a huge advantage over traditional desktop software because they can communicate better with other services using an API. An application programming interface (API) is a structured list of operations that simplifies the effort of interacting with a service from a broad-range development environment.
Mailchimp has a wonderfully designed interface that makes it easy to manage and add users to mailing lists, but it would be quite the hassle to manually enter the name and email of everyone who wants to join your mailing list. Thankfully, their API makes it possible to build a form on your firm’s website that allows subscribers to add themselves without intervention from you.
There are businesses that exist solely to make API-to-API connections, allowing you to streamline your digital services creatively in a short amount of time. IFTTT (If This Then That) and itduzzit make it possible to set up triggers to upload a photo to your Instagram when it is added to Dropbox or to tweet a link to your latest article as soon as it’s posted on your blog.
Even the government is opening its digital doors with data.gov. This initiative makes hundreds of datasets available for public download. Developers can access this data and analyze it for trends or build mobile applications for public use. In the same vein, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has created an API for developers to access train arrival predictions, maintenance information and even the status of escalators and elevators.
APIs are becoming standard across internet services, opening communication between websites without direct involvement by either party. These companies put control back in the user’s hands, allowing people to access, create and export the data they own freely.
IT departments are now policy police
A 2014 predictions report by Forrester Research stated that IT departments are shifting from their traditional role of meeting the needs of the company. Such departments are increasingly addressing the needs of its customers instead. IT staff are becoming brokers for technology services, aiding in the migration of client information to the cloud through mobile and big-data solutions.
The day-to-day of your firm’s technology team should focus on safeguarding your clients’ personal data (along with the eternal challenge of fixing printers). The Forrester report noted that the minimum cost of a data breach is $10 million; managing, storing, retrieving and sharing sensitive documents all need the highest technical safeguards available.
Data breaches aren’t always the result of a technical failure, however. Human engineering attacks have proven to be just as successful, and all they take are innocent-looking phishing emails. Then, hackers simply wait for an unsuspecting employee to take the bait. Once that employee has been compromised, the attackers work their way around your company’s infrastructure, posing as a trusted individual. Such attacks have cracked the biggest of internet companies, including Google, Apple and Amazon, so everyone in your firm must work to stay ahead of the latest threats.
Your firm should scale with your clients
Consumers adopt new technologies as quickly as they are released, and they immediately drop the ones that don’t fit their needs. Law firms are constantly playing catch-up to ensure they are using the same platforms as their clients, but it can be ultimately harmful to seek new clients when you can’t sustain the positive experience long after they first hear about you.
Measurements for success online are also changing. While it’s always good to play nice with search engines and social networks, users are becoming more aware of the internet and are straying from content funnels. Your marketing efforts have to be unified and invoke the same emotions regardless of their medium.
Businesses and consumers have more apps, connections and Likes than ever before. In fact, your online and offline activities are no longer truly distinguishable. To ensure that you have a positive impact on your present and future clients, evaluate each technology decision and reevaluate it frequently. Client portals are an incredibly reliable solution to staying engaged with your customers. Once in their dashboard, clients should be able to view and pay their invoices, download any documents they need and stay connected with their attorney using the channels they prefer. Their experience on your firm’s website should match, or even exceed, the service they would get if they walked through your firm’s front door.
Law firms that unify their online and offline efforts will provide the best experience for their customers. The digital divide is almost completely eroded and will result in better customer relationships, both online and in real life.
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