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Digitalizing for Growth

CEEIHM Issue 1.3.
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Artem Afanasiev, Vice President Legal Affairs and GR at Ozon in Moscow, Russia, explains how his legal team uses digitalization to cater to the in-house legal needs of his fast-growing company.

CEEIHM: Digitalization has been a buzzword in the legal sphere for a while now. What does it mean to you and what examples of it happening within your team can you point to?

Artem: I absolutely agree with the statement. For me, it still sounds like a buzzword. Let me explain. Historically, the legal profession included different kinds of work: starting from legal research and looking up a proper precedent or regulation in a library, to sophisticated legal solutions and interpretations of the law and its complexity, and appearing before the Supreme Court. When I started many years ago as a paralegal in one of the Magic Circle law firms, I remember that we had specialists in our legal support team who assisted us in finding proper documents in the legal library.

Several years later, special software was put in place – it was faster and more convenient for everyone. You may say that a piece of software replaced the technical aspect of legal work, which is true. Nowadays we have much more than simple search programs, including litigations management organizers and simple contracts constructors. All these solutions facilitate technical legal work and assist modern lawyers to properly address the challenges of modern and digital business. These solutions upgrade the profession in general by replacing technical work with modern IT solutions and crystalizing sophisticated and challenging types of work that require true professionalism, hard skills, and experience.

Today, the work of a modern lawyer cannot be imagined without the use of digital products. For everyone, various legal systems are already an absolute norm, including electronic systems for signing contracts, powers of attorney, work with court cases, and knowledge bases. Ozon is the leader of the Russian e-commerce market and, for us, these tools are not a matter of fashion. They are a reality, without which the work of a lawyer cannot be efficient. All these solutions assist my team to be more responsive, more business-focused, and result-oriented. Clearly, current solutions are very helpful and important but are still very far from what they should and what we want them to be. I believe that the legal profession is not only about the law. It is much more complicated nowadays and also includes project management, analytic, presentation, and business skills. I am sure that very soon we will see new, progressive IT solutions digitalizing the legal profession and assisting lawyers and the business.

CEEIHM: What do you see as the main driving forces for the digitalization of the legal function?

Artem: The constant changes that are taking place both in Russia and around the world are driven by efficiency, quality, and speed. I worked for several well-known multinational companies operating in different industrial sectors. In my opinion, large Russian companies are likely to be some of the most accepting of, and thankful to, digitalization. The main drivers for digitalization are the increase in speed of internal processes, the reduction of bureaucracy, the standardization of technical work, and, lastly, a decrease in costs. I would add that digitalization makes things more predictable. With it, a lawyer should be able to quickly find the best and most effective solutions. That can be facilitated when routine work is automated across multiple platforms. Nowadays, a lawyer is also generally responsible for implementation of solutions and projects as part of the business team. In this regard, digitalization is a tool assisting not only with the legal function, but also the company as a whole. It may start as a simple electronic library, then switch to an electronic contract preparation and negotiation platform, then to a unified and incorporated automated internal approval system, ending up with project management and control over execution and performance with automated adjustments on the basis of regular performance analysis. All these steps, and much more, are already available via digitalization.

CEEIHM: Building on the above, what is on your “wish-list”? What aspect/kind of digitalization are you looking to incorporate in the near-/mid-future?

Artem: Ozon is the leading platform in the large, fragmented, and growing Russian e-commerce market. Over the years, we have become the most trusted and respected online retailer in the country and our brand has become synonymous with online shopping for our approximately 12 million active buyers in Russia. The integral part of this success is the service we offer to our partners and clients. Obviously, it includes quality and speed of our legal work, deep knowledge in various categories of goods, and, ultimately, proactive business-oriented legal function.

This year, I wished for a project management tool. Our legal team is currently implementing an external solution that would allow us to track and coordinate all projects that the Ozon Group’s lawyers are working on. This solution will also include a service platform for business people to order and track internal legal services. Such a platform is an important step in transforming the legal function to become more focused on results and ways how to reach them. Apart from a transparent project management tool, a similar solution for litigation management is being developed internally. We also plan to launch a new, upgraded version with deeper analytics and a better presentation of internal approval processes and timeline. That should enable online checking for delays and internal systems and also enable immediate reaction. My goal is to make the fastest and most efficient internal approval system. We have many more ideas, but the ones mentioned above are of top priority for this year.

CEEIHM: What are the main obstacles you foresee towards achieving this and how are you thinking of overcoming them?

Artem: We are growing fast and, therefore, our business requires the most prominent and exceptional legal support 24/7. This is quite challenging but very interesting to each member of my team. We already replaced all the grunt work with IT solutions. Currently, I am deeply involved and in the implementation of the abovementioned solutions with our IT team.

I see two key obstacles at the moment when it comes to digitalization in general. Firstly, the lack of already recommended, standardized, and proven IT solutions. Some say that each of the solutions is specific to each company and should not be standardized. I would disagree. Most of the successful and standard solutions perfectly match various companies. Secondly, the transformation of mindset: it is highly important to focus on progressive technologies and solutions and to drive further changes – i.e. to love and promote technologies rather than keeping old-fashioned regimes. Successful incorporation of modern IT solutions and digitalization of the legal function would highly benefit from involvement and proactive approach of all team members.

Digitalization brings challenges. Increased globalization based on disruptive technologies has transformed laws and contractual mechanisms and led to greater regulation and greater opportunities. Lawyers must become facilitators of these fundamental changes with current and future legal solutions.

CEEIHM: In relative terms, would you asses lawyers as a tech-savvy profession or not?

Artem: It makes a big difference when you are talking about different levels of lawyers. What I see is that new generations of senior lawyers are purely tech-savvy professionals. I like the energy, professional attitude, and proactive approach of the new generation a lot, and it is very important for me to hire and promote rising legal stars – prominent and brilliant professionals.

Companies are becoming more agile and efficient. Business is becoming more globalized and complex due to collaborative ecosystems, big data, cloud technology platforms, and enhanced regulatory activities around the globe. The world is rapidly changing and the digitalization of the legal function is a must. The companies that successfully digitalize will reap the benefits for many years to come.

CEEIHM: Do you prefer using external IT solutions or develop them internally? Why?

Artem: We rely on the collaboration of both internal and external resources. This allows us to find a balance both in automating processes within the company and to find the best solutions for our business.

Our mission is to transform the Russian consumer economy by offering the widest selection of products, the best value, and maximum online shopping convenience among Russian e-commerce companies while empowering sellers to achieve greater commercial success. We attribute our success to our focus on enhancing the buyer and seller experience, our nationwide logistics infrastructure, which is one of the largest among Russian e-commerce companies, and our cutting-edge technology and a strong culture of innovation. Ozon has one of the most sophisticated and powerful IT teams. Each time we try to find the proper balance and the proper solution – whether to approach external developers or build it internally from scratch. It is important to explain, however, that each and every new IT solution is reviewed and supported in its implementation by our in-house IT team. Therefore, it is always a result of collaboration. 

CEEIHM: How do you choose between different vendors/solutions when looking at external solutions?

Artem: There are 3 main things that are important to us in any digital product:

a. ease of use, friendly navigation, and interface;

b. high performance and innovation;

c. the ability to quickly integrate (including with other products) and the possibility for further improvements.

These are the main criteria we start with when we choose the integrator. Then we establish the respective project team responsible for implementation, launch, and customization of the product.

CEEIHM: In many instances, these kinds of digitalization efforts come with a hefty initial price tag. How do you, as a GC, build an internal case for such a project?

Artem: You are right – it can bear a hefty initial price tag. It is very important to clearly understand the result you want to achieve and to make sure that the particular solution is what you need. 

Of course, when choosing between various products and solutions we take the price factor into account. But what is important to understand is that digitalization is an investment in the development of a company. If we spend money today on development and implementation, tomorrow we will profit because we will do our work faster and more efficiently.

The value we create with modern solutions should be much higher than our expenses. This a very simple principle and guide on how to deal with digitalization, especially when the respective project has a hefty initial price tag.

By Djordje Vesic

This article was published in issue 1.3 of CEE In-House Matters. The full edition is available here in pdf format, here in e-reader format, and here in electronic format.

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