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C-level insights: Mark Walmsley, CISO, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

C-level insights: Mark Walmsley, CISO, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

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UK-based Mark Walmsley, CISO, at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, a global law firm, discusses his position’s key challenges, his leadership strategy and how he stays abreast of emerging technologies.

How do you cultivate leadership within your IT team and foster a culture of continuous learning and innovation?

Very few people are born leaders. Despite the abundance of ‘leadership courses’ there is a fundamental truth: genuine leadership development stems from fostering confidence and trust. Encouraging individuals to embrace learning without fear of failure cultivates the most effective leaders. These leaders not only energise teams but also drive change and foster innovation.

How do you measure the success of your leadership and team development initiatives?

Certainly, delivery plays a pivotal role. However, the finest leaders focus on creating future leaders. I often look at the team’s first, rather than solely on their leaders. Teams that are happy, delivery driven, embrace change, support one another and innovate are invariably led by exceptional leaders.

What are the key challenges in maintaining a balance between day-to-day IT operations and the pursuit of innovative projects, and how do you navigate these challenges within your team?

The biggest challenge is always visibility.

Innovation is always higher profile and perceived as more valuable while day-to-day operations are largely invisible.

Establishing separate teams for innovation and business-as-usual tasks is critical. Requesting the same team to manage both often results in conflict, with routine operations suffering. Moreover, educating the business on the long-term investment necessary for continual innovation helps ensure that only well-considered projects with proven concepts progress into production.

How do you ensure that IT strategies align with overall business goals and contribute to the organisation’s success?

Freshfields has four key strategic focuses: be ambitious, grow the business, retain the best people and be excellent every day. Every strategy needs to align to at least one of these objectives and be widely communicated.

As with most businesses, all strategies have perceived benefits which are not only financial. These are actively tracked and reported.

How do you foster a collaborative environment within your IT team, especially when integrating new technologies or methodologies?

Collaboration is all about engagement. Our leadership team meets four times a week to ensure we understand each other’s challenges and weekly objectives. This enables resources from different teams to be realigned, ensuring fast delivery of new technologies as well as resolving risks or incidents.

Additionally, the leadership team holds regular separate calls with counterparts in other businesses, fostering open communication and candid discussions about the path forward.

How does your IT strategy incorporate a customer-centric approach, and what role does technology play in enhancing customer experience?

We serve two types of customers: end-users and clients.

Our strategies are centred around enhancing service quality and flexibility. The legal landscape has undergone significant transformation in the last five years. Enabling lawyers to adopt diverse working approaches is crucial, benefiting them while also aligning with clients’ preferences. This alignment is a market differentiator.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges and opportunities for IT leaders in the evolving digital landscape?

The greatest challenge often presents the greatest opportunity. Generative AI has been over discussed but we are all still at the beginning of that journey. IT leaders who can design and implement Generative AI solutions into the business-as-usual activities will be celebrated for improving delivery speed and enabling the teams to focus on more valuable tasks. The biggest challenge for organisations is which AI technologies to endorse as none of them will be cheap.

How do you stay abreast of emerging technologies and decide which ones to integrate into your business operations?

Keeping up with the constant influx of new technologies is daunting. With a multitude of vendors each boasting compelling stories, it becomes nearly impossible for professionals to evaluate them all individually. Personally, I find it more manageable to engage directly with peers who are willing to exchange experiences. In 2023, I collaborated with 11 other senior IT and security experts to establish the S4S Club. This community serves as a platform for seasoned professionals to openly share their journeys, strategies and insights, including discussions on emerging technologies. Communities like these are undoubtedly the most effective means of staying informed and connected.

Can you share your vision for Digital Transformation within your organisation and how you plan to achieve it?

Without giving away secrets, our focus will be cloud only supported by AI.

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