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In Conversation: Janette Loh, General Counsel, Canon Singapore

Summary

Even technophobes can harness technology. Janette Loh talks us through the various steps of her ambitious digital transformation project.


I'm certainly not someone others would describe as techsavvy, but I do believe in the value of digital transformation at every level and am constantly reviewing and re-reviewing tech solutions in the market. For example, some years back, contract automation solutions were generally cost prohibitive, but I have noted that in recent years they have become more cost efficient.

A lot of the legal tech we use is developed in-house. The first project we embarked on is a contract management system we call iCON, which allows internal clients to self-manage ownership and archiving of their contracts while allowing the legal team ease of search and oversight. Auto-alerts can also be customised to remind contract owners on impending contract expiry.

We moved on to develop iASK, a legal services request system. This works like a ticketing system and helps us monitor and track requests from other divisions in a more efficient manner. The status and response times of requests can be tracked, along with history of contract negotiations with specific external parties for reference in new transactions. More importantly, iASK also acts as an internal knowledge database to understand better how certain requests were handled for consistency and facilitate knowledge transfer for new joinees.

Over time, we've expanded this to be able to assign requests to different teams within the function such as intellectual property and product regulatory. We are also able to loop in matters from other Canon companies under our supervision in this region. As Canon Singapore is the regional headquarters for Canon sales and marketing business in South Asia and Southeast Asia, this helps us to capture matters carried out not just in Singapore but at the regional level as well.

The latest tech we've been working on is called iREG, which is a derivative of iCON. Instead of contracts, iReg will be used to record all licences and certifications that are related to our business and products. The system allows stakeholders to track the status of things like licenses or certifications and trigger actions to be taken. The interface allows stakeholders to easily obtain a snapshot of the business and product regulatory compliance in our region. Users are also able to tag products to specific requirements so that in the absence of a requisite license or certification for any product, red flag alerts are triggered.

We hope to integrate this with our order and shipping system to minimise the risk of shipment of products which may not have fulfilled the requisite regulatory requirements for going to market.

At our team level, I advocated some years back the use of what we call the Activity Log System, which is similar to the system law firms use to record their lawyers' time costs. While there wasn't then an immediate need for such data, I foresaw the necessity to address matters ranging from internal or cross company charging, tracking productivity at both individual and team level and understanding better the nature of work conducted.

I was fortunate to be able to leverage our IT team's existing system with minor customisations to suit my objectives. It took a while for my team members in the region to get used to the concept of keying in time costs. However, I believe in recent years, they have learnt to appreciate the value of this brings.

In terms of external resources, we use DocuSign as an e-contracting solution. Our contract volume may be relatively lower compared to other industries and electronic contracting is still curtailed in certain jurisdictions within the region under our care. However, we recognise the value of a tracked electronic contracting process and I wanted to embark on it early.

Collaboration between Legal and IT is clearly key in the development of bespoke tools. A critical factor for a successful collaboration is ensuring that we do not take our IT resources for granted (which tends to be the case where internal costs are not so visual). As such, I fully support our IT's team recent efforts in helping their internal clients visualise the IT resources and cost expended for each project better. They are after all a service provider to us as we are a service provider to our internal clients.

I suppose legal tech invariably leads to a discussion on the use of AI. I have spoken with other GCs who have used artificial intelligence to understand better its practical value. At the basic level, for example in terms of automated contract generation, there is certainly value. However, extending its use to a larger scope such as contract reviews may have differing levels of output value depending on the organisation's needs and the source data it can provide. There are also concerns of output reliability and risks and responsibility.


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