Artificial Lawyer recently caught up with Nick Thomson, the new General Manager of iManage’s RAVN legal AI group, to find out what his move means. And in a nutshell it means growth, lots of growth.
As Thomson’s LinkedIn profile neatly puts it: ‘While coding isn’t my bag, I’m tireless when it comes to exploring new ways and means to unlock growth and fuel revenue for the best tech companies.’
And that is exactly what he’s planning to do with RAVN, which since iManage’s merger with the London-based machine learning and NLP group has operated as a distinct unit inside the far larger, US-based document management/lifecycle specialists.
That said, it’s not as if RAVN is ever going to go back to operating as a standalone business, far from it. Thomson explains that the future of RAVN’s expertise is a wholly integrated one with iManage. RAVN is an AI engine that is 100% part of the whole, and part of the wider strategy of growing iManage in multiple ways.
While there may have been some logic in the past as seeing RAVN as a sort of ‘Skunk Works’ operating on its own, given the core team’s great talent, just doing special AI doc review projects and tapping iManage’s great client base, this is not the direction the company will go in.
Thomson’s job is to grow, one could say, ‘the AI bit’ of iManage, but as part of an holistic offering to the market, that integrates machine learning (ML), doc management, enterprise search and everything else they are developing in a single iManage platform. i.e. the ML tech will inform all parts of the offering, which bits a client wants to use is up to them.
And given that many other legal AI companies are exploring platform strategies RAVN may have been remarkably prescient in their move back in May 2017.
So, let’s hear from Thomson now in detail.
Why the move?
‘I had a fabulous time at Workshare (where he was Chief Revenue Officer), my job was to get the value proposition developed there. Workshare had a lot of IP and IT that needed to be harnessed, then it was steady state after that.’
This comment really sums up what Thomson is good at: he grows businesses, he taps the talent, the tech, and takes it to market in new ways.
‘As General Manager I am responsible for leading the whole organisation, the human side, and building the RAVN team – and getting it to scale – making sure everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities. It’s a role that lets me do leadership,’ he say.
‘I know the challenges well, how to harness the talents of a business,’ he adds.
And this is the other aspect: leadership. RAVN has seen a fair amount of movement at the top table in recent years. David Lumsden, the legacy company’s Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), then CEO, who seemed to have been brought in primarily to help find a merger partner, is no longer leading things. And, Peter Wallqvist – co-founder of RAVN back in 2010 – is now VP for Strategy at iManage since the merger.
So, clearly RAVN has needed leadership and Thomson seems perfectly skilled for this role, even if he is not a hardcore ML coder. But, coding skills are not what RAVN has lacked.
OK. All good. So what now?
‘We will take RAVN outside the core legal use cases,’ says Thomson. ‘The RAVN engine fits into all things iManage. Our focus is to build a proposition where a firm is digitised, where you pull docs together, you categorise them and then you do innovative things with them (using RAVN’s tech).’
‘It’s a journey to help customers with the RAVN engine, to find new value,’ he adds.
He adds that letting clients build their own ML/NLP applications with the RAVN engine, via the iManage platform, is also going to be important – just as this type of approach is important to companies such as Kira Systems, (see their link-up with HighQ’s AI Hub, for example).
‘Clients can build their own applications to differentiate themselves,’ he says. ‘The breadth of the engine is exciting.’
So, in a nutshell, iManage will offer clients a place to put all their digitised docs and data, and then a means to work off them with RAVN, doing whatever they want with the tech, building bespoke uses at a business or practice level, if they wish to.
Thomson goes on to say they have some further ambitions: ‘We want to have the world’s most accurate (ML) engine. We are going after quality of extraction. We will only get stronger on this.’
There will be more visualisations of the data, and improved workflow support, to be released in November. In fact, Thomson sees plenty they can do to bring AI tech to a far broader market, via the iManage platform.
‘We want to get people focused on the tertiary high value work – we do not want people focused on redrafting and doc prep steps,’ he notes. ‘Until you get into the clause level of a doc it’s not really digitised.’
He concludes: ‘We’re the only vendor with all the capabilities to do all of this.’
I.e. they have really excellent NLP (and with their long experience it’s probably fair to say their doc review tech is up there among the best), plus the broad doc and data collaboration platform that is iManage and its many data-related applications, and now plus all the other things they will bring such as better workflow tools. In short: it’s a platform with embedded AI tech.
And the future?
Thomson is emphatic: this is also very much about growth. iManage is doing this so that ‘we can double and triple in size‘.
RAVN is approximately a tenth of the size of the far larger iManage team, which is around 500-plus people. Compared to rivals such as Kira, which is growing fast, and set to grow even faster after a $50m investment, then RAVN could start to look small.
But, now with Thomson at the helm RAVN’s rapid growth is on the agenda. Which leads Artificial Lawyer to ask one last question: will iManage/RAVN be looking for a big chunk of external investment also?
Thomson says: no.
RAVN has all the support it needs from iManage, going to the VC or private equity market for funding is not the strategy to support growth. It will be organic growth, although one that is lead with someone with their foot firmly on the business accelerator pedal.
Artificial Lawyer has to say that the return to full-on growth at RAVN is very welcome. Naturally, RAVN has had to spend considerable time since last year undergoing integration with iManage’s wide range of applications. But, now, it seems they are ready again to really motor.
Looking forward to seeing RAVN double and triple in size already! The game is on again.