Beyond the Paper Trail: Alistair Maiden’s Quest for Contract Efficiency

In this episode of Contract Heroes, we had the opportunity to chat with the CEO and founder of SYKE, Alistair Maiden. Since 2016, Alistair and his team have been helping businesses solve legal problems and build efficiency into their contracts through the use of technology.

Read on to learn more about Alistair’s journey toward developing SYKE, his CLM success stories, and his predictions for the future of legal technology.

SYKE and Alistair’s Passion for Efficient Contracting

To start our conversation, we asked Alistair to tell us more about his company, SYKE, and the origin of his passion project. SYKE is a legal technology and operations consultancy. Operating globally, they help organizations implement CLM products as well as various other forms of legal operations technology like matter management, spend management, and newer AI products. SYKE also has a consulting arm that enables corporate legal departments to achieve both digital and analogue best practices in contracting.

Before he made the decision to create SYKE, Alistair held a position as a corporate lawyer for Asda. In 2012, he began to cultivate an interest in CLM and digital contracting. Frustrated by the long hours he was spending in the office despite having a young family at home, Alistair worked with his team to create an “end-to-end contracting solution that focused on allowing colleagues to self-service their contracting needs.” The solution would enable them to start contracting at a much faster pace by putting power in the hands of commercial employees and lowering the amount of touch points with the legal department.

“The objective was to produce something that was as easy to use as an iPhone so we didn’t have to train them,” Alistair explained. To accomplish this, they introduced the concept of guardrails. Within those guardrails, employees outside the legal department could contract freely without having to consult the lawyers for guidance. Only certain risky activities would be handled by attorneys. 

Through the use of this system, they managed to reduce the average contract cycle time down from over 50 days to just 5.5 days. From there, Alistair’s love of efficient contracting continued to bloom, eventually resulting in the genesis of SYKE.

Characteristics of a Successful CLM Implementation

Next, we asked Alistair to draw from his own expertise to tell us about the challenges he often sees companies face as they try to implement a CLM tool.

The main challenge he mentioned was failing to take the implementation seriously. Whether a legal department does not allocate a large enough budget to the project or they expect the technology to act as a bandaid without first fixing their processes, organizations can quickly fail an implementation by not investing enough time and resources. 

In Alistair’s experience, the consistent element between companies that have massively successful CLM implementations is that they invest in the process and acknowledge that it could be a multi-year project. Customers often tend to blame the product (the CLM tool) for a failed implementation, when in reality, the blame falls on them for not engaging with a consultant and taking the project seriously.

Alistair went on to explain a few characteristics of successful CLM implementations. He allocated 50% of the implementation to nailing down objectives of the tool while the other half can focus on the actual analog contracting process. Objectives should define what you want the tool to accomplish. Should it be fast? Should it manage contracts? Should it report certain types of data? Find out where the ROI lives for your organization. Then, move on to the actual process, or the content, as Alistair phrased it. This includes the actual documents and the rules surrounding them such as approval rules, negotiation rules, etc.

Alistair also mentioned the immense value of inputting all of the live, existing contracts into the system. By doing so, you effectively turn that system into a singular source of truth for the organization’s contracts. The moment new contracts are signed, they will also file away into that system, keeping everything neatly in place to be located quickly and easily whenever necessary. Plus, the wealth of data stored in that pool of contracts can highlight trends that indicate the health of the business and inform future decisions.

Alistair’s CLM Predictions

We asked Alistair to give us some predictions for the future of the CLM space, particularly how he thinks it will evolve in the next 12 to 18 months. He cited major changes in the reputations of existing CLM tools, the growing need for implementation consultants, and the upcoming use cases for AI in legal technology.

Reputations of CLM Vendors

Alistair noted that, aside from their products, there is another big difference that separates CLM vendors: customer service. In many cases, the success of an implementation or a product depends to some degree on a company’s customer service capacity. Alistair questioned whether or not companies who failed to offer good customer service would hold their place in the market. 

“I think we’re going to see some really interesting stuff around the first or second generation of companies that bought CLM,” he said. “Are they going to renew or are they going to move? Because there are a hell of a lot of big companies who are up for renewal in the next 18 months or so.”

The Growing Need for Implementation Consultants

Alistair mentioned that the digital contracting consulting arm of SYKE is one of the fastest growing parts of his business. He believes that legal technology consultants will continue to grow until they eventually become a normal and necessary part of CLM implementation processes. In his own experience, customers have had excellent outcomes from working with a professional consultant throughout their implementations. He cited both Trayce Marcelle and Koho Consulting as prominent figures in the area.

Future Use Cases for AI in Legal Technology

Alistair foresees a number of evolving use cases for AI in the legal technology space. His own team has begun incorporating generative AI into the implementation process itself by using prompt engineering to do some of the configuration coding for them. At the moment it’s still a draft, but he believes that it will lead to better outcomes for customers in the form of quicker, faster implementations.

Alistair also stated that he thinks AI will continue to enhance and develop the CLM market. Already, we have the ability to train an AI-based CLM to suggest alternate clauses and amended redlines on a document simply by training the tool to understand the contract playbook. Eventually, AI will most likely be able to answer questions about a supply of contracts located within a repository in an interactive, intuitive way. These interactions will provide answers quickly without the need for preprogramming report fields.

Finally, Alistair predicted a potential disruption in the realm of legal advisory services due to AI intervention. When companies or lawyers need an answer to a legal question that reaches outside their jurisdiction, they typically contact other lawyers who do have expertise in that area for assistance. Since AI is rapidly developing the ability to provide fast, accurate answers to more and more questions, Alistair explained that AI could disrupt this business. However, it may take some time for current AI technology to reach that level.

We’re very happy to have had the opportunity to speak with Alistair and other members of his team in the past. To connect with Alistair, you can reach out to him on LinkedIn or visit the SYKE website for more information.