Case study Professional services

Firm prepares for long term gain with IT Strategy

Creating an IT strategy for future growth

Cartmell Shepherd turned to Waterstons to help review their current IT systems and develop an IT strategy aligned to their future growth plans and their strategic ambitions


When they initially approached Waterstons, Cartmell Shepherd had undergone a period of significant change, with changes in the senior management structure in recent years, as well as the loss of a number of staff resulting from a decline in business in areas such as conveyancing due to the global financial crisis.

Now with ambitious growth plans and an increase in business driven by the beginnings of the economic recovery, Cartmell Shepherd realised the importance of reliable, scalable business technology as a platform for supporting its strategic ambitions.

With IT spend forcibly reduced during the economic downturn, Cartmell Shepherd approached Waterstons to review their current systems and technology platform and develop a far-reaching IT strategy to support the business through the challenges it faces during the next five years.

The process

Drawing on extensive experience of similar projects, Waterstons brought a team of consultants together to examine Cartmell Shepherd from both business and technology perspectives.

Following a proven IT Strategy review process roadmap, Waterstons began the project with research into Cartmell Shepherd, their competitors, and the wider legal services marketplace both locally and nationally.

With a clearer picture of the business as a whole, Waterstons’ consultants then worked with Cartmell Shepherd staff to perform the following tasks:

  • Assess the status quo - Through interviews with 14 individuals, primary systems and high- level business processes were identified.
  • Clarifying the Business Strategy - Using techniques such as the Kaplan and Norton Strategy Map and Treacy and Wiersema Discipline Driver model, Waterstons confirmed their understanding of Cartmell Shepherd’s business priorities and ambitions.
  • Infrastructure Audit - An audit of the current infrastructure was undertaken and recommendations for remediation and a roadmap to allow for growth developed.
  • Strategy Development - Internal workshops and brainstorming sessions were undertaken to develop the strategic programme for the future.

Throughout the project, Waterstons met regularly with Cartmell Shepherd stakeholders to discuss findings and progress. Towards the end of the project, a detailed report into the strategic recommendations was prepared, covering both infrastructure and business systems enhancements.

Waterstons were also invited to present the strategy to a wider group of senior staff and partners from Cartmell Shepherd, following which the recommendations and report were accepted in their entirety.


Waterstons’ IT Strategies are phased, with the intention that each phase saves costs or generates added revenue to cover the next. In Cartmell Shepherd’s case, the strategy was split into four phases:

  1. Quick Wins – 0-6 months timescale
  2. Short term – 7-12 months timescale
  3. Mid term – 13-24 months timescale
  4. Long term – 25-48 months timescale

Each phase covered infrastructure, systems and structural projects, including:

  • Creation of an IT Steering Group to oversee the strategic programme
  • Scheduling renewal of desktop PCs
  • Improvements in network and server architecture
  • Standardisation of some business processes across the practice
  • Implementing cutting edge communications and conferencing technology
  • Greater use of mobile technology and agile working
  • Taking a long term approach to selecting the next generation of business systems

Developing a business case

Any business expenditure must be justified, and mindful of this, Waterstons place great emphasis on developing a robust business case for any project.

During this project, Waterstons used several tools of their own to identify potential improvements in business efficiency and cost savings.

The Five Ways

Waterstons has developed a methodology called ‘The Five Ways’ to assess projects in order to ensure they deliver benefits in accordance with at least one (and preferably many) of the following:

  1. Raising quality and lowering costs
  2. Acquiring and retaining customers
  3. Providing timely and accurate reporting
  4. Improving teamwork and communication
  5. Reducing risk and increasing security

Return on investment

Businesses often struggle with demonstrating return on investment (ROI) for technology projects, as identifying tangible, quantifiable improvements is a challenge.

During the strategy development process, Waterstons developed a model for calculating potential financial returns, both cashable and non-cashable. Waterstons recognise that it is rare to realise all of the potential benefits from any project, so a large degree of conservatism was applied to the financial model; even allowing for this, it was clear that over the course of five years, the IT Strategy would not only pay for itself, but would also allow significant additional savings to be made in the future.

By completing the full programme of projects Waterstons estimate Cartmell Shepherd will achieve a net saving of £230k after the cost of implementation has been covered (Figure 2). In calculating these potential savings, realisation was conservatively calculated, but it could still be demonstrated that the IT Strategy would deliver a measurable return in the form of business process improvements, improved productivity, and reduced costs.

“Waterstons’ IT Strategy demonstrated that we could not only improve our business through the use of technology, but also reduce costs and enhance our service”
Jonathan Carroll Partner

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