The CIO dilemma

Posted by Arlene Adams, founder and CEO of Legal Futures Associate Peppermint Technology

Adams: huge investment needed to keep pace with IT

New entrants, increased client expectation and continuing fee pressure have shifted the battle ground of legal services to the client experience. In this rapidly evolving landscape, firms are realising they will live or die based on the customer experience and technology will play a key role in defining that.

While the importance of technology is increasingly recognised in the legal sector, few firms are using technology to define intellectual property and value in the way other service companies are. Think about Amazon, Airbnb, Uber, LinkedIn – they all position themselves as a tech business first. Retail, hotel rooms, taxis and recruitment are just by-products of their platforms.

It begs the question: when will we start to see law firms think in a similar way? When we do, who will be the leaders and how will they do it?

Many firms struggle just to keep the lights on with existing tech and yet the demands on every business to consume more software is only growing as new channels and services emerge. Many applications deliver significant value but the art of getting them to work in harmony is complex, time consuming and expensive.

The result is that firms are reaching a point of complexity where a disproportionate amount of their IT investment is spent on simply ensuring all their software applications continue to work. This problem is only increasing as new technologies emerge at a rapid pace and for many chief information officers (CIOs), this feels like a time bomb.

There is a further challenge for law firm CIOs – the breadth, depth and pace of technology is now so vast that the huge investment required is not sustainable.

But this problem isn’t unique to legal firms, so the good news is technology giants such as Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and IBM are investing huge sums to address this very challenge. The solution to the problem can be found in the emergence of the ‘industry application platform’ (IAP) – where large technology giants build a base software stack that delivers the most common software components a business requires.

This provides an underlying framework onto which industry specialist software vendors can build solutions for specific markets, such as the law.

This model already exists in many other industries where the size of investment in the core technology is so high that only a few players build this. For example, in the airline industry, Boeing and Airbus compete in building airplanes: individual airlines take one of these standard models and adapt it specifically for the needs of their target market and customers.

Everyone benefits; all passengers fly on planes which are safe and compliant, whilst each airline adds value specific to the market it wishes to address.

In the global technology market, the IAP approach is the next phase of evolution. The IAP owner delivers the complex engineering of common components, such as Microsoft providing: Microsoft Office, customer management, marketing, document management, social engagement, machine learning, collaboration tools, mobility apps, database, security, workflow, social media, browser support, mobility, device support etc. 

This allows industry experts, such as Peppermint, to focus its investment on making the platform work for a given industry such as legal. Legal firms can then take the platform and design their own unique IP and service – just like the airline industry.

The IAP approach gives the modern CIO access to a software investment they otherwise couldn’t afford – both now and in the future. A common platform, with a single source of data and client view, provides the foundations to build agile and effective legal services.

No longer does the CIO need to worry about keep the lights on and the law of diminishing returns. In this new model of working, firms can leave the global tech giants to do the core engineering and remove the hassle of integration away. This CIO can instead focus their talent and effort helping the business understand how they can leverage technology for business value and even create core IP and value in the business. 

In this new brave world, it may not be too long till we see a law firm positioning itself as a tech company that happens to deliver legal services.

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