The five minute CIO: Michael Devitt, William Fry

9 Oct 2015

Michael Devitt, IT director, William Fry

“The key to managing IT budgets is to ensure that the IT strategy is robust and aligned to the business plan, as well as industry trends,” says Michael Devitt, IT director at legal firm William Fry.

Headquartered in Dublin, William Fry employs 440 people and is planning to create an additional 50 positions in 2015.

The law firm also completed the largest office relocation within Dublin in recent months, moving over 420 staff from Fitzwilton House to its new premises in Grand Canal Square.

William Fry recently engaged AirSpeed Telecom to upgrade their telecoms infrastructure and provide a seamless business continuity solution during the move to their move to a new high-tech Dublin HQ

William Fry is one of Ireland’s leading corporate law firms. The company advises Irish and international companies in both the public and private sector, and regularly acts in cases involving other jurisdictions, such as the UK, US, Asia and wider Europe.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

Technology is important to William Fry, as it not only drives efficiencies for the staff but also allows us to be client focused at all times. We are a corporate law firm and just completed a move into a new state of the art building in Grand Canal Square, Dublin. This move allowed us to implement a complete overhaul of our IT infrastructure and we enlisted AirSpeed Telecom to design and deploy a bespoke telecoms infrastructure, which now delivers a diverse, resilient and secure network that supports advanced technology and applications, such as a heavy-duty unified communications phone system and a video conferencing solution.

The network provides dual fibre and licensed microwave delivering multiple gigabit connectivity, supporting the Firms internet connection, our Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) telephony and Storage Area Network (SAN) over a multifaceted and resilient MPLS infrastructure.

During the actual premises move, a temporary network was deployed, connecting the old premises with the new Grand Canal Square site. This allowed for the seamless transfer of all William Fry systems during a critical phase where maintaining business continuity was crucial. As part of the move process, we examined what the user’s desktop for the next five years would look like. This resulted, for example, in every user getting dual screens.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

William Fry’s IT strategy usually looks 12 to 18 months ahead and is driven on the basis that it will improve end user experience or provide new or enhanced services to our clients. It includes new applications for firm-wide or specific practice area rollout, application refreshes or upgrades. In conjunction with our finance department, we are investing in BI tools to provide better reporting to the firm and to our end users. Another part of our strategy is looking at ways to build better, more automated processes using Workflow solutions. As our users become more mobile, with increased adoption of tablets, we are looking to enhance our mobility solutions by delivering more native apps to these devices.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

William Fry has a data centre located in our head office in Grand Canal Square and another one located in our DR site. Each site is connected by two 1Gb links, which includes resilience, internet access and SiP lines. The majority of our IT environment is virtualised, running on Microsoft’s HyperV platform. We have 250 plus virtualised servers, which comprise application servers, infrastructure servers and virtual appliances. All these virtual servers run off a HP Storevirtual SAN connected to a HP Blade infrastructure over a 10Gb Avaya backbone network. We deliver a secure desktop to all our end users via Citrix, using a combination of shared desktops and VDI. We have 300 legal professionals using Dell Ultrabook laptops, and the remaining 130 admin and secretarial staff use Intel Desktop NUCs. All Partners have iPads.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

The key to managing IT budgets is to ensure that the IT strategy is robust and aligned to the business plan, as well as industry trends. Having said that, priorities can and will change throughout the course of a year (as do technology advancements), so it is important to remain as flexible as you can. It is important that when you are evaluating an application or infrastructure solution, it fulfils all your requirements.

How complex is the infrastructure, and are you taking steps to simplify it?

Our infrastructure is quite complex and we have resilience built in everywhere possible to minimise downtime. Using Citrix allows us to deliver a consistent desktop to our end users efficiently. When we have an update to an application, this gets deployed into production over a weekend without the need to touch any desktop.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

I have a great team but we have a relatively small IT department. As a result, most roles within IT are cross-functional. We cover everything from helpdesk and infrastructure to applications support. We have no in-house development team, as the majority of our products are purchased ‘off the shelf’ and are configured to suit our requirements with the help of the application Vendor. We do outsource all Level 1 Helpdesk calls, and are looking at a managed print solution in the near future.

Our new premises features a state-of-the-art telecoms infrastructure to deliver a diverse, resilient, secure network supporting advanced technology and applications, such as a heavy-duty unified communications system, and the entire network infrastructure is supported by AirSpeed Telecom’s Network Operations Centre (NOC) which proactively monitors the network 24/7.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

  • Managing the IT Department team to ensure day-to-day responsibilities are followed.
  • I set both medium and long term strategic IT goals for the firm. I try to ensure they are aligned with the firm’s business goals to achieve competitive advantage. A good understanding of technology trends and product knowledge is also a necessity in formulating this strategy.
  • I am responsible for the continuity of the firm’s systems in the event of a major disaster. We must be able to recover our data and continue our business as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to our clients and staff members.
  • Negotiating service and maintenance contracts and ensuring the SLAs are maintained and followed in accordance with contract.
  • Negotiate the best price for hardware and software so that the firm gets a competitively priced solution.
  • I am responsible for the IT budget. I submit budget proposals and ensure that the yearly IT spend is kept within my department’s allocated funds.
  • Ensure all our client data is secured, including all our systems, PCs and laptops. I am also responsible for maintaining our ISO 27001 alignment.

It can be difficult to avoid getting dragged in to day to day technical issues. As we are a small team, I inevitably end up working on something that can pull me away from the strategic and business side of IT, but I feel this is important as it allows me keep in touch at the ground level.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

The legal sector in Ireland is very competitive, and we always look to see what new technologies would give us the competitive edge. The difficulty is that most of the larger firms tend to mostly use the same technologies, so it can be difficult to take a leap of faith into unchartered territory with certain applications or solutions.

I believe that the time has come for driving Big Data initiatives in a law firm. Using the information provided by a good BI tool will allow firms to make strategic decisions based on actual real-time data.

Given the confidential nature of our data, we must ensure, above all, that our client information is safe and secure. Persuading any law firm to embrace the cloud is very challenging as a result.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

We use a couple of products to monitor and measure IT performance:

  1. Manage Engine’s Service Desk to handle all helpdesk calls, incident management and some ITIL elements, such as change management.
  2. Manage Engine’s OpManager to monitor our IT environment, but this is ever evolving as our infrastructure grows and gets more complex.
  3. For monitoring our SAN, we use a product called Logic Monitor.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

Technology moves at a very fast pace, and it is important that our staff knows how to use the applications correctly. We work closely with our training department to ensure that people are getting the best out of their hardware and are proficient in utilising the applications they use on a daily basis to drive productivity up

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We are evaluating SSD SAN technologies and the new Hyper Converged storage systems from Nutanix and HP, which promise to deliver real performance gains to the end user and simplify things for IT as we would not be managing our infrastructure in separate silos: compute, network and storage.

Another project we are working towards is ISO alignment. With the increase in cyber threats over the past year, we are ramping up on some security initiatives – for instance, we are looking to roll out end user security awareness campaigns.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years