Managing Director Geoff Budge has been working with FTI clients in South Africa for more than three years. Now, he is building a team of experts and solutions for the newly-established Technology practice in South Africa. His team will focus on expanding in the region and delivering the Technology segment’s client-centric, flexible model across e-discovery, information governance, risk, data privacy, security and legal operations solutions. We talked to Geoff about this move, and his thoughts on the biggest issues corporations in South Africa are facing during the current pandemic.
Geoff, you’ve been serving FTI’s clients in South Africa for several years. How do you see the Technology practice evolving in the coming year now that it’s officially "open" in the region?
In the near term, many things will stay the same. Our team will keep doing what we’ve been doing—helping clients with collections, investigations, data analytics, information governance and other technology-driven engagements. Longer term, I plan to recruit more experts in our core practice areas and continue branching out into other areas we have identified as growth opportunities for our business.
What is unique about your team’s expertise and how you approach clients’ challenges?
The South African Technology team has decades of collective experience delivering data collections, digital forensics, e-discovery, data analytics and cyber response services. We are continually developing and improving our remote collections capabilities, which are particularly relevant in today’s new normal. To that end, we’re also well equipped to provide continuity in e-discovery and data analytics services, even under lockdown. I think the current situation is going to open clients up to the possibilities of what can be done remotely in all these areas, and we’re in a strong position to help guide them through coming changes.
Speaking of COVID-19…it has flipped the world upside down and brought on a flood of new challenges for corporations. So far, have you seen companies scrambling to create remote work policies, or were most already prepared with policies and infrastructure to support the current situation?
We’re very focused on supporting our clients and our colleagues through this pandemic. This situation is truly unprecedented, and no businesses were well-prepared enough to deal with the challenges we’re now facing. Some of our clients already had a portion of their staff working remotely, and those employees have experienced minimal disruption to their work. But back office and administrative staff have not always been adequately prepared for remote working. Many, for example, do not have laptops or other mobile-friendly technology, including wi-fi at home.
One client was working until midnight the night before the lockdown began to procure laptops and SIM cards so staff could work from home. One of his concerns was the lack of physical security the devices would have in at-home environments. This is significant, and creates a lot of complexity and risk. Moreover, policies to manage remote work—such as governing approved applications, security requirements, data handling and privacy precautions—are insufficient to protect corporations against the emerging risks.
Lack of preparedness is clearly a major issue, and one of the many weaknesses that this pandemic has revealed across industries, systems and governments worldwide. Once we’re on the other side of this, what do you think will be the biggest lessons learned?
I think the way we work is going to change forever. Many companies will begin to appreciate the benefits of a workforce that does not necessarily need to be physically co-located for 100 percent of the time in order to do their jobs. The ways in which productivity and efficiency are measured will shift, with more emphasis on results rather than the steps taken to get there.
As people do begin returning to the workplace, IT security teams are going to audit their security practices, and remote connectivity to corporate infrastructure is likely to be high on agendas. The increased cyber risks that arose during coronavirus lockdowns will pressure IT security teams to ensure adequate infrastructure and tools are in place to facilitate safer remote working environments going forward.
I also think companies will identify processes that can be automated through the implementation of robotic process automation (RPA). These solutions will be deployed more broadly, particularly to reduce operational risks associated with crisis situations.
Is it common for companies to have crisis measures in place? Is this something FTI will help clients develop going forward?
Most companies will have a crisis plan to deal with certain anticipated scenarios. For example, a cyber attack or data breach plan, wherein teams quickly mobilise a communications and IT response. But not many companies have plans in place to deal with what we are currently facing, nor on this mass scale. The extent of disruption this pandemic has caused has been so unexpected it was not considered as a serious corporate risk by the vast majority.
Our team is well positioned to assist on a number of fronts with respect to crisis management and dealing with the ripple effects of COVID-19. We offer solutions around preparing a communications and cyber response plan and assessing existing infrastructure, policies and procedures for resiliency and risk. I do think we’ll see an increase in clients looking for support in these areas, and other information governance, security and data-related challenges that today’s circumstances have brought to light.
Aside from the current difficulties of COVID-19, what other pressing issues are keeping South African companies up at night?
Post-COVID-19 will see South Africa facing enormous economic challenges in what was already a tough environment. Concerns around data privacy, for example, may be leapfrogged on the priority ladder by concerns related to business continuity, IT security and HR policy review.
Solutions that facilitate efficient remote, collaborative working will certainly be topical. For example, cloud-based e-discovery services that enable collaboration on investigations, litigation support and other related activities across a disparate team. The adoption of these solutions in South Africa has not been as aggressive as other regions, and I suspect this will change in the coming years.
What makes you tick outside of technology and your work at FTI?
Spending time with my wife and three children, as well as close friends, is an important aspect of my life away from work. With one of my kids at university and twins in their final year of school, time with everyone together becomes less frequent and more valued. I relax by walking or running with my dogs in the vineyards around our family home.