My first few posts on this blog were about the coming end of Corporate Information Technology, or the CorpTechPocalypse as I coined it. Nearly 18 months have passed. The world around IT has changed substantially, but like the dinosaurs shortly after the meteor impact, IT itself is still desperately trying to understand its role in the “new normal”. It’s too late. It’s over. I’m calling time of death: early second decade of the 21st century.
The last remaining hold-outs of the former IT department are the Medieval Plumber Dinosaur Zombies. After all, information technologists were the plumbers of data, concerned with storage, distribution, manipulation, and security of information. In their waning years, everything took a back seat to security and their mindset was strictly Medieval. Build a wall high enough and strong enough and you will keep the Barbarians at bay. In certain circles, IT became known as the “Knights who say ‘No’”. All technology requests were denied unless the requester could prove that the business need outweighed ITs security concerns, or more likely, could convince management to pull rank over IT.
The truth, though it’s particularly hard for Law Firms to appreciate, is that outside Cloud Service Providers are going to soon provide better, more flexible, and more secure services than in-house data centers with the best technicians at a fraction of the cost.
Many MPDZs will stumble on until management takes pity and puts them out of their misery, but just as a subset of the dinosaurs survived the K-T event and evolved into modern birds, I believe some Information Technologists will survive the CorpTechPocalypse and evolve into Innovation Technologists.
Innovation Technology is an enhanced business role for technologists. Whereas the old IT was its own little fiefdom within the corporate structure, the new IT is deeply embedded in the fabric of the firm. The new Innovation Technologists are trained in business processes and have a clear understanding of the work their firm is doing. Having relegated the techno-plumbing to their Cloud Service Providers, the new IT are more concerned with case and deal schedules than server patches and software upgrades. They follow technology trends and business trends with equal passion, and they use that knowledge to provide a technological edge to their firm.
They are proactive, anticipating the needs of the users and developing solutions to business problems before business leaders realize the problem exists. With the proliferation of cloud services, the new IT can provide alternative solutions specific to the needs of the moment, rather than providing a single solution and trying to make it work for every situation.
Security is still a priority for IT, but the mindset has changed from Medieval to Metropolitan. Just as cities eventually recognized that large walls provided security at the expense of growth and innovation, so too will businesses. The new paradigm will be one of effective policing to stop cyber-baddies and a laissez-faire attitude toward all otherwise rule-abiding netizens.
Gone will be the ubiquitous IT “No”, replaced by the question, “What are you trying to do?” Whereas, the old IT focused almost exclusively on the technology, the new IT is focused first on the business and the user’s needs. Confronted with a user’s inability to send an email, old IT would spend an hour or more troubleshooting the client application, then the server, then user’s machine. Innovation Technology will first focus on the business need, “What are you trying to do?” The answer is not necessarily, “Send an email”, it’s actually “Get this information to my client.” Innovation Technology knows of 5 other methods to get that information to your client. They will seek to accomplish the underlying business task first, then attend to any problems with technology.
This new IT department will be much smaller, but more effective. A source of innovation rather than aggravation. But in order to truly be effective, Innovation Technology cannot be relegated to the second class citizen status that Information Technology formerly held. The Chief Innovation Officer needs to have latitude to build what needs to be built, to purchase what needs to be bought, and to be present when and where the most important business decisions are made. Most corporations figured this out long ago and put the Chief Information Officer on the board. Most law firm’s never did. Even as law firms get out of the techno-plumbing business, technology will play an increasingly important role in the practice of law. IT is evolving, but before Innovation Technology can truly take flight, law firm management structures will have to do the same.