DWF LLP Chief Technology Officer Richard Hodkinson has now been a technology lead at a large law firm for the last 20 years, and is at the forefront of an innovation agenda as chairman and co-founder of a wholly-owned software house in the risk management space. With the remit of trying to do things differently, Hodkinson held high-level artificial intelligence discussions about whether machines could understand the more elementary aspects of evidence and help bring about speedier resolution in legal work.
Name and job title
Richard John Hodkinson, CTO, DWF LLP
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Uniquely, DWF has a product focus in what is generally a very service-orientated sector selling intellectual advice. Creating products from a legal service has obvious challenges given the less than physically tangible nature of the business however, DWF have created some. Product ideas come from a number of places in the business, the majority through discussion with the clients as to what problems they have to solve giving the team here at DWF an opportunity to think laterally. DWF has a wholly owned software house called 15Squared Ltd that has a growing portfolio of software products which align to our customer's needs in the area of risk management. We seek to use 15Squared Ltd as a attraction and retention tool solving problems for customers through software. I am the chairman and co-founder of this entity and run a small board of directors and around 15 developers. In the legal sector, this initiative is viewed as exceptionally creative albeit there are now some followers. Ergo, my influence over the products agenda is significant.
How as CIO have you affected cultural change and / or behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
Influencing change in a sizable community of high net-worth knowledge workers and working owners come with its own brand of challengers (LLP structure). To make cultural and behavioural differences in workforce trained to argue is not easy and the several replays of the firms strategy to the partners by the CEO is testimony to the challenge. Getting the lawyers to be responsible for some product choices has been a technique recently used to aid adoption and ROI and lessens the noise around being imposed upon by IT. New time capture tools were selected and implemented in this way. In recent times, changes that have actively been promoted and in line with the firms expansion geographically including international has been the use of collaborative tools. Using social products such as Yammer and desktop tools like Skype for business has started to break barriers and encourage sharing or clients and opportunities. The holy grail for a law firm is for clients to belong to the firm and not the partner – establishing a culture of trust and transprency using these technologies has helped. This approach is key to supporting our growing virtual office where more and more members of the business operate exclusively from home. We have more activity to strengthen the offer augmenting other products and data into a single personalised space to drive the culture further home.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s company performance
Two major systems have been put live, one being a new service and a step change in the way the business is performed and the second being a replacement product to a solution that is poorly adopted and with limited functionality. The first, new business intake (NBI) delivers prime business objectives; improving operational compliance through improved client onboarding procedures, risk management and client engagement by capturing client preferences and automatically creating an online experience strategic and developing clients. DWF's business strategy has three components; doing things differently, understanding our clients and engaging our people. NBI as a project supports aspects of the strategy. The second service is time capture, the kernel of professional services operational configurations. A new solution combines mobile capability with our continued approach of usability to get the maximum ROI through high intuitive adoption. Both products assist with the unification of the business which has seen much growth in recent times through merger and these system contribute to the creation of the 'DWF constant' – same product to the same standard from every office.
Describe how you have used organisational and third party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
Within the legal sector there are a great number of communities, seminars, conferences, roundtables and the like. All of these sources are used to inform thinking that will support the firm's direction of travel. Gartner, Ovum, CIO Magazine, IDC the Economist and more are all occasionally used and would be used more if budgets were less restrictive. I am involved in the Manchester Law Society and present for the BCS (I'm a Fellow) whereby bringing together other businesses and sharing ideas is stimulating and can be thought provoking or at the very least, provides confirmation of current lines of thought. Lastly, the suppliers of key products to the business provide essential insights to the evolving technology landscape and great effort is put into establishing something more than an operational relationship, we seek to do collaborative work if possible. In 2015 I discussed a product development opportunity with a supplier under a joint venture agreement.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
The IT origination has evolved and matured in the almost five years I have been in role. Simple structures delivering; Security services, Operational services and Application development. However, during this period the firm has doubled in size including the number of locations. The other dimensions playing in are; international offices and a model change. International is self-explanatory but stretches our current capability, however the model change is more interesting and lies around the concept of a virtual firm blended with a modification of purpose for some locations. The legal sector is seeing change like never before with falling margins and resource attraction and retention issues in technology and solicitor roles specifically. A virtual firm mean expanding current community of exclusively at home staff. Thinking about time zones, virtual workforces the team required to support it needs to evolve again. Firstly, we are in a tender process for outsourcing service response and infrastructure to give scalability within some commercial predictability. Secondly and if we ultimately elect to adopt an outsource model, the focus will then be around building transformational change supported and/or led by software development. The quicker movement we make in transforming and developing the business and the software the better place we will occupy in the market place, all of which supports the 'doing things differently' strategy. The makeup of the team in the new future will be markedly different with legal graduates and six sigma qualified talent will help identify issues and opportunities for stepping the business up. Key point I guess is that businesses are continually responding to the market and the regulations ergo we have to remain progressive with our internal structures. The business is changing so we have to
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
DWF does not have a document that encapsulates a digital strategy. The IT strategy gets close to creating the foundations for such an event. Marketing at DWF has undergone much change in the last 12 months along with a change in CMO. As a consequence, the digital agenda is still finding its feet but I as CTO, I have pushed the notion further forward. Putting the customer first, the digital journey in law can be challenging give the nature of the product – knowledge and expertise. Currently in build is a service that allows a client or prospect to create a personalised experience through a recently launched portal called DWFLink. Within this personalised portal we have a number of standard features including extensive document repositories. Importantly we are using a number of clients in the design to be sure we are addressing the issues buyers of legal services face. One important step forward will be transparency of the time to be billed and involvement of the client in the billing process – giving the client more control over expenditure. To enhance this we listen to the client and have had sessions with a number including household names such as adidas. A digital strategy is being used as a key differentiator with partners out on the road looking for new business and retaining current clients. This is a big deal for DWF as the market gets tighter and clients are looking for more for less.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and organisational structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
Taking in the initiatives described above, what is essential is that there is a recognition by the business that change is here to stay and needs fuelling. Included in that is the need for a framework for innovation and change to thrive. I promoted the creation of a governing group which now exists call the SDE – Service Deliver Executive and has the responsibility of upholding and developing the ‘'doing things differently' strategy agenda. In this group, senior stakeholders meet including the CEO to promote and develop plans for innovation and process evolution. A small team of lean specialist unravel old process or build new which are then translated to reality using our workflow tools. At partner conferences internally and externally with the press ow direct with clients through tendering work we describe our view of the world and advertise our differences. The group are becoming something others would describe as digital leaders. In an LLP, this is quite a step change.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation (e.g. via a blog/seminars/newsletter etc.) about your team and the role of technology in the organisation and what impact is this having?
DWF has a communication cascade system that is not perfect but is multi-factorial. That is to say that a number of communications channels exist to meet the needs of the individuals working style of the knowledge workers. We have Yammer, intranet blogging, cloud based objective manager system, [email protected] communications on Friday evening categorising stories under strategic headings, monthly partner meetings, DWF briefing, executive board, the annual report and ad-hoc team sessions. I engage every channel to ensure as many people know we are doing, why and how it affects them. A major part of the CTO role in a professional service business is communications – selling and persuading the needs for behavioural and operational change. Personal profile raising/brand building is a component the role of CTO for sustained relevance of solutions in the business.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
A presence on LinkedIn and Twitter are a given. In the former I don’t have targets for the number of contacts as its about relevance as opposed to quantity. In twitter world, generating a high number of followers is important to me as it qualifies my thinking and engenders a multi-way dialogue. I write updates weekly that get posted to both forums to increase my visibility to role sustainability and garnering thoughts – thought leadership. There are a number of other forums I subscribe to through which I contribute to other lines thinking. Importantly for me, social media offers me a gateway into other sectors which are likely to be using either new technologies or familiar technologies in innovative ways, again it is an expectation of an IT leader to show the business what opportunities are within reach.
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
Despite the business (CEO) having a healthy appetite for technology to underpin the 'doing things differently' strategic agenda, actually getting an opportunity to walk through the IT strategy and engage, debate and decide future investments et al is difficult. In honest answer to this question, senior engagement is woeful but not through the lack of trying.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management e.g horizon scanning, technology strategy workshops, involvement in industry events and bodies
An active part of my diary is to take up round tables, seminars, exhibitions, vendor sessions and I actively write articles and speak at events not least of which for the Manchester Law Society and the BCS of which I'm a Fellow and a C.Eng. Professionalism and taking part in the community and supporting others is compulsory as far I am concerned. Being part of a network helps me measure myself and relative competence as it can be a lonely occupation at times so finding peers to share with is essential – personal development. Aside from this, there are countless publications including CIO magazine which for me, is vital as its multi-sector. As described above, the social networks play a substantial role particularly as a contributor. Building a personal brand requires effort and maintenance and I find now, people seek me out for guidance and advice. I've been CIO for 20 years on the top of two of the UK's largest law firms so I feel I should share some of my experiences.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
DWF has a strong and identifiable culture driven through a 'culture deck'. As part of this, all staff are encouraged to make a contribution to something charitable. I took a team to a housing estate in Manchester to dig a community garden. A number of the team have gone on to be involved in the firms supported charities such as McMillian cancer care or active members of the DWF foundation. Underpinning our approach to people all team members have regular 1-2-1 and perpetual objective setting and management via an innovative cloud service. This is aggressively managed and reported on through the executive board so it is part of DWF life including 'the power of 8' principal of line management.
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
In the absence of any ability to get a period roundtable executive engagement as described above, I engage with both board members and the 'C suite' team through more informal methods. I am an agile worker so I'm on the move and make it in my way to cross paths with my peer group to inform and influence. We have deployed Skype for business, a blogging tool and Yammer social networking again for me to reach my key stakeholder audience. Various reports to committees are used to make cases for change or investment. I am also internally vocal in all meetings and I'd like to think credible and creative. The evidence has been clear in recent times with some of my thinking having been actively planted around the partnership, is now coming back as new plans of evolution – my Darwin scheme being a case in point.
Are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with: Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence; Data Analytics; NoSQL; wearable technology; Enterprise Apps; Internet of Things; Automation and Robotics; 3D Printing; the Sharing Economy; Anything else?
In the legal sector particular tools have more applicability than others. From the list above, both big data/analytics along with AI/cognitive are absolutely in our thinking. We have had a dialogue with IBM for 2 years to explore the Watson Labs output to see if it can be a game changer in Legal – reducing solicitor involvement in the elementary aspects of understanding evidence. The end game being speedier case resolution and an order of magnitude change in the cost of running legal work. Again we have been vocal in the media on this topic. We have made a substantial investment in BI tools to get to grips with operational and financial data assimilation. Lastly we have other services in the business using IBM tools that give graphical representation of potential frauds by connecting similar data elements across large pools of claims data. Current restructures in the team will capitalise on our strategic belief that there is untapped business opportunity in big data.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach – e.g. from consuming services from the cloud or on-premise products through to spinning up in-house development teams for bespoke work?
Our approach overall is a steady progression to the cloud but not slavishly so. Choices are made at appropriate intervals and are frequently a function of; the problem being solved, the type of data we are moving and the capability of the software vendor to operate from the cloud and integrate with on-premise services. Large legacy estates are more difficult to deal with particularly where there is sensitive client data and differing jurisdictions involved. The regulators are not explicit in the requirements so a degree of interpretation is required. In all cases security is considered but it is usually enhanced via cloud but there has to be a robust commercial and operational rationale. We have a number of services hosted, some on a genuine SaaS model and we have a development platform in Azure – Microsoft have identified us as being particularly progressive here and have supported us with dedicated resources.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
We try to do this and its always one of the objectives set on our SaaS objective tool. The real world frequently intervenes with unrealistic deadlines imposed usually around mergers. I actively encourage event participation and circulate invitations to forums or vendor events so the team get away from the coal face and see something different. It is good for the soul. So yes – actively encouraged with time permitting.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
There's no science here but our choice and blend of suppliers is heavily laced with commercial pragmatism. The sourcing ‘strategy’ takes account of a number of factors; how critical is the service being supplied, reciprocal business possibilities, do we have the skill in-house or the desire to acquire and maintain the skill and is the solution strategic or tactical. There are other dimensions to this which at least includes looking at products similar firms are using to ‘keep up with the joneses’ or deliberately run off at a tangent to create a differentiator. The credentials of the supplier are important with our scale and global reach. The overall picture is to have a small number of highly capable suppliers where the right time and effort can be spent on the relationship. We currently run a blend of in-house support through to complete outsourcing depending on our need to nurture particular skills (workflow analysts and developers) for example or just needing access to generic services (Mitel telephone switching support) which is outsourced.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
Define innovation? To some, what DWF do in the legal sector is seen as mold breaking but in all cases I view it as either common sense or the next natural evolutionary step. In many cases across the firm, DWF is only just getting comfortable in being a top 20 law firm and is quickly retro fitting many of the products and services required of a firm at this level. Things implemented would include DWFLink 1.0 which is the firm’s online portal to help engender a life lost relationship between some client types and the firm. We have some ideas to building into the next release which are truly different in the market – May 1st. They enable the firm to continually promote products and services and cross sell which lawyers are sometime reticent to do and ultimately create some ‘stickiness’. Other ideas in development include building out a completely cloud based service (AWS or Azure) for our growing home working community. The idea being to technically divorce the home work from the nuances from some on premise legacy service and by so doing create a high level of availability, easy adoption for new starters and a device agnostic position – we don’t need to supply kit to anyone.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
We had a deal in the air with IBM for the Watson AI explorer technology in 2015 but the timing didn’t work in terms of the firm’s readiness to absorb the impact of this and so the deal failed. Had it succeeded, DWF would have been in the vanguard of AI at a substantial level and was being positioned internally by IBM as one to watch. The VP of the Watson division visited my and DWF’s CEO. That aside, we work with Thomson Reuters who are speaking to us about our involvement in Project X along with 3 other key legal industry targets. Again no deal at this stage.
How do you rate the following as sources of innovative technology suppliers:
Analyst Houses - Occasionally use
Consultants - Occasionally use
CIO Peers - Always referred to
Industry Body - Always referred to
Media - Often use
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
I appointed an Information Security Officer as a direct report who drives the agenda not least of which the maintenance and evolution of the ISO27001 standard we have enjoyed for many years. I sit on the firm’s risk and compliance committee which is an adjunct to the board, the risk committee being chaired by a board level equity partner. Through me, the Info Sec Officer reports risks and incidents at the very least to the risk committee, the headlines of which are delivered into the board. A wider paper on DWF’s current cyber position is being discussed in April to achieve the necessary investments for defenses, awareness and process changes.
When did you start your current role?
March 2011 but prior I was on the board of another top 20 law firm for 16 years.
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
Revenue £9 and Capital £2m.
What percentage of your budget is spent on:
IT operational spend ("keeping the lights on") - 85%
New developments (innovation) - 15%
What number of users does your department supply services to?
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
In house is around 75 staff with many services being supplier by third parties. If all the managed service contracts were terminated and brought in house I would suggest the staffing would have to increase to around 100 people.