Steve Sumner is director of IT at Taylor Vinters. He joined the firm in 1995 having previously worked for legal systems supplier Miles33 and companies including IBM and Avis Rent-a-Car.
Describe the key parts of your role:
My aim as IT director is to provide Taylor Vinters with an IT infrastructure that matches its present and future operating requirements. That means meeting needs and aspirations in a joined-up and coherent way. The key elements of that aim may each be categorised as being operational or strategic, ‘business as usual’ or ‘blue-sky’.
We don’t have quite the level of resource of some larger City firms but we can show our skills and abilities by being innovative and agile, which lets us punch above our weight in IT terms. Strategically, the key elements of my role are about working with the senior management board to put IT systems in place at the right time.
How has your role changed during your time at the firm?
My role in 1995 was to understand the ‘black art’ of IT and to move Taylor Vinters to where there was email and word processing available for every lawyer and secretary within the firm.
In 2012, IT is seen as mission-critical to the operation of the firm: we can’t do without it. People are more appreciative and look to IT to provide the means to improve and develop how the business operates.
IT has got much smarter than in 1995 and that means my role has had to be smarter too. I spend almost 10 times the amount of money now than I did in 1995 on IT, so the budgeting and cashflow management is significantly more complex now than it was then.
What are the most significant external issues that have an impact on your role?
Security and communications. Security is a perpetual headache – how to ensure your environment is secure from people inside and outside.
Communications and mobile data hasn’t really kept up, in my opinion.
Twenty-five per cent of my infrastructure costs are spent on linking our two external data centres to our offices, and mobile data is nowhere near what’s needed to allow the speed of working in the office to be translated to when we’re on the move or at home.
What impact, if any, are the structural changes to the UK legal market having on your firm and your role?
Clients are now better informed about what’s available and firms need to up their game to compete with organisations that have amazing understanding of marketing and competition. That’s where IT comes in. We consider whether IT could enable things to be done more efficiently or easily.
What’s in your in-tray?
CVs for a new application developer role we’re hiring for; change requests related to our virtualisation project; mailbox and BlackBerry migration schedules; and planning for our annual disaster recovery testing.
What are the primary ways in which you source various suppliers to the business?
Many suppliers approach me but when we do go looking it’s products or services combined with a can-do attitude and professional approach that we want. It’s invaluable as well being able to call on your peer network for assistance. Some of my best supplier and IT director relationships have started life at a legal IT event.
What problems would you most like technology to solve?
Providing power without harming the planet and enabling the devices we use to respond instantaneously – PCs, servers, applications and communications are never fast enough.
Briefly describe the management structure of your organisation:
We have a senior management board comprising the managing partner, chief executive and financial director.
We then have five ‘super’ teams whose leaders report to the board and who are responsible for the financial performance of their team.
There’s also a management team of the professional directors who report to the board.
How many people do you have in your core team and who are they?
Six: a helpdesk manager, two helpdesk assistants, two application developers and an IT trainer.
What is the most important lesson your role has taught you?
It has taught me humility, patience and understanding, and to know that a battle can be lost but a war won.
Profit per equity partner: £216,000
Revenue per lawyer: £161,000
Revenue per fee-earner: £144,000
Getting ahead with IT
Sumner believes IT systems will play a key role in giving law firms a competitive edge over newcomers.
“Some might say the opening up of the market was a damp squib, as the anticipated influx of commercial organisations seems not to have happened,” he says. “I think they’re there, waiting for the right time to join the game.”
●CRM: Microsoft Dynamics CRM
● PMS: Miles33 Precedent
● DMS: Autonomy WorkSite 8.5
● Workflow: SharePoint 2010
● Digital dictation: BigHand
● Remote working: Citrix XenApp
● Virtualisation: VMWare Vsphere