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How CIOs Can Weave Technology into the Fabric of a Firm

Mary Rechtoris

In many ways, finding the right chief information officer (CIO) for your firm is like finding a partner to spend your days eating Chipotle with: someone who immediately confronts you for eating too many burritos won't last long.

But the truth is, we all have room for improvement. A good partner will expand your horizons and help you be your best self. Similarly, the crux of a CIO's success at a firm is highly contingent on her ability to understand the firm's challenges and diplomatically bring ideas that could move the needle in improving operations.

Why Coming in Hot is Not the Best Move

Just like people don’t like their partners telling them they're wrong when they are probably right, attorneys are not always keen on a CIO who barges in and waxes poetic on their shortcomings when it comes to technology. Maureen Durack learned this lesson when starting her career as a 22-year-old auditor.

"You can imagine how well it went when I would tell people what they were doing wrong," she said. "As a young person, I learned very quickly that there are socialization techniques and you've got to adapt your communication style."

Segueing from auditing to the legal sector, Maureen moved into the technology space and was the director of information services for 17 years at Chicago-based law firm Vedder Price. Currently serving as director of operations at the firm, Maureen chatted with The Relativity Blog, giving her take on what makes for a fruitful partnership between a CIO and a firm.

"The CIO has to understand that they're likely coming into a law firm where technology has not been the leading problem solver. For many, it has caused problems," she said.

To be successful in moving a proposal forward, it is essential for CIOs to become a trusted adviser to other members on the leadership team. When leadership is aligned on a solution, there is a much greater likelihood that other staff members will adopt the plan. For example, if a CIO advises their attorneys to use Relativity Case Dynamics to help craft their case prior to depositions, but leaders fail to voice support, other employees may be hesitant to use the tool.

In a white paper on what makes change management successful throughout organizations, Deloitte writes: "An organization is often ready to effect the change it needs when it has a goal in place—and when its leaders are willing and able to drive toward that goal, aligning themselves before they set out to align others."

Taking the Time to Identify the Issue

CIOs increasingly have a seat at the leadership table and can use their knowledge of their firm's challenges to advocate for technological solutions. While technology can eliminate many issues impeding efficiency at a firm, most times it is not the be-all and end-all. CIOs therefore need to ask the right questions to see if technology is truly the best course of action. 

When Vedder Price realized they needed to update their enterprise content management system, it would have been easy to simply select and implement new technology and call the problem fixed. But the Vedder Price team chose to take a more measured approach.

Instead of simply integrating a new ECM platform, Director of Information Services Clark Joiner and his team went to leadership and asked a series of questions to gauge their perceptions of document and records management. What those conversations brought to light was that the firm needed an information governance platform. Vedder Price was rapidly expanding, and as the firm scaled, they were struggling with consistent use of the current DM and RM systems. This made it difficult for employees to find specific files.

"Recognizing that the problem we were trying to solve was about information governance was a critical point in getting the right people to the table to solve the issue," Maureen said. "If we had only looked at the technology, we would have missed the opportunity to implement more efficient processes and ultimately realize the full value of our investment.”

Keeping the Three-legged Stool Balanced

It can be tempting to implement a technological solution without talking and collaborating with those who are experiencing the issues first-hand. Those conversations take time, and learning their processes takes even longer.

"Sometimes, the problems are so pressing on the operational side of the house that they throw up their hands and say, 'do what you have to do,'" Maureen explained. "That doesn't move the bar in terms of becoming more tech-smart at an operational level. It just places a bandage on a larger problem."

The key to becoming more technology proficient across the board is speaking directly to people throughout the firm to understand the challenges they face, identify how technology can help eliminate those issues, and get a pulse on their receptivity to adopting new tech. CIOs and other executives may fall short in executing their plans when they don't consider the three legs of a stool: people, process, and technology.

"When you don't think about the people and the process, and just bring in technology that you think will make things better, you get poorly implemented technology," Maureen said. "Then, the original objectives are rarely achieved."

CIOs should consider the processes in place that may prevent change from happening throughout a firm. In that same vein, they should fully understand that humans are creatures of habit, so having those conversations about why the change is happening and arming yourself with evangelists from across the firm is crucial.

"A CIO has to weave technology into the fabric of the firm," Maureen said. "When they do that, people will listen to what this individual has to say, which gives the CIO the opportunity to present technology as a priority in solving problems."

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Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.