Sometimes, success requires more than just the best technology.
by Tara Swords, May 2010
In 2004 Rick King, chief technology officer at the Thomson Reuters Professional division, wanted to change the way Westlaw used databases. He needed a more efficient way to store documents as documents, rather than as cells in a spreadsheet. He approached Oracle about switching to the company’s database.
“We always thought Oracle’s database was superior technologically, and we worked with Oracle to figure out how to implement it,” King says.
Before sealing the deal, King had a heart-to-heart with a senior executive at Oracle. He remembers the conversation:
“I said, ‘I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but before I do big deals like this I want the top person here to tell me you’re going to do whatever it takes to make this work, because I’m going to. I’m going to fight for you, and you have got to fight for me.’ He said yes, but everybody always says that. At the bottom of the trough is the magic moment where you find out whether those words were vapor or were real.”
King would find out. Everything went smoothly for about a year and a half, until problems developed that necessitated a major upgrade. For several months, the leadership of the two companies worked to get the application back on track.
“In late 2005, we upgraded to new versions,” King says. “It was the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-work-together moment. The problems stopped. Ever since then, if we’ve had minor issues, the cooperation between the teams has been unbelievable. Outstanding.”
Out of that experience emerged an incredibly strong partnership. Oracle had become a “trusted advisor” to Thomson Reuters, Legal—acting as part of the team rather than as a separate vendor. While a trusted advisor provides rock-solid products and access to new technologies before they’re available, the trusted advisor name has to be backed up by something more. As King says, it’s all about walking the talk.
“I think Oracle has always been known for having some of the best technology in the business,” King says. “Having the best technology embedded in your products gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace, but it’s a theoretical advantage because having the best technology doesn’t work when you have some kind of problem and need to tune it in a nonstandard fashion.”
Having weathered trials together when the going got rough, the two companies now have a deep level of trust and commitment. Oracle was involved in the WestlawNext project for nearly its entire duration, which spanned five years. Throughout the project, Thomson Reuters, Legal, enjoyed steadfast, senior-level support. The result is a success that King and his team are extraordinarily proud of.
“If you combine the best technology with access to the smartest people who know the most about how to configure it—and they understand your business—you have a huge competitive advantage there,” King says. “Oracle has played a big part in WestlawNext, and that’s helped make this one of the most competitive products that’s ever been released in the legal market.”
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is a freelance writer based in Washington DC.