Different sides of the same coin? How IT and Innovation departments can work together

By Alisher Yuldashev posted 11 days ago

  
Lately, I found myself working at the busy intersection of established legal IT department and recently created KM Innovation group in the law firm I am in. Both departments have their similarities and differences: IT is the powerhouse of technical expertise while Innovation looks better positioned to be closer to business for their legal acumen. At the same time, I witnessed both groups worked “Together, As One” on a number of technology initiatives while sharing scarce project resources and budgets. 

It got me thinking whether these departments were different sides of the same coin and how IT and Innovation departments could work together as one. With the following 3 big question marks on my mind, I embarked on the journey to virtually visit several countries and ask a few "in the trenches" law firm professionals about their experiences.


1. Should Innovation department (includes legal tech) operate within IT department or vice versa or should the two part ways because they will be better off on their own?
Derek Cullen
Chief Information Officer
Stikeman Elliott LLP

canada-27003_640.png
Andrew Terrett
National Director, Legal Technology and Service Delivery
Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
canada-27003_640.png
Derek Southall
Founder and CEO, Hyperscale and former Head of Innovation and Digital, Gowling WLG LLP
united-28519_640.png
Beau Mersereau
Chief Legal Technology Solutions Officer 
Fish & Richardson LLP

flag-32195_640.png
"I think I’d be remiss in not saying that all IT departments need to embrace Innovation as part of their mandate and a key business requirement.  As we’ve spent that last number of years moving infrastructure and core applications to the cloud maturity model, it only sets the tone for the transformation of traditional IT services and embracing and providing innovation solutions to business productivity issues .  That being said, many Firms, including ours, also understand that Innovation is an evolution of Knowledge Management, and ultimately best served as the primary driving department."
"It is probably an easier sell for organizations to start with putting an innovation function into IT but that does imply that the only innovation available is IT related innovation?  A key issue here is perception - what is the perception of IT – are they perceived as a business partner delivering value or a costly overhead? If the latter, then does that hinder the perception of the innovation department? Also consider the culture/mindset – the innovation mindset should be one of disruption and a willingness to break things. The culture of IT may be operational resilience, availability and reliability."
"I suspect the bigger question at the moment is what is the role of the innovation department post Covid-19?  There is a huge imperative to drive sales, minimise cost and drive efficiency and it is vital that both IT Departments and Innovation Departments recognise this. I don’t have strong views about where they sit so long as: 1) they co-exist and work as a single team; 2) they each recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses and leverage each other’s skills where needed; 3) Their project programmes, resourcing and governance dovetail in some way. This does not mean they adopt the same methodologies but more that as a business things are co-ordinated and repetition is eliminated."
Fish and Richardson P.C. recognized the benefits of creating two groups who could focus on what they do best. The Legal Technology Services team was created to serve the innovative technology needs of our clients.
Our IT Department focuses on resilience and security of our infrastructure.Legal Technology Solutions group works closely with our IT Department on a daily basis to make sure we’re providing great service to our clients and our firm.



2. What benefits you think law firms may gain from the above chosen direction?

Derek Cullen
Chief Information Officer
Stikeman Elliott LLP
canada-27003_640.png
Andrew Terrett
National Director, Legal Technology and Service Delivery Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
canada-27003_640.png
Derek Southall
Founder and CEO, Hyperscale and former Head of Innovation and Digital, Gowling WLG LLP
united-28519_640.png
Beau Mersereau
Chief Legal Technology Solutions Officer 
Fish & Richardson LLP
flag-32195_640.png
Who better to understand what innovating technologies would be game changing to the firm, than an experienced Lawyer, passionately working on tech adoption under the KM mandate?   How many times have traditional IT Services failed driving technology change that is seen as just a burden, or simply for the sake of change?  The key benefit has got to be level of adoption and lawyer satisfaction with respect to improved work product.
You want the innovation team to be freed of the burden of maintaining the “legacy” of operational IT. If they are tied to IT, will they get that freedom -  will they be sufficiently ring-fenced or will they be dragged into operational fire-fighting scenarios when critical systems are unstable or down?  But you also want alignment – you have to ensure that whatever is built by the innovation team can be deployed and supported internally by IT.
Without the above you end up with anarchy and inefficiency  – you can’t run an airport without air traffic control and the pilots ignoring each other Also bad decisions are made. IT teams tend to have a long term ethos – solutions have to last and be resilient but have less domain knowledge in law. Innovation people tend to be more demand led with greater domain knowledge in certain (but not all areas) but sometimes are not as aware of the long term implications of their decisions and often then move onto the next project. To take the best decisions you need both.
The group’s team of application specialists, business analysts, quality assurance automation engineers and developers are tasked with creating client-facing and internal legal tech solutions. For example, we are using machine learning to auto-classify documents and incoming mail from the Patent and Trademark Office that allows us to route mail automatically to the appropriate teams. We are using machine learning to auto-classify time cards to provide better data to our pricing group. Another initiative is the modernization of our development stack with Kubernetes. All our new internal applications are deployed in containers.

3. What is the secret sauce of successful IT and Innovation cross-department collaboration?

Derek Cullen
Chief Information Officer
Stikeman Elliott LLP
canada-27003_640.png
Andrew Terrett
National Director, Legal Technology and Service Delivery Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
canada-27003_640.png
Derek Southall
Founder and CEO, Hyperscale and former Head of Innovation and Digital, Gowling WLG LLP
united-28519_640.png
Beau Mersereau
Chief Legal Technology Solutions Officer 
Fish & Richardson LLP
flag-32195_640.png
The secret sauce is open dialog, and setting aside of egos for the betterment of the firm.   As KM and IT work closely together to drive innovation projects and share openly, both teams up their game, the work product gets better, the lawyers understand and agree with the need and adoption goes way up.
I am not sure we know the answer to this question yet. Innovation teams are pretty new in most law firms. I think innovation teams can bring some new tools that are relevant to IT generally – for example, design thinking. Law firms are people businesses and what matters here is what works.
There are two things – a single team approach. People need to “play nicely” working with as opposed to against the other. Both groups are absolutely necessary to get the right result. Secondly “arrogance needs to be left at the door”. Many innovation people think they can do the job of IT and vice versa. They are both wrong. Those teams which recognise this and the need for each others skills tend to be more successful.
The secret sauce is communication that goes both ways. A strong change management system is needed in my opinion. A true change management board where changes are discussed before they’re made is needed. With change management, everyone is aware of all of the changes that are occurring. Transparency alleviates surprises and that is a core tenant of a DevOps culture.

It was time to finish my virtual journey, i.e. submit this blog post to ILTA for publication, and so I thanked my interviewees for their views that brought home so many important points for me.

I think more “do it together” collaboration than a mere “I do my own thing and let you do yours” cooperation can help drive law firms’ innovation efforts faster.

Here is one practical example I can think of. Apple produces slick products in part because they can leverage their global userbase who can help Apple refine new products. Similarly, law firms’ IT departments can leverage their “Innovation userbase” – KM/K&I lawyers in particular - when rolling out new tech because they can provide valuable feedback at design stages.

For me personally, because hierarchies always thrive and because every law firm is different, it will be interesting to see what optimal model of Legal IT & Innovation synthesis comes out on top. At the very least, I hope they will be distant, but united during these disruptive times. Maybe we just let natural selection do its job.

 

#CreatingTheFutureTogether
#ITOperations
#Innovation
0 comments
26 views

Permalink