The Legal Helm: Episode #12
Estimated read time: 20 minutes
On this episode of the Legal Helm podcast, Bim talks with Martin Brej, Vice President of Enterprise Systems and Corporate IT for UserZoom, an up and coming Experience Insight Management (XIM) company. Their discussion centers on the impact UX has on overall productivity and efficiency, particularly as more and more work is happening remotely. It’s a lively conversation that convers a lot of ground and challenges listeners to look at UX a little differently.
Bim Dave is Helm360’s Executive Vice President. With 15+ years in the legal industry, his keen understanding of how law firms and lawyers use technology has propelled Helm360 to the industry’s forefront. A technical expert with a penchant for developing solutions that improve business systems and user experience, Bim has a knack for bringing high quality IT architects and developers together to create innovative, useable solutions to the legal arena.
Martin Brej is the Vice President of Enterprise Systems and Corporate IT for UserZoom, a company specializing in Experience Insight Management (XIM). His 30-year career has been entirely in Enterprise Software, specifically Services and Sales. He’s worked for successful early stage startups in Silicon Valley and for some of the largest organizations in the world (Accenture; Abbott Laboratories; IBM; Thomson Reuters). Marty’s known for his ability to leverage his creativity and experience to help companies solve unique problems with technology while empowering and teaching his clients. And he’s an all-around super nice guy.
Bim: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Legal Helm Podcast today. I’m really excited to be welcoming Marty Brej, VP of Enterprise Systems and Corporate IT at UserZoom, a company that provides software and services to help digital teams understand, manage, and measure UX to create amazing products that their customers really, really love. They work with the likes of Google, Sky, as well as other leading brands. So for those of you that don’t know, Marty has been my boss, a colleague, and most importantly, a dear friend over the years.
I’m really excited to have you on board. When, we started talking about getting you onto the podcast, Marty, I reminded myself of your career and went to your LinkedIn profile and had a look at what you’ve been involved in and some of the early career stuff. You’ve been a consultant, an auditor, you’ve run large global professional services teams… so really interesting journey in terms of how you got where you are today.
I thought a good starting point would be for me to ask you to give us a synopsis of how you got to where you are today at UserZoom, especially how you ended up choosing the career path that you did.
Marty: Thanks, Bim. First of all, as I said to you when you first extended the invite, I’m flattered to be on. I think the podcast series is awesome. So, listen up folks to the other episodes. There’re some very eminent people featured.
In terms of my career, I think if you get a liberal arts degree for your university education you end up going into generalist kind of roles learning a lot as you go through your career. I feel like in hindsight, there’s more logic to the career path than there was foresight to it.
I was fortunate to start working as a consultant back in the days when you didn’t have to have a computer science degree to get into systems consulting. The added bonus of working with computers was you didn’t just decode the text and understand the meaning, you could actually make the machine do things. I found that very intriguing.
So, I transitioned from writing and testing the code modules that were assigned to me to managing a small team that was designing the modules that other people would write, managing larger projects, and then managing businesses of projects. My current role is actually a bit of an aberration. I’m kind of the internal IT guy, rather than a Services person who’s out there working with end customers. That’s because UserZoom wanted to get a consultant in as an internal consultant for the company so that we can achieve scale and work smarter instead of harder.
Bim: Fantastic. Thank you for that. Really insightful in terms of your journey and very interesting.
You touched on the fact that you’ve been involved in the professional service delivery model, and in fact started out as a consultant. I’m guessing that that gave you a good grounding in terms of understanding some of the challenges of general consulting models and delivering them at scale. Obviously, our interaction started when we met at Thomson Reuters where you were heading up some of the global services efforts they were rolling out. Some of the big, best-of-breed systems to large law firms across the world. I’m interested to dig into that a little bit and learn from you in terms of, what’s your starting point? What do you do when you go in day one? And how do you start to think about what your approach is going to be, what your strategy is going to be, to be able to put the right things in place? What kinds of things do you do on day one to kind of help you achieve that?
Marty:: A great, great question. I have moved around a bit in my career and that brings a lot of different challenges. Every time you start a new role there’s that very scary initial period of like, “oh God, what have I gotten myself into?” So you come in with a bit of a kitbag. But I think the first thing you want to do is talk and listen to people that have been part of the organization for a while to understand where the organization is and how it got there. There’s usually a reason why things have ended up in the shape that you find them.
And so that’s my first suggestion. Be humble and listen more at first, then preach or talk to get a good calibration of where the organization is. Depending on how senior the level is that you get brought in the honeymoon period is not usually left for too long before people start expecting you to make some sort of change and improve things. Use that golden period to learn as much as you can because the next set of things are going to be some of the most consequential things that you’re going to do.
Apply the early adopter model of figuring out who’s going to enthusiastically join you in this new crusade. Do what you can to get those allies, to help you, build strength, and adjust your message behind some of the kitbag of stuff you want to bring in to change or start to mold where the organization is going.
I think it’s also a matter of reading the people. You have to come into the organization, especially if you’re coming in from outside, and get a quick read on who’s a friend who’s potentially a foe and who is in between. Who’s persuadable to come on board for a newer, different way of looking at things. Apply the usual sort of early adopter model of figuring out who’s going to enthusiastically join you in this new crusade. Do what you can to get those allies, to help you, build strength, and adjust your message behind some of the kitbag of stuff you want to bring in to change or start to mold where the organization is going.
Bim: I’m guessing that part of it is moving to that starting point then really getting into the weeds is when you start to uncover some of the challenges. That whole navigation of issues that can come up. I know one of the things that stands out with my experience of working for you when we were at Thomson, Reuters was, you were always willing to go sit next to a customer during key moments of a project. To go understand the dynamics and make sure that they had a very good experience. That customer service element of your approach really stood out to me. I’d love to learn a little bit more about why you take that approach, what you see in terms of the benefits of doing that.
Marty: Thanks for pointing that out Bim. I think it’s something that I picked up from working for Arthur Anderson and for Booz Allen, where partners weren’t necessarily out at the client every day, but they were out there frequently and it was very much a relationship.
I used to joke with people that I travel for two reasons. One is to help get the next project sold or the next set of projects sold, the other was dealing with all the problems that came up on the projects that were already sold It was always easier to engage during the project cycle when things got challenging. If you already have developed a relationship with people during the sales cycle and even if you hadn’t, the problems were going to go a lot better if you had some kind of personal connection with the people and they knew that you cared. That they could literally see how you were thinking through the issues, how you were trying to work your organization to get their needs met and that you are going to do whatever you could to get that solved.
I found that to be the most fun part of the job, actually being out there even though sometimes it was challenging. I think nothing replaces that human connection, especially if you’re selling and delivering services.
Bim: So apart from not gathering a mass load of air miles, which you obviously missed out on during the COVID period, what would you say are some of the things you miss about being on the road? Like, I know that one of the things I miss is that when I would be on site sitting next to somebody, who’s having some challenges, you could learn a lot just by the way that they interacted with software. I’m keen to learn, based on your experience over the last couple of years with COVID, what’s changed from that perspective? In terms of being able to still deliver that same level of customer service, are there any tips or tricks or things that you’re doing differently?
Marty: I agree. It’s totally different when you can look at the problem together. That certainly accelerates getting to a solution. Oftentimes without seeing it from their perspective, you’re impeded to even understand.
Bim: It’s funny that you mentioned it because we’ve been talking a lot about that internally here in terms of how we position products like Termi, our chatbot solution. We’re all in the same situation. From a Helm 360 perspective, we have people who are on boarding all across the world in different locations. The fact that they don’t have that person to walk over to or talk to in the corridor… that element has gone.
Which leads me to something that I want to ask you about having to do with some of these collaboration things. We’ve grown up with email, we’ve gone through a journey to manage our inboxes. Now we’ve introduced other things like Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Some people I talk to feel the problem has gotten worse in terms of managing communication, in that you’re now managing the stuff that’s coming in email, which, which continues to exist and doesn’t go away, and now you’ve got hundreds of channels and groups that you’re being added to to collaborate with one another more efficiently. Based on what you’ve seen, it’d be interesting to get your take on this. Do you see the collaboration that’s happening through these platforms as exacerbating the issue of being able to manage communication versus actually solving the problem? Just interested to see how you manage that aspect of your day-to-day.
Marty: Yeah, spot on. I struggle with exactly what you just described. I love all the different communication mechanisms that we have now, but sometimes when a week goes by and I’ve dealt with a hundred other things and I’m trying to come back, I I know there was a nice little writeup, whether it was a spreadsheet, a document, a message in Slack, an email, I can’t remember where it is and how to find it.
Finding trusted information is so critical, more critical now than when we were more single channel through email. My boss hates email. He’d like to do everything through Slack, but then you get a proliferation of Slack channels. Whether they’re ad hoc channels or purpose-built like topical channels. We’re getting an influx of requests from some of our vendors to set up joint channels, which is awesome, it allows for cross company collaboration, but we’re sort of scratching our heads to say, “Hmm, how do we control that?” How do we know how long that channel should be set up for? How do we make sure it doesn’t have access or people aren’t putting things in there that we don’t necessarily want shared externally? There are security and all kinds of issues. But a lot of times I’m stuck at just finding information I need to get back to.
Bim: I think it’s going to be a challenge that will most likely get solved at some point, but it will probably be with the introduction of some something new. It’s definitely one of the things that we see consistently happening across different industries, so I’m sure everybody can feel the pain on that.
To touch on that collaboration between you and external vendors or clients or whoever they may be, what kind of challenges do you see around metrics? Because one of the things that strikes me is that when we’re delivering a service via a channel like this, one of the things that goes away from the old mindset of a ticketing system, for example, to respond to customer service requests. If you replace a large chunk of that through more open communication channels like Microsoft Teams and Slack, do you lose that ability to track how successful you are? In your experience of running these professional services groups, how important were the metrics to drive success within those teams and what kind of things were you tracking to enable you to be successful?
Marty: I think depending on the size and sophistication of the organization or the business, there’s a different level of rigor around managing the metrics. You know, IBM is run by finance, a lot of that taught me about operating at scale. I had worked for much smaller companies before going to IBM so that was a very seminal experience in my career. Wow, just applying metrics and teaching people the importance of them and that we going to try and get to those and then fine tuning them over, over time.
If I look at the company I’m part of now, it’s a much smaller company and my instincts tell me that I want to challenge myself and my team to be measured by certain metrics. We’re probably not quite there yet to make everything quite so metrics driven. A lot of what we’re doing is innovative so it’s harder to measure and put a stopwatch and metrics on that when you’re trying to build something brand new that might have huge labor savings down the line. But I think still being informed and having a sense of what you might need to mature toward is important.
when you’re not measuring things, it’s, it’s easy to get sloppy. In some situations, maybe that’s not a big problem, but any company that’s trying to use services as a key part of their business you have to measure it.
I do feel that when you’re not measuring things, it’s, it’s easy to get sloppy. In some situations, maybe that’s not a big problem, but any company that’s trying to use services as a key part of their business you have to measure it. You have to measure it, whether it’s customer satisfaction or billings profitability (how do we price things?). There’s just so many decisions that if you’re not making them based on data, you’re really throwing darts at the board in the dark.
Bim: Very insightful. And I think the takeaway is timing is everything. Metrics are good and needed, but the timing that you implement them is very key so you don’t put a stop to innovation. I think the innovation piece is a very good point that we need to be thinking about. We don’t want to stop the pace of innovation by throwing metrics that don’t make sense. But when you get to the point where you really need to get consistency in the delivery and you want a scale delivery and all of those fun things, that’s when the metrics really kick in and you want to make sure that those things are being managed.
Marty: And how you deliver those metrics too. I’ve got some familiarity with Termi, the bot that can give you ad hoc answers and the dashboarding. Maybe a bot that can serve as some sort of digital concierge, if you will, to try to help you keep track of all the disparate information that is coming at you from all these different channels. I don’t think you guys are onto something with that as a value prop is.
Bim: Yeah. And I appreciate that. To me, metrics are really good, but we should not be pushing out metrics just for the sake of pushing out metrics. They’ve got to drive something, drive a decision or an action or whatever. That’s really what we’ve been trying to do from a Termi perspective. I appreciate you pointing that out. It brings us on nicely to one of the things I wanted to touch on with you around the user experience. With the kind of work that you guys do to help customers with whole user experience, tell us a little bit about that and your view on how much user experience matches.
Marty: Sure. I am a passionate believer that design matters so it’s fun for my professional career to be aligned with that personal philosophy. Whether it’s the design of everyday objects, whether it’s architecture or software design, design matters. More and more of our world is gravitating toward digital assets, digital experience so it’s not just software companies that we end up working with, but anybody that has any form of a digital asset.
UserZoom basically provides benchmarking of your design: How do we know how good or not so good our design is. Being able to benchmark that, being able to use well-established studies to test different designs as you go through the evolutions of optimizing your product or your digital experience. The really unique thing UserZoom as a company is there’s a third leg to the stool. There’s the product, there’s professional services. We have researchers, people that are PhDs in design and design disciplines, that work with our customers. That’s pretty typical for an enterprise software company. With design, you actually need subjects to test your designs against. That’s the third thing that we provide to our customers because it’s hard for any given company to have a panel that matches the exact demographics that they want for a particular study that they want to run.
The customer’s experience with the software is key. And a lot of times the underlying capabilities of the software just expressed through the user experience one way make it a completely different success or failure in the marketplace.
So, it’s a unique business. I think it’s something that people are realizing is not a nice-to-have, but a have-to-have. As we know from using good software and bad software and designing our own over the years. The customer’s experience with the software is key. And a lot of times the underlying capabilities of the software just expressed through the user experience one way make it a completely different success or failure in the marketplace.
Bim: You’re totally right. The way I look at it is that if you need to spend time building lots and lots of training around a product, you’ve probably built a product wrong in the first place. So yeah, the work you guys are doing in this space is so necessary, especially with enterprise systems. There’s so much that clunky system that’s really feature rich can do, but fundamentally nobody wants to use it and it’s too difficult to use or really hard to scale.
Marty: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve all had to use bad software. If we can improve that a little bit at a time, the world will be a better place.
Bim: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Marty. I just have a couple more wrap up questions. Nothing too taxing. My first one is: If you could borrow Doctor Who’s time machine and go back to Martin when you were 18 years old and give 18 year old Marty career advice – this is starting to sound like a Back to the Future reference, but it’s not – but if you could back to 18 year old Marty and give him one piece of career advice, what would it be?
Marty: I would tell myself to slow down and be more thoughtful about some of the decisions that you make. I’m not somebody that has a lot of patience. More and more as I get older in various forms, whether it’s at work or in some of the volunteering that I’m doing, I just find myself thinking, , I wish I could help that person understand that if they just slowed down things would work out better or they might take a different approach.
I’m volunteering on the weekends with horses and they pick up on your energy. Having a calmer, more deliberative approach is better. One of those hard things, to tell somebody younger, but one of the things that I’d love to go back and tell myself,
Bim: Excellent. Finally, I have a two-part question. Question number one: Favorite place that you visited. And the second part is: If I asked you any country, would you be able to recommend the best coffee shop in that country?
To add some context here, Marty is a big coffee drinker. How many coffees have you had today? Let’s give them some context.
Marty: Okay, I can answer both those questions. This is not pandering to the, to the home team, but the country I’ve spent the most time throughout my life has been the UK. Don’t know why. I did my junior year of college abroad in the UK at Oxford and have visited personally and professionally since then. Maybe it’s because I’m not big on foreign languages other than the Latin and the Greek, which I’ve also forgotten. But I think I think you guys have a wonderful country and there’s lots of quaint and interesting things to do. An amazing variety packed into such a small country.
Marty: Coffee shop…
Bim: Very pleased to hear that, by the way.
Marty: It’s sincerely meant. There’re other places that I like, but I like the UK quite a bit.
So Taylor Street Baristas in London. It’s a place our good friend, Patrick Hurley introduced me to at some point. This was I think when they had just one shop and we were out visiting a client and it was a little hole in the wall place. I pointed out to Patrick that they opened another shop, right near our Canary Wharf office. When moved the office over there it was about three blocks away. He had no idea it was there. I think that was more about Patrick’s lack of concern for quality coffee or lack of dependence on quality coffee. We enjoyed many coffees there in the intervening years and I still do OU brownies from Taylor Street, if I make it back there anytime soon.
Bim: Excellent. Thank you so much.
That brings us to the end. I want to take a moment to say thank you very much. Marty has been very insightful. Really great to kind of hear about some of the journey that you’ve been on. Loved hearing about your take on a user experience and how much of an impact it has, and really grateful for your time today. So thank you for joining us.
Marty: Thanks for having me, Ben. It’s great to see you again. I miss you. I miss working with you for you. I have high, high expectations of Helm with your leadership.
Bim: Thank you. I appreciate that.