The CIO View: Andrew Brammer, Allen & Overy

For the last Orange Rag of 2020, we spoke to seven CIOs from UK top 100 and EMEA law firms about the challenges and highlights of the year, and what their newly revised priorities are for next year.

What was the biggest challenge of 2020?The biggest challenge for us was realising that not only did we have to deploy iManage globally in the first half of the year but also deal with the pandemic – all the training had to be recast in days not weeks. 

We started running rolling 24/7 training sessions with follow the sun trainers around the world. We were training people digitally at the same time as getting people equipped to work from home. 

It has been easier than expected because people just realised that because of the changing circumstances, they had to engage in training in a way they wouldn’t if they had been in the office. One of the trends of the past year is people’s willingness to engage is increasing – there is no doubt that we are a much more tech-savvy organisation now. 

I was very glad not to not rely on the firm’s old document management system and iManage is working well. Are there things we can improve, of course. But it’s one of the largest implementations they have done and to do it in the midst of a pandemic, it went better than we thought and has served us well during the course of this year. 

What other changes have you made during the year?This year we rolled out 3,000 laptops to those who didn’t have one and that was done in short order. We deployed Teams alongside WebEx and Jabber, all our telephony was already digitised and that was very helpful. Like a lot of firms, we were in that constant game of catch up as each video provider offered different features and we were running along to keep up with that.

The other interesting thing we saw come in was a big acceptance of eSignatures. Users of eSignatures were in the minority at the beginning of the year and now they are used significantly. You see a lot of work being done around ‘is this document able to be signed with eSignatures?’ There has been a tension all year between the need to adopt cloud-based solutions and regulatory, cyber and client considerations.  

Were you already set up for paperless billing and collections?Yes, we were already set up for that and one of the easiest offices to move was our shared service office in Northern Ireland, which had already moved to agile the previous year. Our entire support services centre has been working at home all year and will be until Easter: billing, collections, and payroll can all be done from home.

What has surprised you most about 2020?The things that surprised us and everyone is how sustainable the shift has been. We went into it as business continuity crisis management and nobody expected in March that we would still be working this way. What we’ve managed to do, and every other firm has been able to do, is a really positive thing – that to me will be the overriding good thing that’s come out of it. While on a personal level no one wants to work five days from home, we probably also don’t want to work five days from the office and this year will open up opportunities for some flexibility.

Are you looking at what changes you make to your premises for 2021?That’s a piece of work being led by Edward Mackaness along with a group of partners and others and it’s a really live question – what is it that will make a successful workplace in the future? Some decisions are being driven by lease renewals and others not. 

In the past year the technology has changed, and in the future, so will the way we use real estate. Yes, you’ll come to the office for specific reasons, not just to do your job, and the office will be tailored for whatever those reasons are. One of the things you’ll be coming to do is meet colleagues and to see clients and develop strategy – are you coming in to do your emails? I wouldn’t have thought so.

What is your tech product of the year?VPN really is the unsung hero of 2020. If you can’t manage your network, it really doesn’t matter what other technology or arrangements you have in place!

What is at the top of your to-do list for 2021?Our three focus areas over the next little while are 1) simplification: understanding how we can deliver our services with a lighter footprint from an infrastructure and applications perspective; 2) data: you’ll see us make more use of data to solve business problems, using the likes of Microsoft Dynamics and Power BI; and 3) Services: building legal tech solutions for our clients and fee earners.