Last week I co-chaired the Hildebrandt West LegalEd Center CIO Forum in NYC. I report here a few observations from the conference.

My highlights synthesize and interpret comments from multiple panelists and participants plus a pre-conference survey of priorities:

  • Focus on Infrastructure. CIOs spend most of their time on core infrastructure projects, with particular focus on security, document management / search / information governance, Windows 7 and Office 2010 migration, mobility, and virtualization. Many CIOs want to help firms grow the top line but have little bandwidth to do so.
  • Mobility and Security. It’s worth calling out mobility, mobile device security, and security as the most challenging problems to solve. This theme came up repeatedly across sessions. The stakes are high and the solutions vary, so I expect this will remain a concern, if not preoccupation, for some time. Audience comments suggest that Good and Mobile Iron are splitting the market for mobile security.
  • Information v. Technology. In a discussion about IT organization and the span of control of CIOs, the focus on infrastructure was also apparent. The “I” in CIO means information and, to be sure, some CIOs have library, conflicts, records, and other information functions reporting to them. But many remain focused on technology, not information. And all acknowledged that the information intensive functions of marketing and finance need to remain separate domains. Approaches to providing IT support to these vary though many firms recognize the need for dedicated IT support housed in these departments. One interesting theme that emerged is that IT is typically the only function that regularly operates 24×7, which means IT often ends up fielding support for non-IT functions
  • Benchmark Surveys Can Cause CIO Headaches. Most legal market surveys of staff and spending ratios do not accurately reflect any single firm’s IT operations. There has always been a fair bit of variance across firms but two relatively new factors make it that much harder to draw comparisons. First, IT does much heavy lifting to support the frequent changes in contract lawyer headcount. With firms relying increasingly on contract lawyers, typical staffing ratios lose some of their meaning. And second, CIOs voiced concern that survey questions do not distinguish between nor capture total IT spend, both internal and external. I suppose that has always been true but it sounds like more firms are outsourcing more services. As a result of these two factors, CIOs must spend a lot of time explaining to management why their firm seems out of line with survey benchmarks.
  • Cloud Computing. I heard very little about about cloud computing – much less than I had expected.