Wrapping technology around your business objectives: We speak to Brian Kuhn about his new role and strategy at Elevate
Elevate has made a number of senior hires lately but the one to watch has to be Brian Kuhn, who founded IBM Watson’s legal consulting practice and was brought in by Elevate on 9 January to lead its new digital strategy and solutions business unit. The specially formed department will help law departments digitise and automate their practices, leveraging in particular the technology in its data and technology business LexPredict, which was acquired in 2018. The ambition is also to help mid-market law firms to productise their legal capability where they lack the technical resource internally.
Kuhn will report to CEO and Elevate founder Liam Brown, who was a large part of the reason that Kuhn moved from IBM. Kuhn told me: “Liam was the driving force: he’s a visionary but a practical visionary. Usually people are on one end of the spectrum or the other but this seemed like a good match.”
The vision that Brown sold was the opportunity to develop an in industry practice. At IBM, Kuhn worked with Fortune 500 and Global 500 corporate law departments and himself created an outside counsel spend analysis tool based on Watson but he says: “For all IBM’s strengths, Watson Legal is not in industry and the opportunity to develop one of the first mature digital strategy consulting and solutions practices was very compelling.”
Kuhn, who is a former litigation attorney and before IBM spent almost four years in sales at Thomson Reuters, says finding good technology in the legal market is not the challenge and has become “table stakes.” Instead, he says: “It’s how you apply technology, not at the edges but to solve business problems and customer specific problems. How can you wrap technology around a customer’s business objectives in a fit-for-purpose, right size way? The lack of that is why there has been a great deal of challenges. The Googles and IBMs and Amazons have yet to create a new narrative about how to apply the technology in a configurable way to customer problems using customer data and workflows.”
The work that Kuhn and his team will be doing will fall into four pillars, the first of which is digital solutions. “These will be repeatable solutions to high volume challenges that can be reconfigured around customer business objectives. Imagine you’re a legal department in a property casualty insurer and you pay for outside counsel work product. You can you use AI, machine learning, natural language processing and advance analytics to find and repurpose that historical work product in the context of your current challenge. Most professionals spend 30% of their time just looking for their information. There are variations in how to solve that depending on the industry you’re in.”
The second pillar is digital transformation and Kuhn says: “These will be unique larger engagements that are less about process and more about true transformation. In general there are three goals here. The first is net new revenue creation. The second is radical costs take out and the third is creating new business models. You can imagine the scenario where a law firm might wish to productise some of its service offering with a digital product. They can develop that inhouse and some – often the largest – firms do. Or they can bring their expertise and we can bring our technology and create a starting place and reasonable scope. We can create the architecture. For legal firms looking for new business models and revenue, there’s a path and we can give mid-size law firms the ability to digitise their offering.”
The third pillar is digital expertise on demand, or access to short term data scientists or architect expertise, which is designed for customers with projects underway who run into a challenge and need access to short term expertise and trouble shooting. The fourth is data design and architecture engagement for customers who want to validate an idea before going ahead with, where Elevate will analyse the data and see if it supports the idea. Kuhn says: “We hope to earn the right to progress that to the transformation stage.”
There can be no doubt that these are large ambitions that will require significant resource to deliver. The new department will initially make use of Elevate talent from across the business but Kuhn says: “We will earn the right to grow based on the revenue we generate.”
Interestingly, the team is going to endeavour to make these engagements fixed fee and time boxed.
What’s also interesting is that the new digital team will be leveraging the base code and architecture of LexPredict and creating an internal github so make it easier to repurpose UI and integration elements – a harvesting of assets that Amazon and IBM have done well.
Kuhn was at IBM for five years and built the legal consulting business from scratch with partner Shawnna Hoffman but he says: “We have no plans to use the Watson technology.
“The LexPredict stack has many of the same capabilities. When I learned this this and the team walked me through their capability I was floored – it’s much more mature than I originally realised.”
So what should the market look out for in 2020 in terms of developments and changes? “Companies have to step back in terms of how they realise their ambitions, to understand the importance of their data and its incumbent value and what to expect also to learn and share information about how to approach transformation in a feasible way. The market has been talking about widgets and they are exciting and fun but where digital transformation fails is through a lack of understanding of business needs. In the legal industry we will see camps – one that attempts digital transformation without focusing on business objectives and alignment, and the camp that does. The camp that does will be two thirds more likely to succeed.”