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CIO careers: Seeking legal experts

Of all the conversations I had with attendees this week at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit in Las Vegas, it was actually one with Gartner analyst Debra Logan about CIO careers that surprised me the most. Logan is finding that more enterprises are hiring CIOs with legal expertise. Some are even hiring lawyers as their CIOs.

One big oil company that she advises hired a lawyer as its CIO because it views information as a risk, and in turn wanted someone who understood the risks involved in data management.

Apparently the role of the CIO, particularly those in heavily regulated industries, truly is becoming one of an information manager, as opposed to a keeper of technology, she said. As such, enterprises want a CIO who understands the legal ramifications of information dissemination and one who can establish policies and controls that will help avoid lawsuits.

There are several factors driving some enterprise to hire legal experts as CIOs, and, granted, this is coming from Logan’s view as an e-discovery expert. But for one, regulatory agencies are much more active now in changing and enforcing the rules of e-discovery.

“This is really causing legal people to ask ‘Just what is in that 27 terabytes of information? What’s going to come back to haunt us?’” she said, adding that a recent conversation with a lawyer informed her of a new set of changes coming down the pike from the Federal Rules of Civic Procedure on e-discovery.

As a result, enterprises want to start producing data far before a subpoena or a case is brought against them — the number of lawsuits has risen during the recession, because, unfortunately, it’s a way to make money, she said.

She’s not saying that the future CIO role is all about legalities. It’s more that CIOs should view themselves as information guardians, and managing information entails the ability to manage risk.

Although, it doesn’t hurt if you do take a legal course or two. Gartner, after all, recently sent one of its analysts to a course called Legal IT at the John Marshall Law School.

Read more on what attendees at the Gartner BI Summit had to say about their BI direction and technologies on their radar. BI coverage in coming weeks will touch on developing a BI strategy, emerging BI technologies and how Gartner rates the capabilities of the big BI vendors: IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft.

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Lawyers already influence the C-level staff with their estimation of risk and liability (their perspective) as do the IT and business auditors. A CIO with a good understanding of the law AND technology is a VERY good idea. As to a lawyer as CIO being able to guide the company to a zero or a minimal legal loss position; no lawyer can make any definitive evaluation about the outcome of any litigation or legal action taken by the government. Therefore, given the mercurial nature of the legal system, their advice is sometimes as authoritative and actionable as a Magic 8-ball for determining the outcome of any legal matter or the proper operational strategy. No lawyer or CIO can protect a company that has a rogue culture and/or its staff have no respect for the law or morals. And, even in the best of companies there will be oddballs that will create legal liabilities for the organization. This threat cannot be every zero'ed out. Hiring a lawyer as a CIO will not give a company a "free get out of jail card" for the bad things that can/do happen. A competent CIO and CSO can minimize the threat of legal problems via the use appropriate technology and processes. Business is about constantly taking mesured risks and making investments based on potential positive outcomes. Business is not all about the minimization of risk. Striking the proper balance between risk and reward is the key to the successful CIO. Philip Lieberman - President Lieberman Software Corporation