17 May 2023

IT leadership – what are your firm’s requirements?

Law firms of all sizes can benefit from dedicated IT leadership, writes 3Kites' Jon Howells

Firms need more direction with their IT planning Shutterstock

Three years ago we started working with small-to-medium-size professional services firms to provide fractional IT director services. Our expectations were that we would be providing an experienced IT director to work with the firm’s management and IT teams to ensure IT was being fully considered as part of a firm’s business plan. It has been interesting to see how the requirement from IT leadership has varied between each firm we work with.

What’s your desired level of IT maturity?

We have used the below diagram in past webinars to help firms identify where they are in their IT journey and to identify where they would like to be. We would argue that each firm should be aiming for at least number three (IT planning) to ensure there is direction to IT within the firm and that appropriate time is allocated to items such as software/hardware updates, contract renewals and problem/change management. Whether a firm wishes to aim for number four (IT leaders) should depend on how this would benefit the business.

What does IT look like today?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a firm’s current IT team and environment will influence IT leadership requirements. The existing IT roles, the IT service being delivered, issues being encountered, the skill sets of the firm’s management team and the IT suppliers already in place all need to be understood when reviewing future IT leadership needs.

Do you need an IT director?

When helping firms align IT with the business, the question we are regularly asked is what level of IT leadership is needed (IT manager, IT director, head of IT, CIO, CTO). The answer is not straightforward. Consideration needs to be given not only to the benefits a senior IT leader is expected to bring, but also if the firm can keep an experienced IT director busy with the type of work they would expect to be involved in. An experienced IT director will expect to be part of the management team and we firmly believe this is correct but we regularly see examples of this role being excluded from direct involvement with such teams.

When considering your IT leadership needs, be sure to consider:

  • The existing IT landscape within your firm and where you want to be in three-to-five years.
  • The size of your firm. Is there a suitable stream of work at the right level to keep a full-time IT director engaged?
  • How well does IT align with the business – what level of change is needed? An internal IT team’s objectives should include a close understanding of the firm’s work types, the requirements of its legal and business departments and an understanding of how IT can introduce improvements.
  • Are your IT services outsourced? It is likely that a number of them will be and you may require strong supplier management skills to maximise the benefits here.
  • What services do your existing IT suppliers provide? Will they give you independent advice with a strong understanding of your business needs?
  • The makeup of your existing team. Can it operate at the management level and, if not, does it need mentorship to get there or someone to permanently bridge the gap between IT and the business?
  • What are your practice areas, how reliant are they on IT and how quickly do they need to adapt to changing IT practices and solutions?
  • What are the skill sets of the management team in relation to IT? A member of the management team with a keen interest in IT may take on some of the IT leadership roles.

It is our belief that every firm can benefit from senior IT leadership being in place. Whether this is a full-time or fractional IT director, a non-exec director or an IT supplier, we recommend careful consideration be given to your needs before you start looking at potential candidates.

If you are interested in understanding the role of IT leadership within your firm and how this could be improved, please contact jon.howells@3kites.com to arrange a free of charge session to consider your specific requirements.

Jon Howells is a director of 3Kites. This is the 19th article in the series Navigating Legaltech

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About 3Kites and Kemp IT Law
3Kites is an independent consultancy, which is to say that we have no ties or arrangements with any suppliers so that we can provide our clients with unfettered advice. We have been operating since 2006 and our consultants include former law firm partners (one a managing partner), a GC, two law firm IT Directors and an owner of a practice management company. This blend of skills and experience puts us in a unique position when providing advice on IT strategy, fractional IT management, knowledge management, product selections, process review (including the legal process) and more besides. 3Kites often works closely with Kemp IT Law (KITL), a boutique law firm offering its clients advice on IT services and related areas such as GDPR. Where relevant (eg when discussing cloud computing in a future article) this column may include content from the team at KITL to provide readers with a broader perspective including any regulatory considerations.

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