Covid-19, cows and an end to the billable hour…

  • In conversation with Warren Hero, Chief Information Officer, Webber Wentzel

    Warren is an experienced Chief Technology Officer and current Chief Information Officer at Webber Wentzel, one of South Africa’s leading law firms. Warren’s appointment to Webber Wentzel was viewed as signalling the firm’s heightened commitment to harnessing technology as a means of delivering efficient and innovative legal solutions to its clients. Afriwise asked Warren to share his perspective on legal-tech as CIO of one of the largest African law firms. Here is what he had to say...

    I recently partook in a survey which asked respondents “what was the one thing that had the biggest impact on your company’s digital transformation". There were three options, CEO, CIO or Covid-19. The overwhelming majority opted for Covid-19.

    In just a short period of time, essentially what we have seen is the drive to ensure “contactless everything”. At Webber Wentzel one of the things we had to redo very swiftly was our entire suite of meeting rooms so we could accommodate tribunals, respect social distancing and ensure that security and fidelity during the tribunals was maintained. It is exactly this “contactless everything” that we will see continue to permeate our business processes, so we are better prepared for the future. I also expect to see a whole host of new regulations around privacy and protectionism over the coming months.

    In my role at Webber Wentzel, one of the most fundamental things I do is to understand the shifts in client and customer behaviour. With Covid-19, it became clear to us fairly early on that we should expect to see some very large shifts in a short space of time. For our organisation, it is critical that we develop different types of mechanisms in order to make sure that the voice of the client and customer is not just heard, but that we make sure we adjust our internal business processes and products to incorporate their points.

    I think an important discussion all organisations should be having today is around how we make our business models more sustainable in the future. At Webber Wentzel, especially in our digital practices, one of the things we are looking at quite seriously is our ability to move away from the billable hour to focus on value-based contracting with our clients. The only way we have been able to do this is to implement different types of technology to allow for a significant improvement in productivity of these teams. In one of our corporate teams our core processes used to take them around 7 months to complete. Through the process of end to end digitisation, we were able to reduce the cycle time in that core practice area down to just 3 weeks. From that perspective, it not only gave us the leeway to internally transform our processes, but it also improved the benefit to our clients. This internal improvement meant that our team were able to achieve around a 25% improvement in their billable revenue through moving to much more of a value-based contracting.

    Blurring the line between physical and digital using herds of cows...

    Defining digital is an important step for organisations trying to build business models that can survive this disruption. I have a very simple definition that I use, based on 2 prerequisites, the ability for a business to explore new busines designs or new business models and the second one, which is a bit trickier, is about blurring the line between the digital and the physical. I am going to draw on an example from my tenure at Microsoft.

    One of the things that we tried to do specifically in Ghana, as well as in Japan was to be able to think about how we improve herd yields in specific herds of cows. We used an approach similar to what we now practice at Webber Wentzel, to approach problems using human-centered design thinking. One of the founding principles of the methodology is to observe the phenomena that you are trying to have an influence on.

    So, I went to observe cows. I saw that the cows at certain points in the month started walking faster and further and when we put a pedometer on the cows we found that we could predict the changing behaviour to a probability of 99.9%. What we then did was to do some blood tests to try and figure out why there is this change in observable behaviour, and we saw that this change coincided with when the cow started its ovulation cycle. A cow’s ovulation cycle lasts for about 8 hours, so we started to inseminate the cow during different intervals; we found that if we inseminated the cow in the first four hours, it produced cows, when we inseminated the cow in the second four hours, it produced bulls.

    From a digital perspective, one of the things we are absolutely concerned about is this concept of value. This knowledge was incredible, we could significantly improve economic value. One of the things that we started doing was to vary the ratio of cows to bulls and in varying the ratio of cows to bulls we were able to increase the h eard yield by 30% in those herds. This was done at no increase in input costs, value was created solely by the way we used the data.

    And that for me is probably one of the other most important things we’ve learned at Webber Wentzel, that the effective use of data is critical and can significantly contribute to an organisation’s bottom line. We have adopted a process to use data in order to generate client insight, through generating this insight we are able to go back to our clients with actionable improvement on processes.

    Over the last few months, Afriwise ran a survey with practitioners and in-house counsel across Africa and spoke with multiple thought-leaders in Africa’s legal sector. All agree that the continent is still behind in terms of legal tech and innovative alternative legal solutions. They also agreed that Covid-19 has presented a real opportunity to turn this around, with many believing the continent could leapfrog countries globally in its adoption of technology to improve legal services.

    All our findings, discussions and expert insights have been collated into a sector report. You can download a free copy of our 2020 Tech for the Legal Sector in Africa report here.