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VANTAGE 2015: directions and connections

Joanna GoodmanJoanna Goodman reports on last week’s Thomson Reuters VANTAGE worldwide conference in Las Vegas

Although Thomson Reuters VANTAGE global user conference in Las Vegas was a massive event with record attendance of 1,100 delegates, as vice president of customer advocacy Patrick Hurley tweeted, it still felt like family. And there was a great atmosphere. As one of a small minority from outside the US, I was impressed by the sheer scale and glitz of the venue (the dazzling Bellagio hotel) and the serious work and attention to detail that clearly went into planning and organising this amazing event. 

LES

LES management team: Eric Ruud, Elisabet Hardy, Bill Burch, Eric Sugden (image ©Joanna Goodman 2015)

Getting down to business: management briefing from LES

Representatives of the US and international media attended a briefing day with the senior management team of Legal Enterprise Solutions (LES), which was formed  in 2014 to combine TR’s Elite and Serengeti businesses. This included sessions with managing director Eric Ruud, Bill Burch, vice president of global sales, CTO Eric Sugden, Elisabet Hardy vice president, global product management & marketing, vice president of customer advocacy Patrick Hurley and David Curle, director, strategic competitive intelligence.

Ruud explained the overarching strategy of combining the Elite and Serengeti businesses and developing closer integration with TR’s tax and accounting and content products while prioritising a customer-centric approach. Other strategic objectives include expanding TR’s already significant global footprint into the Far East and developing markets. LES is directed at connecting the legal marketplace: i.e. bridging the workflows between law firms and their clients. 

Placemat

Roadmap placemat (image ©Joanna Goodman 2015)

Key announcements: Product integration and moving to the cloud

Sugden and Hardy presented the product and technology roadmap. Refreshingly, there was no PowerPoint presentation – instead we each got a placemat! 

Plans to move Elite 3E to the cloud by 2017 were announced two years in advance because firms have long planning cycles – and perhaps also as an incentive for Enterprise clients to move to 3E. A managed service is an attractive option, particularly for smaller and mid-sized firms. 

As Hardy explained, the product roadmap focused on standardizing and enhancing products and connecting the product experience.

Development work focused on simplifying the user interface and increasing integration – between TR products and between TR and partner products. Mobility was an important consideration throughout and we saw a demonstration of how Workspace allows integration between 3E, Mattersphere and Business Development Premier – including on the iPad. Workspace now integrates actions – i.e. if you update on one platform, the updated information will appear on the others. The keynote session included a demonstration of the Elite mobile app and for the first time VANTAGE included a developer track.

New product announcements included a new visual studio plug-in for 3E and a new visual designer for design gallery, paperless pre-bill editing in ProLaw and the integration of eBilling Hub with ProLaw. 

Customer advocacy and engagement

LES’ overarching strategy is concentrated on consolidating and updating products to make them easier to use and improving customer engagement.  This is supported by the relaunch of the Elite community, a social network for Elite customers to share ideas, insights and issues. 

Hurley reinforced the strategic objective of customer advocacy:  to develop holistic customer engagement. “We want to be easy to do business with,” he said, adding “We often have to do things that benefit the customer even if they do not benefit us. That is how we develop long-term trusting relationships.” This will be supported by employee education focused on developing closer customer relationships. Hurley walked the talk at a peer group meeting where he listened to a group of clients (fans?) discussing implementation and service issues. His challenge, however, is to connect with the customers who do not attend events or provide feedback, yet may have issues to address or suggestions and ideas to share.

The GC perspective

At the executive summit, GCs from world-class companies explained how their changing role affected what they were looking for from their law firms. It is worth highlighting a few general themes and observations. 

GCs have always been trusted business advisers and companies are continuing to expand their legal teams. Cost is a key consideration and alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) are here to stay as clients look for cost transparency and predictability. However, GCs consider it most important that a company’s legal advisers understand the business – it is the relationship and synergy with the business that makes a law firm harder to replace. Not enough firms are comfortable about asking their clients for feedback, particularly as many corporates are reducing their panels. Reference was made to the Japanese management concept genchi genbutsu which means “go and see for yourself”, something akin to management by walking about. Law firm pitches concentrate on lawyers’ skills and generally have insufficient focus on solving business issues and identifying clients’ expectations, which are constantly changing. This disconnect is partly because companies measure by output, i.e. by results, while lawyers measure by input i.e. by time. 

”Legal

It’s not just about lawyers and GCs. Decision-making is moving down organisations and panellists suggested that law firm CFOs and CIOs should get to know their clients’ legal operations directors – i.e. the connection should not just be at partner/GC or even lawyer/in-house legal level, but at the technical level too. I should add here that I have encountered UK law firm CIOs who actually attend client pitches and meetings, so this is happening, just not enough!

Further discussions focused on technology adoption, including contract software, collaboration software, e-signatures and the use of metrics by corporate legal departments. 

Technology adoption - and a Legal IT first!

The programme included user sessions for multiple products – some were directly educational while others were opportunities for peer discussion, learning and networking. 

Other sessions included the lawyer’s technology wish list. Again the issue for law firm IT directors and managers was engaging lawyers in making the most of the firm’s technology investments. Lawyers were keen on mobile technology and apps, which in some cases (obviously, not TR which has focused sharply on mobile integration!) raised security and integration issues. 

Turning to mobile technology, I attended the first demo of a native timekeeping app for the Apple Watch, which was very much in evidence at VANTAGE. Bellefield’s iTimeKeep mobile application offers real-time integration with popular devices, browser, operating systems and time and billing systems. As Bellefield co-founder and principal John Kuntz explained, the app is about improving timekeeping by reducing the activation energy required. Co-founder and president Gaby Isturiz added. “The biggest challenge with timekeeping is to get attorneys to do it contemporaneously,” hence she was engaged by the possibilities offered by the Apple Watch, which is about quick, immediate tasks, like responding quickly to an email or text message. The app enables time entry via voice to text, or by setting a timer. The contemporaneous time capture is a draft and can be validated or edited later, but the app means that lawyers can capture billable time on any device. The Apple Watch is quick and makes them look cool. Isturiz created the first app in a couple of weeks with the idea of engaging the early adopter market and plans to add more functionality, including gamification to encourage widespread take-up. 

Bellefield

Bellefield’s iTimekeep for Apple Watch (image ©Joanna Goodman 2015)

3D user experiences and co-opertition

‘How is the new what’, Curle’s presentation to the media briefing focused on the continuing evolution of legal services into a task-centric, data-driven process that produces a ‘3D user experience’. It is no longer just about the service, but about how it is delivered. Curle used Uber as an example: Uber is not just an app, but what happens in real life when you use the product. You order a taxi; you can see that it is on its way and then it takes you to your destination. It is about standardising and personalising the service as well as ensuring that it is globally scalable.

In the media briefing and his keynote session, Burch emphasised the importance of working with partners, particularly in the light of market consolidation. But this is also about customer service and user experience as more agile firms avoid long implementation projects. It was the first time I had heard the term ‘co-opertition’ – or co-operative competition – in connection with the legal market.  

Elite partner organisations demonstrating their products and services included a significant contingent of brands that are strong in the UK, notably Tikit, IntApp, DocsCorp and DWReporting as well as US and international offerings. Apparently there were more exhibitors than in previous years. The vendor hall opening event was pretty impressive, with great entertainment and food and a cool cocktail bar. 

Pioneering a new space – where firms and corporates meet

Elite’s enterprise business management products are used by 4,300 firms in 42 countries. The latest 3E win, announced at the start of the conference is magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. It makes sense for LES/Elite to focus on its customers, in terms of service, advocacy and community, because as a market leader it needs to protect and retain its strong market share.

After the keynote, I asked Ruud what was driving LES’s strategy. He emphasised that this is not a change of direction. The idea was to modify Elite’s existing strategy in the light of process mapping, customer feedback and organisational restructuring. Ruud brought the idea of setting up a customer advocacy group from a previous business, as he could see potential for improvement. TR’s enterprise assets are defined by their products, content and people, and it is important to look at these holistically from the customers’ perspective, he explained. 

The plan is to work with firms and corporate GCs to define their touchpoints, which include, but are not limited to the desire for billing transparency from their law firms. “It’s about pioneering a new space where firms and corporates meet,” says Ruud. “There will never be perfect collaboration because corporates have different infrastructures and issues, but we are trying to build the connections where they are needed. It’s not all about money; it’s also about the quality of interaction and collaborative tools help to improve communication. For example, Business Development Premier provides much more data to support decision-making and identify multiple touchpoints into client organisations.”

Ruud considers LES’s biggest challenge firms’ reluctance to change and partners’ satisfaction with the status quo. “Change is inevitable, because young people are forcing companies to change, and law firms will have to change to meet their clients’ demands.”

A key part of LES customer advocacy is getting customers communicating with TR and each other and VANTAGE certainly managed that that. However, the challenge will be to connect with the customer contingent that does not attend conferences or provide feedback in order to identify unmet needs and/or potential enhancements.

It was great to spend time getting to know the Elite team and representatives from the US and international media. I enjoyed reconnecting after about five years with the team from Chilli IQ, who had travelled all the way from Australia, and meeting Bob Ambrogi, whose blog I have been reading for years, as well as catching up with my friends at LSN and Legal IT Professionals. 

I attended VANTAGE as a guest of Thomson Reuters. Special thanks to Gretchen DeSutter and Sabrina Wainio for inviting me and looking after me throughout.
 

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