Global law firm Clifford Chance’s clients have very deep pockets, but that doesn’t mean the company can afford to sit back and watch the money roll in. Like thousands of companies across many different sectors, it is endeavouring to improve efficiency by embarking on a radical technology transformation.
Not that any of its blue-chip clients, which in recent months have included Morgan Stanley, Barclays and Santander, would notice significant changes are under way – the company’s plush Canary Wharf HQ gives every impression of an enterprise that runs like clockwork.
Clifford Chance’s chief information officer (CIO), Paul Greenwood, is also reassuringly calm and efficient despite having initiated and led a technology transformation that must have been an upheaval for every member of his 400-strong IT department.
Before embarking on a career in IT, Greenwood studied chemistry at university and then went on to work in chemical engineering, “but I was always interested in knowledge management and business,” he says.
Ambitious from the off, Greenwood recognised that the best way to get the chance to manage big projects at an early age was to work as a consultant, so he hung up his lab coat and went to work for information consultancy McKinsey & Company, where he specialised in post-merger consultancy.
This experience proved invaluable at Clifford Chance, which had just merged with German company Punder, Volhard, Weber & Axster and US firm Rogers & Wells shortly before Greenwood joined in 2000.
The technology transformation that Greenwood is leading is already well under way, with the CIO and his team currently focusing on areas that will be familiar to many in the IT profession. They include cloud migration, managing information centrally, employing better business intelligence and accommodating technology consumerisation within the workplace.
Into the cloud
Work in the aforementioned areas will follow a project to collapse datacentres in Paris and Amsterdam into one big centre in Germany that should be completed next year. This initiative is a precursor to a wider strategy to move to an infrastructure-free environment by 2015, according to Greenwood.
However, he recognises that this move will depend on the suitability of the solutions on offer. “We need to look at all our systems along two axes, one covering the customisation required from our systems and the other covering the level of security.”
He continues: “It is important for a law firm to put things into zones. Highly customised and highly confidential information will tend to remain in-house, less-customised but confidential information will be hosted in a private cloud, while products that we can buy off the shelf will be brought in as software-as-a-service.”
The firm currently uses Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) to host email, anti-virus and anti-spam services, and has also just implemented Microsoft’s Lync unified communications technology. This too is being hosted in the cloud.
Greenwood says: “In five years’ time we should not have any datacentres, but that does not mean it will all be in the cloud, some of it will be outsourced or in an outsourced, hosted private cloud. I don’t know whether we will achieve that, but it’s good to have an objective.”
With regard to outsourcing, Greenword says he is not interested in signing a monolithic deal but rather will look to bring specialist expertise or intellectual property into the company. Greenwood says the firm is working on several deals, and one area of interest is business intelligence. He was unwilling to elaborate.
While Greenwood concedes that such a fragmented approach to cloud migration and outsourcing might not be the most cost-effective strategy, he still hopes to shave between 20 and 25 per cent from the IT budget over five years.
More coherent data management is important for Clifford Chance, which has designed a 'matter-centric' system that is being rolled out across the company.
This system allows staff to access and search a range of structured and unstructured information, including emails, financial information, billing information, research and so on. This means someone joining the company can become acquainted with the details of a case quickly.
“This bespoke system sees information pivot around an issue rather than a person,” says Greenwood.
The company is also looking to implement Microsoft’s SharePoint, a system that enables real-time collaborative working.
“We are working with Microsoft to configure the solution to our needs – if this is successful, we will have rolled it out in the next 12 months,” he says.
The business of being a lawyer – or at least getting paid for being a lawyer – has become more complicated. “It used to be the case that as law firms charged by the hour, so long as you kept busy you would make enough money. Things are more complicated now,” says Greenwood.
With fixed, contingency, capped and success fees it can be difficult to work out where a firm or a lawyer is or is not making money, and how much they should charge. The company hopes to manage its finances via a Microsoft Business Intelligence platform within the SharePoint system due to be rolled out this year.
Similarly, Clifford Chance’s plans around consumerisation resemble those of many innovative companies that recognise that staff become demotivated when they find their technology at work is less advanced than what they have at home. The law firm plans to allow greater freedom that would see staff provided with a sum of money to buy equipment or a range of choices concerning that equipment.
This bring-your-own approach to technology can present data protection issues, so to help allay these and other security concerns, Clifford Chance was last year certified to the ISO27001 security standard, becoming one of the first law firms to receive this recognition. ISO27001 is an international standard that is widely recognised as an indication of best practice in information security and information risk management. Greenwood says his security strategy is less focused on defending the perimeter and controlling what information goes in and out of the company, and more on designing and monitoring systems for flexible use on either side of this barrier.
All these ongoing projects build on extensive changes that Greenwood implemented shortly after joining the firm.
His first major project was to consolidate all six of the global IT teams he inherited into the one central team now based in Canary Wharf.
As Greenwood explains, this move was less about choosing between technologies than managing cultural change: “It took some time to persuade people not to think in terms of ‘us and them’ with regard to the new global IT team. Initially there was a lot of blaming of the centre, and endless documented debates about technology choices that the centre had made. In addition, the struggle for dominance between technical experts in the team needed managing. It took a few years to iron this out.”
After centralising Clifford Chance’s IT department, Greenwood and his team spent most of 2005 to 2010 “simplifying, standardising and consolidating” across the infrastructure.
The firm reduced the number of its applications from 800 to 300 and shrank its 19 datacentres into six hubs in New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.
It also built a captive shared services centre in India. This centre takes care of application support, administrative tasks, network monitoring, email system monitoring and the day-to-day management of everything outside the basic infrastructure.
This period also saw the company standardise desktop and server technologies on Office 2009 and an ERP system built on Oracle Financials but heavily customised.
“Our mantra for simplication was about having one system, one underlying data set and one business process supporting that,” says Greenwood.
But it was not a simple process, and getting buy-in from the rest of the business was a headache, he explains. “It has been an expensive process but we will save a lot more in the long term. Getting them to agree to take cost out of the future by investing money upfront was not easy.”
Offshoring, again, was predictably an unpopular decision. “Setting up the captive centre in India had a pretty negative affect on the IT department’s morale,” says Greenwood: the move resulted in a 30 per cent cut in headcount.
However, Greenwood predicts a more stable outlook going forward. And what of his own plans: will he leave the company once he has achieved his goal of creating an infrastructure-free organisation?
It is difficult to say, he says. “The role of the CIO will be hugely different in five or 10 years’ time. It will be about managing shared infrastructure and working on strategy and programme management – it won’t be about the technology at all.”
But his interest in business and strategy means he is not looking to clear his desk just yet. “In fact, it’s likely to be a much more exciting job,” he says.