Giving clients what they want, with Africa the growth target
THE INTERNET HAS become a basic and essential tool for modern business. But when the business has its roots in supplying clients with information in print, the transition to online formats is more challenging.
By all accounts – including financial results – LexisNexis is achieving this successfully and has gone a step further by providing companies with tools to use the information it provides, including risk management, compliance and training. “We need to look at innovative thinking. This business is changing so dramatically it inspires people to lead the business,” says CEO Billy Last.
LexisNexis evolved from the old Butterworths, the book publisher focusing on the legal, corporate, tax and Government industries. The main part of its business remains content provision. LexisNexis is also South Africa’s largest publisher of law, tax and accounting university textbooks. Last joined the group in 1988 and was appointed CEO in 1994. “Butterworths Publishers came out to SA from Britain in 1934. It probably established its head office in Durban because it was largely an English-speaking city,” Last says.
LexisNexis is now 50% owned by JSE-listed Kagiso Media. Its other joint parent is the giant Reed Elsevier group, with its divisional LexisNexis Group head office in New York but with offices in more than 100 countries worldwide. Reed Else- vier owns LexisNexis overseas, hence the name change and rebranding of the business in SA.
“The business here was a little different to Butterworths in Britain. The legal market isn’t that big here – about 21 000 lawyers and 1 600 advocates. So we had to be a little broader, which is why we expanded into the corporate, government and academic university textbook market.”
But Last says changes to technology – leading to bandwidth becoming more affordable in SA and improved Internet connectivity – brought new needs and demands from clients, leading to a growing migration to online services.
“In SA we first went from print to a CDRom format. Now we have fully migrated to online,” Last says.
That means, for a client such as a legal firm, the initial cost of access to information has been reduced. However, they need an annual subscription, so there’s an ongoing cost. “Our online business is subscription based – it’s like annuity income.” Last says Internet advertising is being explored but the group isn’t at all dependent on advertising.
It also means the move to provide its content online hasn’t affected LexisNexis financially, with its latest revenue and operating profit up by 22% for the year. “Although the Internet has resulted in a decrease in the cost of information, we’re providing much more information in formats that are more specific to what information is needed and, for that reason, resulting in an overall increase in revenue,” Last says.
That’s where LexisNexis received a lot of help from The LexisNexis Group. “For example, the US business has had to adapt to the global trend of providing information in online formats in a bigger way and sooner than in SA. So we’ve benefited enormously from global learning in that area.”
But then the group went a step further to transform itself to what Last calls “a total innovation and solutions provider that advises on how the information solutions provided by LexisNexis can be used to improve the core operation of our clients”.
That’s channelled through three operations: research solutions, risk management and compliance and training.
Reed Elsevier is also using LexisNexis in SA to spearhead the LexisNexis Group’s expansion into Africa. The group is already in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Mauritius, publishing their laws and law reports.
Last says the current strategy is to generate further growth through greenfields initiatives and acquisitions, in SA and throughout Africa.