Law firm CIOs – ‘last among equals’?

In the Wall Street Journal article Why CIOs Are Last Among Equals, the research made by the authors Peter S. Delisi, Dennis Moberg and Ronald Danielson, shows that CIOs are regarded as specialists lacking the full set of broad management skills. "Based on our research, it's clear that most CIOs don't have the broad business understanding, strategic vision and interpersonal skills that it takes to run a company or at least play a bigger role in running one." The article then explains the skills that CIOS lack as lack of leadership, strategic thinking, synthesis skills, communications skills, influence skills, and relationship skills.

Pretty hard words, to say the least.

This article has been commented in a more balanced way by Ron Friedmann in the Prism Legal blog post Are Law Firm CIOs 'Last Among Equals'?, adding some more positive aspects. As Ron Friedmann states "I personally know many who do not fit this mold the authors describe. Further, my sense is that the strength of law firm CIOs has gone up considerably in the last decade, both through 'organic growth' (that is, job experience) and 'acquisition' (that is, hiring from outside the legal market)." But Ron also agree that the research is accurate for a number of law firms and that the missing skills of the CIO has to compensated by the knowledge management executives instead: "Having defended the camp, I now feel entitled to share that I do think in some firms the Chief Knowledge Office (CKO) has an explicit or implicit part-time job to make up for the skill gaps the authors enumerate."

An aspect to be added to the role and skills of law firm CIOs is that the importance for law firms of having the right person in charge of the IT development will only grow in the future. IT will be a central tool for law practice development onwards and a solution that enables firms to transform knowledge and expertise into a key differentiator and providing a strong leverage and innovation driver. With this view, IT development could be seen as a core, strategic business development issue.  Then, maybe it could be argued in line with the conclusions above about the knowledge management executives role, that the person responsible for the strategic IT development issues should not even be the CIO but rather the CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) or a similar executive that has a better understanding of both IT and the business?

The CIO's main responsibility would then be to ensure the IT administration and support routines, to ensure the sound foundation for the IT development and to act as a technical advisor to the CKO and other executives responsible for the strategic decisions. Thus, the CIO's competence would be used in a better way, by supporting the executive that actually has "the broad business understanding, strategic vision and interpersonal skills" and enabling the law firm to really make IT an innovation driver.


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