ClariLegal had the privilege of speaking with Priya Keshav, founder and CEO of Meru Data, an information governance solutions company. Priya comes from a background of having worked for KPMG for nine years, with approximately 17 years of experience in legal services. In that time, Priya has provided a number of services to the legal industry, including eDiscovery, computer forensics, investigations, and information governance.
What does value mean to you?
The meaning of value is different for everybody – it depends on the context very much. To me, value at a high level is understanding what my clients need and delivering that consistently. On the other hand, my clients perceive value based on how I enable them to succeed in meeting their business objectives and goals. My clients also place value on the quality, the collaborative approach and the trust built into the relationship.
What's the value or value proposition your firm delivers?
We want to help companies understand and manage information as one of their most important assets. The idea of value is front and center in information governance. One of the biggest things we hear from everybody is that is it important to maximize the value of the data that gets created and stored. But, actually doing this is complex and that is the other thing you hear from everybody. In fact at the most fundamental level, it starts with ascribing value to information – there is no standardized way to value information. This value does not show up in a balance sheet but it is not that people unaware there is an inherent value to information.
The value of data and information at a high level can be binned into:
The negative impacts and risks if information is not managed correctly. Many recent events have highlighted privacy and security risks and this has elevated the importance of information governance both internally and externally. More value is now associated with identifying and managing these risks.
The positive impacts and benefits that include better decision making, better compliance with regulations and cost savings.
We have focused our efforts at Meru on both these aspects. It is very important for us to enable our clients to fully understand the value of their data. We have developed tools that help our users articulate how data within their organizations is being stewarded. We help our clients to develop meaningful metrics against which they can track and report how they are managing their data, the risks and the value that is being generated by their data.
Do you see trends or common themes among your clients in how they perceive value?
As I mentioned before, there is a growing understanding across companies in almost all sectors on the value of managing information. I also see some common theme developing around the challenges to be able to do this effectively. These include how this value can be tracked in a practical and consistent manner and in getting buy-in from all the stakeholders on how this should be done.
Companies that take focused and deliberate steps towards this generally have more successful information governance programs. These companies typically have looked closely at their entire data footprint and they better understand both their internal and external data flows. They have clear ideas about where the most value and the most risks reside.
We also see focus around governance especially after companies have been in a reactive mode, typically due to external pressures or initiatives around cost reductions. These eventually either evolve into more sustained programs focused on value. Sometimes, customers find their programs not progressing as they would like – this happens especially if there is no clear focus or stakeholder buy-in. We have helped our customers to ensure that their programs continue to grow building on the initial momentum. For us at Meru, it is important to understand our customer’s immediate and longer-term objectives around information governance and help them to achieve these in a sustainable manner. We often help our customers develop objective and actionable metrics for our customers to track progress.
How does your firm measure your delivery of value to your clients? How you measure your vendors' delivery of your sought value to you? As I mentioned before, we value understanding what our clients need and delivering that consistently. We also value making it easier for our clients to achieve their objective. To do that that we have to a very clear idea of their goals and what success means to them. It is very important to understand the client’s current state, where they are trying to go, and why. Understanding the ultimate objectives driving the client needs help us to prioritize our actions to do the right thing for our clients.
We expect the same level and quality of service from our vendors. We value responsiveness and taking ownership. Sometimes it is not possible to define or anticipate the full scope of a project at the outset. Our best vendors are able to recognize these situations and we value how they plan ahead for that and manage the process in an efficient manner.
What are some of the metrics you use to measure the delivery of value?
Many of the metrics I use to track delivery of value come from my years of consulting. Are key project goals and objectives being met? Are we tracking on budget and time? It is also important to have metrics that ensure the quality of delivery.
Often there are elements critical for ensuring value that are not easy to track with metrics. An example of this would be ensuring good communication, especially in situations with multiple stakeholders or complex workflows. We have handled these in the past by incorporating communication and feedback into the delivery planning. This might mean including regularly scheduled check-in meetings, meetings to ensure stakeholder alignment at critical points etc and agreeing on a communication plan.
Sometimes when new workflows that deliver value are being developed it would be good to focus on ease of use and other aspects that would ensure the workflows get utilized as intended.
Do you think parties in the legal industry understand the concept of value and the value exchange?
Yes, the concept of value is understood well in most situations. But I am not sure if we always ensure value gets delivered. Especially around information governance, like I have mentioned before, there is a high level of understanding of what needs to be achieved and the value but the actual nuts and bolts of realizing the value are still unclear. To fully realize the value, it is important to set these efforts up with the right objectives, the right execution plans and the right metrics to track them. and so that the full value of the effort is realized.
How well do you see parties communicate about value? Are there sides of the industry driving the conversation?
It depends. Communication is an important aspect of ensuring value gets delivered. Often both companies and vendors need to have a frank discussion about gaps between problems trying to be solved and the solutions available. It is important to take a step back and understand the objectives, the culture, and the maturity level of the organizations involved.
How do you feel RFPs and project management platforms help facilitate discussions on value and its delivery and measurement?
RFPs are supposed to help with getting a better understanding of different solutions, their capabilities and fit so that a better solution might be selected without significant investment of time and effort into the wrong solution. But many times, people start with templates to put together an RFP and some of the questions in these templates might not match what you want. Sometimes, if there is a limited understanding of what is needed and the current market landscape, people might not even know what they want. Then you get responses from different companies that are not easily comparable and there is going to be a range in the responses. I've seen clients influenced by the marketing that goes along with responses where the ‘coolest’ thing is selected as opposed to what is really needed. I have been in situations where we help customers to make what was selected to work for a year or so before they end up going back to the drawing board. The effort involved with RFPs, especially if you want to have a good outcome, also limits how often these can be done. So you may end up getting locked into a pricing and delivery model in a fast evolving industry. In my opinion, there might be some alternate models that might be more efficient to buy or select services.
Are there any ways to improve the RFP/vendor selection process and/or facilitate communication?
A key aspect is to spend the time to understand what you need. If helpful, use somebody who can help you through that process. The clearer you are, the better your vendors are in supplying their services. Make sure you end up selecting a vendor who can deliver what you need as opposed to selling you the next cool technology. They can also use platforms like ClariLegal that can facilitate this process as well. But the critical step is to understand what is needed before.
Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers.
About the authors:
James Johnson is principal attorney of First Venture Legal, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based law practice focused on corporate and transactional law for very-early-stage startups. James assists entrepreneurs and small business owners with corporate formation and structuring, contracts, commercial law, employment matters, and early-stage fundraising. His practice utilizes alternative fee structures to deliver value-based service to early-stage ventures.
In addition to practicing law, James works with ClariLegal, focusing on building out its innovative platform and spreading the word of ClariLegal’s mission to reduce cost and complexity in legal vendor selection and management for law firms and corporations.
Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal A seasoned legal technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in legal vendor, pricing and project management.
ClariLegal is a preferred vendor management platform for legal services that improves business outcomes. Made for legal by legal experts. We match corporations and law firms with preferred vendors to manage the work through a fast and complete RFP and bidding process. ClariLegal’s platform allows all internal client segments to improve business outcomes across the board – predictability, time and money. Learn more