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Transforming an IT Department: The CIO Journey

Andrew Watts

Throughout my 30-year career as an IT leader, one mantra has stuck with me through thick and thin: simpler is better.

I have often seen IT departments scaling up their people, processes, and technology in an effort to meet their ever-changing business needs. While this strategy might ensure all your bases are covered, it has not created peak operational efficiency for my teams. So, I constantly ask myself: Can I simplify the way we are operating? Is there a more secure way to store and move data? Does the ecosystem in place allow us to do more with less? And what will that mean for our business?

I'm here to share those lessons with you.

My career started in Sydney, Australia, in IT, for telecommunications companies. I learned important lessons in how to measure success as an IT leader—meeting employee, customer, and business expectations was the highest priority, while ensuring operational excellence and technology innovation were table stakes.

IT efficiency and the importance of leaning on a network of other IT leaders are two key lessons learned throughout my career, and they helped my team execute on our vision for Relativity: We needed to treat our technology as an enabler of our business strategy. This meant transitioning from an order-taking and -following IT organization, to a strategic technology partner.

The best way to be efficient is to have IT and its partners working toward a coherent set of shared goals in line with business goals. IT should provide thought leadership and technology acumen so that non-IT staff do not have to play the dual role of functional leader and technologist. Leaning on lessons from others as we embarked on this transformation, we decided to deploy a product management mindset to our endeavor.

I'll walk through our journey to peak operational efficiency at Relativity and share tips on how you can optimize your own journey.

How it Started

When I started with Relativity in 2016, we used approximately 300 software titles. All of our business teams worked on those systems fairly independently, with IT as a disconnected support system. Positively speaking, Relativity's tech stack was built on a robust set of products. For any problem we had, there was a system that could solve it, and we were proud of that.

However, the technology and data were often siloed. We often had two or more systems that could do the same thing running for different teams. We also had encounters where IT was asked to pull separate systems together for challenges where we could instead consolidate and do more within just one system. Helping teams see the value of consolidation—shared data, connected business processes, and, ultimately, key business outcomes—became an IT imperative.

To start on this journey, I enlisted a team to begin an audit of our technology stack. We asked questions like: What business processes do we have in our company? What data is important? What teams use which platforms? What do they use those platforms for? Which platforms interact with the different parts of our business? Which parts of our business use the same platform for two different functions?

These questions and the answers that surfaced provided a map of our data and technology by business outcomes. From there, we could begin to find the thread that tied all our data, teams, and systems together.

IT as a Business

Ultimately, we evolved into a more united set of teams—between IT and external stakeholders—by restructuring to reflect an “IT as a Business” model. Using this model, IT at Relativity functions as an internal consultancy to the entire organization. Our department’s mission is to have a grasp of each part of our business journey’s data and technology stack so that we can empower teams to utilize the right solution for their needs, and to do so as efficiently as possible.

It’s an excellent system but building an IT as a Business model meant significant internal changes.

Our first step was grouping our technology stack into different business journeys. For example, Quote to Cash, Innovation to Operation, Digital Workplace, Hire to Retire—these labels describe the business value of our diverse teams’ work, rather than focusing on a software title or cloud product. Aligning to journeys meant defining our different IT resources based on how people would actually use them.

Then, we established agile squads who had the right expertise to work on those journeys in partnership with our functional colleagues. We expect our IT professionals to understand the business function they focus on almost as much as they understand the data and technology that supports it.

Naturally, this evolution did not come without challenges. Learning to increase our focus on functional knowledge alongside technology knowledge and skills, develop an agile mindset, and use product management skills rather than just project management skills were among those challenges. With each, we took away key lessons that our team was able to grow and learn from on the path forward. It took time to manage the change that was needed to ask our employees to work in a new way.

Over the course of about 18 months, we began to see real change. We were working smarter and doing more with less. We reduced our technology stack by software titles and cloud products used, but also in terms of data collected and stored, bespoke projects needed, and siloed operations. We chose the core platforms that would support the major journeys and invested in those more heavily while reducing or eliminating investments in others.

Today, we particularly focus on trying to use as few platforms as possible, often using a given platform to support teams as diverse as marketing, sales, support, and professional services in order to maximize our investments. We find this to be an effective strategy for reducing complexity. It's also allowed us to save time, maximize operational efficiency, and be more cost effective.

This transformation has also meant wonders for our internal security. We now have a streamlined relationship with our security team, and we can be confident that each system in place is protecting PII and other sensitive data at all costs.

How You Can Get Started

The number one step I encourage you to take today as you begin your consolidation story is to challenge yourself, your IT team, and your stakeholders to put company-level outcomes ahead of functional, departmental, or team-based outcomes. The more often you can leverage the same platforms, systems, and data throughout your entire organization, the more you will reduce the siloed processes and thinking often associated with having too many systems.

This journey may seem overwhelming, but once you have a map of the people, processes, data, systems, and software being used in your ecosystem, and what each is used for, it will be easier to start tackling the goal of doing more with less—even if it’s just tackling one title at a time.

One of the best parts of my job has been working with Relativity's customers as they embark on their own consolidation journeys by sharing some of our lessons and leveraging the power of our own platform. I’ve built rewarding relationships with customers looking to consolidate their e-discovery tech stack. As rapid digitization becomes a focus for many, especially with the move to remote work, I find that having a focused and intentional IT network is critical.

If you are just getting started or are already headed down the path to greater consolidation, there are critical steps along the way to prepare for long-term success. The very first one is to interview your stakeholders and IT teams about what is (or could be) important in becoming more innovative, maximizing their efficiency, and getting a handle on their systems and the data they touch.

I believe many CIOs, technology leaders, or other functional leaders will get similar feedback as I did: “We have too much work to do, too many systems to manage, our data is not well organized, and we don’t have a focused roadmap of where this is all headed.” If you're methodical, organized, and adhere to your own vision for a “simpler” environment throughout this process, you're sure to create long-term success for your IT organization. Plus, I'm always here to help if you need. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Andrew Watts is chief customer officer at Relativity. He joined the company in 2016 as vice president of information technology to oversee the IT department comprising of three groups: applications, infrastructure, and project management. He has more than 20 years of experience in IT.