Shire’s legal strategy head Claire Debney leads tech transformation programme

This article first appeared in the January Legal IT Newsletter
FTSE 100 biopharmaceutical company Shire, led by director of legal strategy Claire Debney (pictured top left) and legal strategy manager Ama Zbarcea, has conducted an extensive sandbox exercise to engage its staff in the selection of a contract management system, as part of a much wider technologyled transformation programme.
Debney, who joined Shire from RB and brought Zbarcea over from RB after her arrival, ran the sandbox towards the end of 2017, bringing together 36 people in its Massachusetts office in an unusual attempt to engage staff in its technology selection. The new software tested was Contract Express, ContractPod and Onit – all of which provided a demo for free – as incumbent contract management system provider Axxerion comes up for renewal in 2019.
For each piece of software, Debney and Zbarcea created a one-page instruction sheet and infographic. The sandbox participants were selected from across multiple practice areas, including those who do not habitually create contracts, with Debney observing: “In reality everyone’s clients need a contract at some point and we are all collectively responsible to make sure it works for everyone.”
The 36 staff were split into groups of 12, who after testing the systems gave extensive feedback against metrics such as how well it fit the client’s legal needs. In terms of the responses given, Debney said: “There was no definitive ‘we like everything about this system’. People liked a little about each but none of them are as intuitive as Amazon. The systems are capable but still don’t provide the best user experience.”
The purpose was to enlighten staff as to what is on offer and encourage participation rather than to actively select a vendor. It is rare that staff even in a private practice setting are engaged to this extent. Often the research conducted will revolve heavily around price.
Zbarcea (pictured right) said: “Usually there will be a small group of people who look at demos – so vendors come in or they go to the vendor without playing with the systems themselves. It’s not a sandbox.” She adds: “The issue is how systems are built – they may work well but if you stick the process in front of a lawyer they may say ‘that doesn’t work the way I think’. You can have brilliant IT people but if they are not putting in place a system the way their clients work it’s not going to be adopted by users.”
In terms of the overall feedback, Debney said: “Some people thought it was the biggest waste of time and some loved it. Some people had technical difficulties that ruined it for them.” She added: “Systems all have their quirks – and remember they were all provided free for a demo, which was incredibly valuable. If it’s a quirk where you can put an extra step in the instructions, that’s not great but not a deal breaker, but if there are too many quirks that’s an issue.”
While many in-house teams feel neglected by their overall IT function, Shire’s legal team is backed by US-based IT business partner Steve Aaronson, who attended the sandbox exercise. Debney said: “We’re very lucky to have that degree of collaboration. He is pleased we’re engaged and is incredibly supportive and there to help us fight for budget.”
The sandbox comes as Debney and Zbarcea spearhead the global legal department’s transformation programme, called ‘pod’, standing for people, operations and development. There are numerous branches to the programme including an online knowledge bank, virtual learning campus and training academy.
‘Podworks’ is the gateway to legal systems such as matter management, eBilling and contract building, while ‘mentorpod’, which has just launched in pilot, is a technology-enabled programme matching mentors and mentees into long-term, short-term and project-based relationships across the organisation.
Mentorpod is based on Chronus’ software, which incorporates an algorithm to match suitable people. Users can incorporate their data from LinkedIn and stipulate their own criteria for meeting people. The pilot involves 25 mentoring pairs but if successful will be rolled out across the legal team and possibly across the entire enterprise.
Zbarcea (pictured right) said: “We’re doing it through legal as a pilot but it would be just as easy to do on an enterprise basis. Someone might want guidance on public speaking. Or guidance on running a project.”
Debney added: “The company has nothing yet and this is an example of innovation led by legal. It’s another halo effect: yes we want to contract right and manage risk but we’re all about what makes you a great person at work and what makes you a great person is if you’re well connected.”
Shire has begun a restructuring that could lead the pharmaceutical company to spin out its neuroscience division as a separate business. It currently uses Mitratech TeamConnect; Anaqua’s IP asset management software, and iManage for document management.
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