November 02, 2003

Christine Edwards on Corporate Governance & Technology Issues

In case you're wondering why I haven't posted in the past several days, I was catching up after returning from LegalTech Chicago. Both of the keynotes were quite good. Christine Edwards, a partner at Winston & Strawn in Chicago, spoke about "Accountability at the Speed of Thought", which addressed the challenges and responsibilities that chief legal officers face today. I jotted down her key points, and found her perspective about corporate technology issues quite refreshing:

  • The "informed technologist's" star has risen. The current regulatory climate will increase reliance upon technology.
  • Technology's role will be more in the spotlight as companies scramble to meet the requirements (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley). Several big things need to happen: Standardization, automation, and integration. Sears combined multiple systems into one, and as a result is seen as a leader in this area.
  • Businesses need to cross divisions and business lines (no more silos), and no more spreadsheet accounting.
  • Many companies lack consistent retention policies. For example, they may have an e-mail retention policy, but they forgot about adressing other business records such as prior document and e-mail drafts.
  • Convergence and matter management is the trend in corporate law departments.
  • Management reports are key. There is a great need to slice and dice the information in many different ways to meet the needs being asked of corporate management and board members.
  • The informed technologist has a career path. Business leaders today are more interested in methodology and softwares. Today, the sky is the limit for business leaders with a technology background. Communication skills are key. Corporate boards need people who understand technology, but can see the broader picture. As Ms. Edwards put, they can see around corners.
  • Technology has heightened expectations for quick decisions. However, is the fast decision the best decision? In the context of e-mail and instant messaging, consider contemplative decision making instead.
  • Technology can facilitate things, but what is really needed is a change in behavior and culture -- there are no silver bullets.
While I thought a few portions were perhaps a bit overly optimistic, I agree with her overall assessment. IT can no longer be considered infrastructure. It is integral to the success of the business in surmounting its challenges. Strategic alignment and savvy implementation are key to monitoring and managing the business.

Even more important, in my opinion, are hiring and retaining people who "get it", use their heads, and can communicate persuasively. Ms. Edwards' point about many companies' oversight in adressing prior document and e-mail drafts is a perfect example. Those are things which definitely grow fangs of their own if not included in the strategic planning and tactical implementations.

Considering the impact of HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and other necessary but burdensome regulation, companies need even more insightful information and technology guidance than ever before. No longer can effective business leaders avoid dealing with it. There's a new breed of business professional in town -- the informed technologist.

[Update: I had the pleasure of sitting next to and meeting Ron Friedmann during the keynote. As Rick Klau recently posted, meeting a fellow blogger is much more congenial than meeting a stranger. Through our blogs, we already knew each other to some degree. As we already had a good idea of the other's interests and skills, our conversation just gained its own momentum.

I just noticed via my news aggregator that Ron also posted his thoughts on her keynote. He focused on Ms. Edwards' comments regarding the main distinction between how lawyers view decisions and how business people do. Having worked in both arenas, I can definitely relate.]

Topic(s):   Other Musings
Posted by Jeff Beard