Think law firms and you naturally think of paper, wigs and the cloistered world of chambers. Those of us that have used law firms for conveyancing are hardly given to the impression that the legal world is consumer facing, technology literate and agile.
But Richard Hodkinson, CTO for DWP LLP is part of an organisation that is changing that perception.
DWP LLP is one of the UK's fastest growing law firms and is not shy about its ambitions to be one of the top 20 players. A series of mergers and acquisitions over the last couple of years has seen DWP grow rapidly. As a result it has a technology leader and strategy that can enable the pace of growth to continue.
"We are trying to go away from the normal legal IT firms. Law IT tends to be a little naff," Hodkinson says. As a result Hodkinson and his team have integrated Salesforce, Oracle and Microsoft's newish purchase Yammer across the organisation. As Software-as-a-Service applications, in two cases, Hodkinson sees good evidence of the case for cloud computing.
"The point of cloud is to improve scale and scale is about opportunity, that could be a merger, so we need to turn on services very, very quickly.
"The demand has to be polished and efficient, as we want to be a top 20 law firm, which means we are joining an elite club of law firms. So when people join the organisation it has to feel as polished a it looks on the outside," he says of ridding his organisation of what so many suffer from, the real under the hood story of being pretty inefficient.
This has meant Hodkinson has had to change the culture of his IT team to think big, think best in class.
"The IT team had a small business feel and as a result they feel they have to have their arms around everything," he says of the dramatic change in culture that cloud computing adoption requires.
"I'm trying to take a team on a journey, which in itself is a double whammy when we are growing so fast. So I am layering in more service governance management, so that IT is about delivering solutions. Lawyers just want a solution, so we have a very pragmatic approach to IT and I surround myself with the best thinkers and skills.
"I want IT to make a difference when we do business and a deal maker and that helps with the attraction and retention of business. So we are setting up an innovation team so that we can take ideas to the organisation that they didn't know they needed.
"IT is not our core competence, DWF is a law firm," he states clearly of the business and the technology department's role. This in turn means that the role of CTO and CIO will change he believes.
"The role in five years time will be to be technological change agents that can connect with people, have strong social skills and build solutions because the pace of delivery in business is like a Formula One pit stop.
"For me it is open season, you don't know where the next move by your business will come from."
Hodkinson has a mix of relationships with big market players, but also local small development houses.
"There is a benefit from using the big providers. But innovation is a key part of the DWF brand, so for mobile apps we are working with a small Manchester outfit to deliver an app that has all the business plans and annual reports in a single app. The point being that everyone knows the plan as it is in your back pocket.
Hodkinson has had considerable success with the adoption of Yammer enterprise social networking tool.
"It's Fisher Price computing as no training is required and we put one advertisement out the adoption has been epic. Any product we get has to have that usability otherwise you lose the RoI."
Social technology has not only been influential within DWF, as a Manchester-based, but national law firm, Hodkinson has used the social web to discover new providers in the growing Manchester tech community that can offer him and his organisation an advantage.
"Manchester has a lot of innovation groups that you can join and post noises out there to them and then see what comes back, so we are using the social environment to the best," he says of one of the new ways this CIO begins the procurement process.
Hodkinson finds this way of soliciting ideas and solutions is ideal for the new business environment he and many CTOs find themselves in today.
"DWF is about making a rapid judgement, we don't have the luxury of time and we want to get places quickly. We used to do a lot of big analysis and planning because the systems would be with you for a long time, but now two weeks is a strategy," he observes of the speed of change in business.