Sal says flexibility and multidisciplinary collaboration are key.
Sal Moodley started his IT career in 1994 as an apprentice mainframe operator at First National Bank (FNB). Today mainframes no longer fill rooms, and Sal is now IT programme manager at Webber Wentzel. Here, he reports to the CIO (Warren Hero, nominated for the 2023 CIO Awards), where he helps execute the law firm’s IT strategy.
“I spent the first 9 years of my career at FNB, where I went from being an apprentice mainframe operator to a Client-Server Technical Specialist in IT Operations. I then got into IT Project, programme, and portfolio management, all in the financial services space,” says Sal.
Future-proofing a portfolio
He decided he wanted more flexibility, so he started his own consulting business – and, in 2018, after a six-month contract with Webber Wentzel, he was made permanent. The role of ICT projects manager appealed to Sal, as, at that time, the acting CIO wanted to implement a future-proof IT portfolio. Soon after, Warren (Hero) joined, and there was plenty of innovative work to get stuck into.
“When I joined Webber Wentzel, their systems were on-premise. Warren was starting a digital transformation journey, and I helped him deliver that; I learnt a lot from him about digital transformation, DevOps and SaaS,” adds Sal.
Thanks to future-proofing, like moving the company’s critical systems to the cloud, Webber Wentzel could navigate the work-from-home turmoil that came with Covid-19. The company’s digital focus has evolved and now enables innovation in legal tech, like generative AI, agile methodologies, and DevOps. Sal points out there’s a strong emphasis on pilots and proof of concept, which helps the IT teams and vendors collaborate, so they can try out new technology responsibly and flexibly.
For Sal, a major win in this respect was when he helped Warren implement a plan to get Webber Wentzel ISO certified.
“It was not easy,” he admits. “Webber Wentzel had been working to become ISO compliant since 2015, using several consultants. However, we created dedicated IT security roles within Webber Wentzel that people could grow into, like a security manager and security analysts, using a combination of innovation, workforce management, DevOps and ITSM, as well as leveraging industry expertise. Not only did we create a learning environment to fulfil the CIO’s IT strategy, but in 2022, we also became ISO 270001 certified – one of the first law firms to do so.”
Balancing resources and driving business value
Another challenge for Sal is balancing internal and external resources, which, he says, can be a “mixed bag” of pushing and pulling, along with shifting the culture from project delivery to product delivery and process ownership.
Warren and Sal both come from huge organisations, and Webber Wentzel is less than 1,000 people. So, with a relatively small IT department, says Sal, both need to be creative in terms of reaching their technical aspirations and digital transformation goals. He also highlights that big corporates tend to have massive R&D budgets for new tech, so, in a smaller organisation, it’s important to drive business value from technologies, rather than being prescriptive about what technologies people should use.
‘Try before you buy’
“We pilot new tech in ring-fenced environments – which is part of Warren’s vision of ‘try before you buy’; we apply a model where we don’t roll anything out firm-wired unless the business value is solid,” adds Sal. “Sometimes innovators are forced into doing things because they must make assumptions about the business value, without being able to play with it first to see if it has a use case for adoption. An environment that allows for low-fi prototyping is critical for innovation and wider adoption.”
Part of Webber Wentzel’s digital evolution has involved SaaS product and legal tech development (an example of this is their Alert Tool, a legal ‘emergency response button’ that uses automation). According to Sal, the legal firm has created a specialised business services area that focuses on legal tech, which doesn’t sit in IT, but IT helps resource and support it through multidisciplinary teams.
“It’s about creating a product and IT model through collaboration,” adds Sal. “This can be challenging, so it’s important to apply past knowledge and experience to turn the vision into reality. It also means looking at what’s happening in the market, and it requires flexibility along with guardrails to allow people to innovate so that, at the end of the day, the business benefits,” he concludes.