#GlenLegal19: Finding the right model for tech innovation

When Daniel Pollick joined DWF from DLA Piper last year, he had concerns about how he would work with the firm’s innovation arm, DWF Ventures. “I thought it was going to be like the worst kind of shadow IT,” he told delegates at the 2019 Legal Leaders IT Forum.

“I pictured lots of great, but unimplementable ideas, that were going to be handed to me, the bus driver, by these fighter pilots. I was sceptical about the idea of having an R&D business alongside a traditional IT function. But the reality is, it has been amazing.”

DWF Ventures offers the ability to think about innovation away from frontline operations, and often initially away from lawyers, explained DWF Ventures managing director and head of development Jonathan Patterson. But there have been challenges along the way.

“Initially we made the mistake of creating an NHS-style function – free at the point of use,” he said. “It was used and abused. There were problems with funding and it descended into a case of ‘he who shouts loudest’.”

The firm went back to the drawing board and designed a different model. DWF Ventures was launched as a limited company and subsidiary of DWF’s connected services division. It is judged on non-legal performance measures and has two key engines.

The first, focuses on innovations intended to make improvements in the near-term. The second, gives the business the budget and blessing to work with clients and academic institutions to explore longer-term horizons. “These are the things we need to be doing now because, dare I say it, we don’t necessarily believe the business model we have today is going to stand the test of time,” said Patterson.

“As a CIO, there is always a bit of you that doesn’t really want to go out and learn about all these new things, because you have so much going on already,” added Pollick. “The great thing about this model is that it liberates JP (Jonathan Patterson) and his team to go out and do all that stuff. And then we can take advantage in a way that is constructive.”

Another key aspect of DWF’s approach to innovation is measuring the advantages a piece of technology brings against how much change will be required of those using that technology. The firm has devised a Boston Box to pit size of benefit against behavioural demand.

“Innovations that bring little benefit but require a huge amount of change, we define as duds,” said Pollick. “Then there are the innovations that require a lot of effort but where the benefits are enormous. We call those marriages. Small benefits that don’t have heavy behavioural demands are point solutions. And then you get the silver bullets, like email, or Skype, where the amount of behavioural change required is minimal but the benefits can be vast.”

In addition to the core IT function and DWF Ventures, DWF also has a third pillar to its innovation ethos. The firm has an inhouse software business that is currently generating between £2m and £3m in revenues per annum.

By Amy Carroll