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3 Discussions Every IT Leader Should Have in the New Age of Work

Amanda Fennell

Relativity’s current work-from-home setting has provided each of our more than 1,300 employees with an opportunity to reset and readjust how they perceive their work and their role in the workplace. As the lines between an office and a living room blended, one thing remained unchanged: the need for great tech and IT support to ensure each person could do their job 100 percent effectively, whether they’re working from the foot of their bed, at a coffee shop in their city, or in a remote location somewhere off the map.

Having been in my new role as CIO—as well as CSO—at Relativity for over 100 days now, I’ve witnessed first-hand the impressive adaptability of our employees to react, respond, and recover from such a foundation-shaking event like the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m immensely proud of the work our IT team has done to support each employee in their remote journey, and I’m even more excited about the possibilities we have in front of us to make the work experience that much better as we enter a new stage of work—whether that’s fully in-office, hybrid, or still fully remote.

One WFH habit I’ve picked up is an increase in watching streaming shows. LOKI on Disney+ is one of my recent favorites. In the show, Loki—the time-bending protagonist—is part of a “nexus event,” which is a point in time where one action or decision smashes the current, preordained way of doing things and sparks a new—perhaps better, perhaps not—timeline. I believe we’re at a similar point in time as we prep for a return to the office.

This is our nexus event, where we can build a better IT function that fully supports all phases of work. Here are three discussions you need to have to make sure you’re prepared.

Taking Tech from “Table Stakes” to “Table-setter”

Having good tech is no longer a perk to entice potential new hires; it’s table stakes for any competitive tech company. As an IT function, our previous role was to equip our colleagues with the technology and services they needed to be successful in their role—that was table stakes. Now, our function has changed again due the pandemic. It’s up to us to build a tech foundation that acts as a table-setter for our employees.

It is the CIO’s responsibility to make this shift and welcome a more integrated application future for your employees. If you’re looking for where to start, do an audit of where your employees spend most of their work day: What tools are they using, and with what teams? Then, look for a tech application that can connect these dots while also reducing clicks and limiting the room for error among employees.

For Relativity, that has meant going all-in with Slack’s open-API functionality and integration possibilities to better connect the tools and applications we know our employees use. While Slack remains the hub of real-time communication at our company, its integrated functionality also allows us to assimilate the rest of our collaboration and work applications into a cohesive tech ecosystem.

You can schedule a Zoom meeting directly from a direct Slack. Set up a JIRA task for an engineering colleague to track. Track a new hire role through Workday and Lever integrations. Collaborate on a document through Microsoft 365. All in Slack. This collaboration is possible because we’ve leveraged Slack as our table-setter.

The Importance of Privacy-by-Design

As a dual CIO and chief security officer, the protection and preservation of Relativity’s data is always top of mind for me. Starting as a CSO, I was wholly invested in protecting Relativity’s customer and employee data from outsider and insider threats and building a security fortress with big, unimpeachable walls to protect the data inside.

Now, as CIO, I’m also in charge of knowing where every bit of data within our four walls is and making sure it is handled correctly. If you don’t know where your data is, you won’t be able to protect it or add privacy controls to ensure it’s preserved and maintained properly. At Relativity, that means compiling everything into a master data catalog.

One of my biggest priorities as CIO is implementing our privacy-by-design model, which helps ensure the data privacy of our employees by building privacy issues and watch-outs into the starting discussion of every product, service, business practice, and infrastructure project Relativity engages. This entails setting up ingrained processes so that we have standardized responses in place for potential data protection issues prior to them occurring.

Controls like these help us stay ahead of the issue and be proactive—instead of reactive—in how we handle data privacy within our company. If you haven’t already, I recommend that you start this conversation with your team to see how close you are to implementing privacy-by-design in your workplace and what the holes and workarounds might be. It will save you a lot of stress on the back end.

How Do We Build Back Better?

New leadership means new ideas, but it can also unsettle a team if not implemented correctly. For me, I already knew that Relativity has a best-in-class IT department, meaning my role as CIO is to help provide a spark for new innovation and creativity so that our team can grow even further as our company continues to grow on a global scale. How do you create a spark of energy or ideas within your organization? Where does innovation come from and how do you harness it? These are all questions you should be asking your people managers on a regular basis.

One of the sparks I’m proud of is the introduction of IT-specific hackathons. Relativity has hosted hackathons for our engineering department to come up with new ideas to solve complex data problems for some time, but we first gave our IT team a similar opportunity to think outside of the box this year. The IT Hackathon led to some truly impressive ideas that helped us gain efficiencies in our workflows and optimize processes to better meet the needs of ourselves and our internal users. It also reinforced our constant need to innovate so that we can stay ahead of the problems of our stakeholders.

Our remote work model provided a clean set of problems—and opportunities—for us to build a better IT that was more adaptable and connected to every function of our employees' daily work. The ideas from our first hackathon will only reinforce this and build a better IT function in the process.

As we begin our return to the office in the coming months, I’m excited about the new possibilities we have to create a better-functioning, more inclusive work environment for every employee—whether in person, remote, or a combination of the two. We may only get one “nexus event” in our lifetimes, where we’re able to make such dramatic shifts to how our teams work and operate.

As Loki says: “We write our own destiny now.”

Read the Community's Reflections on a Year of Remote Work in e-Discovery

Amanda Fennell was chief security officer and chief information officer at Relativity.