Following my article on the new claims process in the last issue, I caught up with Dominic Corr, our IT director, to find out what progress had been made. He reports:
“Systems integration involves Structured Systems Analysis, Design Methodology and elements of Rapid Application Development. This project from the beginning was simply about assembling data for transmission and preparing it for reception. The rules, timescales and methods for adopting this process were not finalised until the very last minute, even though the project had been in development since 2008 and was originally slated to go live in October 2009. This immediately put all Claimant Solicitors at a disadvantage.
In time honoured tradition, any communication project involving Government participation has been fraught with problems – most of the industry remembers well the Criminal Defence Service electronic upload of the CDS6 to ensure smooth payment of fees. When it failed on the first attempted upload and was subsequently offline more than on, it proved difficult for Practices to get paid.
That is why we were concerned that so close to the deadline there was still no secure method to upload confidential client data and with strict timescales to remain within the protocol, systemic problems on a congested portal will remain a concern for all firms. Something that summed up our experiences of dealing with the developers was a conference call scheduled for 23rd April this year. With only a week to go before the system went live, this was meant to be our chance to speak with the developers. The call failed.
Contingency planning for our practice meant that we had to implement multiple redundant routes to maximise access to the portal for the “application to application” (A2A) interface. However when the A2A service is unavailable, we will have to ensure that staff can access the web front end for manual data input, whilst also making sure that they know how to work with what they find there. I asked Frazer Fundell – head of this project for IDSL – at the Claims Process Reform Update Conference in Manchester on the 24th of February what we are to do in the event of system problems. He assured everyone that there would be no problems – but this is far from the case!
The IT department worked flat out to ensure that enough of our 220 staff were able to do this within the six weeks between the publication of the user guide and the date given for the process to go live. Even now there is a risk also that if we have to manually input data to a huge number of fields and the system becomes overloaded, then hundreds of staff hours will be wasted rekeying lost data.
From speaking with my counterparts in other firms and with other members of the Legal IT industry, I have become aware of the wider problems with the system. For example, in one case, a law firm had a stage 1 payment made within the first week of the system going live. This sounded very encouraging until we learnt that the whole procedure had been completed not through the portal but over the phone in calls from a solicitor to an insurance company.
It isn’t just law firms that appear to be having difficulty using the new system. I have seen one example of an insurance company refusing to deal with claims sent through the system and instead employing a third party to process the incoming claims before the insurer’s own staff handle the claim. I found that particularly illuminating, as it was insurers that recommended the introduction of the new system.
At this point we are confident that we can implement everything we need to start to operate under the new protocol – it is only sequence, selection and iteration. Unfortunately the reliance on an intermediary to host the service looks like it will make the following months a constant round of change, development and enhancement.”
Speaking with Dominic it became clear that his frustrations with the new system are shared by many within the industry and that it is unclear yet when the software might be operational across all three stages of the new process. Until then it looks as though solicitors and their employees will have to put up with more disruptions as the portal and the “application to application” software are put through their paces.
Neil Worrall is a marketing assistant for online and print marketing at Camps Solicitors (www.camplaw.co.uk), a law firm specialising in RTA and PI claims.