Debrief: FT Intelligent Business Forum & Research

Debrief: FT Intelligent Business Forum & Research
by Charles Dimov

Debrief: FT Intelligent Business Forum & ResearchThis year’s Financial Times FT/RSG Intelligent Business Forum was themed ‘The Black Mirror of The ‘Back Office’ and did not disappoint. Guests came from as far as Australia, Netherlands, Leeds, Singapore, Canada, and from around the US. San Francisco proved to be an ideal backdrop for the discussions. Also, thanks to the facility host DocuSign, one of our partners. Not only were the facilities impressive, but the views of the harbor, and Oakland Bay Bridge, were simply stunning.

This year’s event drew many speakers and panelists from the world of law and legal technology leadership. After a day of discussions on hot topics in the industry, the finale were the awards on various business subject areas. Finally, at the close of the ceremonies, this year’s FT Intelligent Business Research was publicly launched with copies distributed to all participants.

Now, focusing on the legal side, here are a few highlights from a few of the panel discussions:


Currently, we are experiencing an explosion of legal technology companies jumping into the fray. This is making it confusing for many General Counsel offices and legal operations teams. Also, with so many industry players jockeying for positions, their differentiation’s often come from specializations of one sort or another. So, is it better for a company to look at the benefits of adopting highly specialized tech. Or should they seek end-to-end platforms?

Panelists at FT Intelligent Research included:

  • Alastair Morrison, Head of Client Strategy Board member, Pinsent Masons
  • Rhonda Jenkins, Chief Transformation Officer, Reynen Court
  • Emilita Hernandez Bravo, Head of Legal Operations, Fitbit
  • Richard Punt, Chief Strategy Officer, Thomson Reuters
  • Tri Tran, Principal & Chief Technology Officer, Applico

From the discussions, it seemed to come down to compromise and balancing points. Now, the challenge is not taking on a huge platform system that claims to do everything possible with add-on modules. Often these don’t do a particular good job at anything in particular. This has long been a challenge with the all-encompassing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems of yesteryear. There is a good balance with companies that do offer end-to-end (E2E) solutions. Even better, is within a given area, like contract lifecycle management (CLM).

As Emilita Hernandez Bravo, Head of Legal Operations at Fitbit stated, “the last thing lawyers want to do is to have to learn how to use another piece of software … but the problem is when they roll it out and the attorneys don’t use it … then the whole value proposition goes out the window.” In other words, the balancing point is a delicate one. General counsels must balance between systems with enough breadth and functionality. Then balance these against systems that try to achieve too much and simply don’t engage the user well enough.

Another fascinating option came from Rhonda Jenkins, Chief Transformation Officer at Reynen Court. Their solution is to create a marketplace for smaller legaltech apps. The focus here being on interconnectivity and integration. Also, one of the panelists observed that “there is increasing demand for cross-platform integration,” as one of the trends addressing this hot subject. Therefore, integrations with other systems like Salesforce, Microsoft 365, and Docusign are critically important. Makre sure to look for these aspects.

Amusingly, there was unanimous agreement that “when lawyers think of a platform they think of Microsoft tools like Excel, Word, and Powerpoint.” Are we now at the cusp of this perception changing?


Reena Sangupta, CEO RSG Consulting, kicked off this FT Intelligent Business session with a keen observation that, “A decent contract can be a blueprint for good human behavior.” Leading from this, Tim Cummins, Founder and President of the IACCM – took the discussion through a thoughtful look at trends impacting contracts and the industry. Cummins started with “trade lies at the heart of human progress. Without trade, the economic world would collapse. This whole world is held together by contracts.” How very true. Particularly notable was his view that “we must stop thinking of contracts as documents – and thinking of them as data.” No doubt, this characterizes our brave new world. Debrief: FT Intelligent Business Forum & Research

Also, Cummins pointed out an important point that “writing contracts is the easy part… it is determining what truly needs to be written which is the critical part.” This was in reference to his earlier days at IBM. At the time there was a stark realization that contracts had made the company far too difficult to do business with. Therefore, the future is about simplification and trust-building. On this topic, Cummins concluded, “contracts must operate as a framework for trust and confidence. Contracts must be instruments for collaboration.”


Moderator, Mary Shen O’Carroll – Director Legal Ops, Google opened the panel stating, “contracts are as hot as legal ops.” Legal operations have grown at a surprising pace in recent years. She also pointed out that, “there is frustration in the world of contracts… still frustrated about redlines, and how you find things.” All this is characterizing a need for the rapid adoption of contract management systems, and making them functionally easier to use.

For this session at FT Intelligent Research, panelists included:

  • Nick Conway, Director – Forensic Technology Practice, Deloitte
  • Alistair Maiden, CEO & Founder, SYKE
  • Leo Murgel, VP Legal & Corporate Affairs, COO, Salesforce
  • Jason Parkman, CEO Mitratech

As Alistair Maiden put it, “contracts are hot. There is a real enthusiasm here. People are doing some very cool stuff in this space.” And, as a proviso he also made a case for simplicity, stating “we are in the age of the iPhone … people expect things to be simple and easy to use.” Similarly, this is in reference to how winning CLMs are succeeding with intuitive UIs (user interfaces), based on great business user experiences.


Collaborating (moving lower level functional responsibilities out of legal to other parts of the organization. This way, people know what’s going on at the ground floor)

Chipping away at low value-add items – and removing these from the General Counsel’s deskNick Conway left the panel discussion with an important point about CLM systems and vendors. He highlighted the challenges, of which legal departments must be aware. Firstly, is the danger of thinking, “they have always done it this way.” The time to embrace change and new technology is now. Second, Conway warned of legal teams, “burned by heavy deployments for implementations,” for CLM systems. His advice was for all attendees to ask for details about the whole implementation process,. Ask about costs, timing, and resourcing.


This topic emerged from some of the observations out of the FT Intelligent Business report. Trends to converge data, services and technology – are all creating new career paths for employees. So, from this, the question emerged about how to overcome the skills gap.

Panelists here included:

  • Basha Rubin, CEO and Co-Founder, Priori Legal
  • Joshua Browder, Founder & CEO, DoNotPay
  • Andrew Mellet, Founder and CEO, Plexus
  • James Thomas, Head of Legal and Innovation, KPMG

On the future of the profession, the views varied. Joshua Browder speculated that the “future is network effective platforms.” James Thomas suggested that we are facing a, “data-driven future – and we are NOT there yet.” Andrew Mellet highlighted, “the future of law is like flicking on a light switch (fast, efficient, and consistent).” This being the direction of where the industry must head. Finally, Basha Rubin ended the thought with her feelings that we, “share tremendous optimism – but that there will be much frothiness in the market, and many startups will NOT survive.” Although this may be true, it is important not to despair. These are merely growing pains in stepping toward a much stronger profession and industry.


All in all, the summit, awards, and launch of the FT Intelligent Business Research were a great learning experience. With so many discussions with in-field practitioners, general counsels, tech firms, and legal operations teams… this was a grounded view of the future of the industry.

Personally, I walked away with a deeper understanding of our business, and what customers (the general counsel, contract managers, and legal operations teams) are seeking. Consequently, it comes down to having a great user interface (UI). It must be intuitive, and easy to use. Then it is also about using artificial intelligence well and in the right places. Finally, making the implementations run smoothly and as painless as possible is important. Above all, I am satisfied to state openly that ContractPodAi hits on these metrics, and more. It is always a re-assuring feeling to know you are on the right track.

So, if you are in the market for a contract management system, reach out for a pressure-free discussion. Contracting and contract management are our favorite topics. We are happy to discuss it with you briefly, or in detail. Please reach out today at ContractPodAi.



 Charles Dimov
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