International law firm Hogan Lovells has sought to ‘break the mould’ in the traditionally conservative legal industry by moving its HR system into the cloud with Workday, choosing the software as a service model over traditional HR vendors.

Hogan Lovells formed in 2010 as the result of a merger between US firm Hogan & Hartson and London-based Lovells. The company now operates in 40 locations within 25 separate jurisdictions (there are five offices within the jurisdiction of Germany, for example), spread over the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  With a total of around 6,500 staff worldwide, split between lawyers and back office support, the company has a sizeable disparate workforce.

Hogan Lovells previously had a number of HR solutions across the various jurisdictions it operated in.  These varied in terms the level of sophistication of the solution. In the US the payroll function of a Ceridian payroll system was used for HR, while the UK team continued its use of a Northgate HR system put in place around 2000. Meanwhile, other smaller offices across its operations used Excel spreadsheets to collate HR data. All of the systems lacked an international focus and were unable to scale to meet the needs of the growing business. 

However, as Hogan Lovells has seen its business expand through mergers, the company looked at uniting its HR function in order to give a better view of staff expertise across its entire operation. The company began to look at the usual list of vendors which offer HR solutions that are popular in the legal sector, eventually deciding on Workday's software as a service HR system.

Although Hogan Lovells had little experience of public cloud, other than small instances such as email and spam filtering, Gary Abbott,  senior manager for Global Information Management, said that the company quickly found that there were clear benefits of using SaaS, rather than sticking with the on-premises vendors.

“We didn't have any public cloud implementations of any scale in our organisations previously.  Law firms are historically quite conservative about those sorts of things for very good reasons, mainly because our clients are very conservative. So for us to look at Workday as a true Saas, a multitenant capability, is a departure for us as a business."


Customisation vs configuration

In the procurement process, Abbott found that the traditional vendors of HR system fell short when it came to a true cloud offering.  Furthermore the lack of multitenancy meant a reliance on enabling software customisation rather than configuration.

“Even those vendors that are now talking about cloud openly, our view was that some of the vendors haven’t really embraced true multitenant capabilities, which is what we were looking for. They are still trying to work that out and still have the 'new software delivery every three years' mindset.” 

“One of the key values for us working with Workday is that they get a new release or capability out every four months, and we are in control of whether we want to take that new functionality on or not. That is a very exciting model for us because the old days of monolithic upgrade and the inevitable costs that come with those have ended for us."

Furthermore the lack of multitenancy impacts on the transparency around costs.  While many customers will want to have the option to tailor the software to their own needs, this can mean the total cost of ownership mounting up, Abbott said. This may seem to suit the customer initially, but ultimately it is the vendor who benefits from the increased work needed to implement the software.

“The old mindset of the other vendors is that they were very willing to talk about customisation and us bending the product to our will, because from their perspective that is all consultancy dollars. That is not a model we want to be in, so from our point of view what appealed to us about Workday was the transparency around cost.”

Legal sector 'conservative' about public cloud

The company has now begun the process of rolling out Workday across its workforce as part of a phased approach which should see its London, Paris and Madrid offices go live during the fourth quarter of 2013.  Other areas including Asia are expected to follow over the next six months.  

Abbott said that Workday system will allow the company to join up its local HR operations, gaining a better overview of its talent base globally. The tools will also enable improved reporting to management regarding operational costs.

“It is a significant change for us because what we are doing is moving our organisation from local management of information to a consolidated data base in the middle, whilst at the same time accepting that we have a lot of local processes that we want to continue to manage and maintain.”

He added: “We talk about an HR system, but the value of Workday is that people information management system as well – so it gives us a really good idea of who our talent is, where they are globally, and how we can make that a global family much more than we had done historically.”

Abbott explained that such a substantial public cloud deployment for HR is a rarity for the legal sector, and there will be many other firms operating in that vertical looking to see how the project goes before potentially making a move into the cloud themselves in future.

“Law firms are quite conservative historically, so they tend to go with the crowd and have tended to go with one or two vendors.  It will be interesting to see what other law firms decide to do as a consequence of us breaking cover.

“When it comes to human capital management/HR, it is fair to say we have broken the mould on that,” he said. “Certainly the conversations I am having with peers in the legal vertical in the UK, we are being watched very closely.”