Q&A: Minter Ellison CIO, Peter Westerveld

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Q&A: Minter Ellison CIO, Peter Westerveld

On videoconferencing and telecommuting.

Peter Westerveld, the Australian CIO for global law firm Minter Ellison, talks to iTnews about the challenges of providing and maintaining IT for the legal profession.

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iTnews: Could you tell us what the IT environment at Minter Ellison current looks like?

Westerveld: We have a centralised approach, so all our systems are centralised in Optus data centres in Sydney and that's been like that for five years now.

We have about 85 percent of our applications virtualised on VMware with EMC SANs [storage area networks] and the SANs are replicated to our disaster recovery site.

iTnews: How have consumer devices increased at Minter Ellison and what security measures do you have in place to handle those?

Westerveld: The majority of our partners use iPhones and quite a number of them have iPads as well so we're in the middle of the process of coming up with an appropriate platform where we can balance our obligations to keep our clients' information secure.

Security and usability tend to be at opposite ends of the scale so there's a balance to be struck there.

I think we'll have a mix of devices which we'll support and provide applications for, and then there will be another model we have less support for and we'll have different security for.

Lawyers are quite aware of the issue of client privilege and the security around client information. They're naturally cautious about ensuring they do the right thing. That in itself is maybe an advantage we've got with other businesses which might not have that inherent professional attitude.

iTnews: You announced a global rollout of telepresence suites at global Minter Ellison offices last month - what is the project's current status?

Westerveld: We're right in the middle of completing the room builds and the network preparations and we're hoping to go live for that in October.

iTnews: How do you envisage the system will differ from your current suite?

Westerveld: I think it's the quality - it's difficult to explain without experiencing it. It's not only the high definition quality of the picture but also the sound and the specific room setup. If you go and experience that, in a minute you'll forget you're actually talking to someone who isn't in the same room as you are. That's a different threshold to business in how these solutions work.

The telepresence solution lends itself best to a boardroom-type meeting. We have divisions and industry groups in offices and increasingly particular work is done for clients where we have lawyers working from any office so it's really there to support collaboration between those diverse teams that might be in any offices.

iTnews: Any particularly productivity benefits you hope to derive?

Westerveld: It's really to support collaboration. There'll be instant gains of less need for travel, the experience is so good people do feel they're talking to someone on a face-to-face basis. We expect to reduce travel and apart from that, it's giving the opportunity for people to meet more than they do these days.

iTnews: Do you think the concept of teleworking - working from home or outside of the office - suits the legal industry?

Westerveld: I think it will and I think it's already happening. The lawyers we use for certain clients might be away. The quality of the videoconferencing and just the notion you forget you're talking to someone who's not in the room is a step forward in the experience of how we deal with people.

iTnews: Do you think that's possible in the home?

Westerveld: I think that will rapidly change in the years to come with the cost of these tools coming down further and with a rollout of an NBN infrastructure that will take away the restraints of bandwidth.

iTnews: What challenges do you currently face?

Westerveld: I think they're no different to many other CIOs, more or less. The mobile revolution with iPads and iPhones and providing access.

To ensure there's an experience that's integrated is important to us, and the assessment of what we do ourselves or what we have or move outside to the cloud or managed services. There's those kind of issues to consider.

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