Technology solutions

2014-07-11 00:00

LEXISNEXIS South Africa is making headway in Africa, updating and consolidating, in some countries, laws passed over the past 20 years.

The company, first established in Durban in 1934 under the Butterworth brand, is a unit of the global group that provides content and technology solutions for ­professionals, corporations, government and academics.

The Witness interviewed Billy Last, chief executive officer, in LexisNexis South Africa’s Durban head-office about how the company has expanded and adapted to a fast changing technology environment.

LexisNexis South Africa is majority owned by Reed Elsevier, while investment firm Tsiya Group led by Fani Titi, co-chairperson of Investec, holds a 10% empowerment shareholding.

Last said the firm’s expansion in Africa has involved working with governments and the legal fraternities in countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Swaziland and the Gambia to update and consolidate their laws.

In some cases, the laws, and their amendments as gazetted by governments, haven’t been consolidated in up to 20 years. This work is in line with the group’s vision to support the rule of law, he said.

LexisNexis South Africa had developed a methodology to do this and work in Middle Eastern countries is also envisaged.

Further expansion into Africa is planned for LexisNexis’ broader solutions in fields such as academic and governance, risk and compliance.

Last said driving the adaptation of the firm’s products to fast changing technology is an ongoing challenge that he has relished over nearly two decades.

Broadly, when he first became chief ­executive officer in the nineties, the information gathered by the company was distributed primarily in books and manuals, it then went onto CD’s. Then there was the digital environment, which has since migrated from desktop to tablets and cellphones.

One recent innovation, for example, is “LexisMobile”, a portable digital referencing app that provides access to updated information on an iPad and the ability to install on laptop or PC.

Another solution LexisNexis is rolling out aggressively into 10 practice areas by year end is “Practical Guidance” that provides online guidance notes, how-to-do type information, checklists, flowcharts, forms and precedents, authored by expert practitioners, breaking news, as well as legislation and case law.

Last said this solution would particularly benefit smaller firms by assisting to provide advice about matters they might not specialise in.

LexisNexis employs about 300 people full-time in offices in Durban where its business development, editorial, telesales, technology and back-office functions are situated, in Johannesburg where the client-facing operations are based and a satellite office in Cape Town.

Apart from this, said Last, the firm has a massive base of authors who are specialists in their professions and who write for the company on a contractual basis.

LexisNexis has a number of competitors, among them Juta, Pearson and ­Macmillan Publishers.

But Last said the focus on supporting the rule of law, and LexisNexis’ global reach, which gives it access to the latest technology and best practice, are features that define its competitiveness.

Last said he is optimistic about the ­future — LexisNexis South Africa “hasn’t missed a beat” and had managed to grow consistently over the years through organic growth and acquisitions, he said.

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