Will GCs Avoid the 'Tragedy of the CIO?'

In 2006, CIOs stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the highest echelons of the C-Suite. 

Today, they’ve lost much of their influence. 

But what happened? 

And why does it matter to GCs and other legal leaders?

The legal industry is facing inevitable changes in how business is done. 

Still, it’s uncomfortable for many of us to envision a future in which legal services aren’t mostly billed by the hour. Or where technological efficiencies do away with entire categories of work and even talent. 

It’s a lot like how the CIOs of 2006 initially reacted to the cloud; transition their most secure and important company data from company-controlled servers to an amorphous global network of servers? Not a chance!  

We know how that story ended (at least for the CIO). 

Today, it’s laughable to think of a Fortune 500 or Global 2000 company whose systems and data don’t mostly reside on the cloud. 

And sadly, in choosing to ignore the inevitable wheels of technological progress poised to roll right over them, CIOs lost the tremendous position of influence and power within the C-Suite that they wielded for a very brief moment in time.

Here’s what happened. And why it matters.

The Rise and Fall of the CIO

The internet exploded in popularity in the 1990’s, leading to the dot-com bubble that lasted from 1998 to 2000. During this same period, Y2K stirred widespread fears around potential disaster as operating systems ticked into the new millennium. 

This is how in less than a decade, the CIO role went from being “that tech-speak person who lurks in back rooms and basements fixing computers” to a critical strategist on how to protect the company's data, set up networks and communication, and leverage the right new technologies to protect their companies’ crown jewels against these doomsday fears. 

This also came with big budgets and corporate influence. 

For a brief moment in time, the CIO was the “king” of the C-Suite. (Kind of like the GCs and CLOs of today are increasingly being seen as strategic advisors to the business 🤔 ).  

But when AWS introduced cloud computing, most CIOs clung to the status quo, fearing the perceived risks of data security breaches and loss of control over mission-critical systems. 

Sadly, this resistance came at a price.

A small number of companies that embraced cloud technology experienced increased agility, scalability, and cost-efficiency. 

But those CIOs who resisted the cloud movement found their influence waning as other departments sought alternative solutions and circumvented traditional IT channels to pursue their tech needs independently. 

The once-mighty CIOs ultimately lost their budgets, their people, and their influence. And on the whole, CIOs, after enjoying a brief moment of influence within the C-Suite, found themselves relegated from strategic decision-makers to mere maintainers of legacy systems.

Today’s GCs are at a similar crossroads.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but the legal industry is at a similar inflection point.

The legal ecosystem has long been dominated by the billable hour system. (If you’re new to The PERSUIT newsletter, you’ll have missed many of my rants about the unsustainability and brokenness of this model 🤺 ). 

But today, in-house teams are facing increased pressure for transparency, efficiency, and cost savings around legal services.

New operational efficiencies and technologies are evolving rapidly in response. Like the ability to competitively source legal matters, streamline contract management, automate repetitive tasks, enable predictive analytics, and enhance compliance efforts. 

But fear of the unknown, concerns about data privacy, and general scepticism towards technological disruption play strongly.

To say that resistance is not uncommon among GCs might be a bit of an understatement. 

Do you see where I’m going with this? 

Will history repeat itself again? 

The decline of the CIO stands as a cautionary tale for legal leaders facing the decision to embrace legal technology or stand on the sidelines. 

GCs can embrace technology and change to elevate their influence within the organisation — transforming their roles from reactive risk managers to proactive legal strategists who enhance the decision-making process and contribute to the overall success of their businesses. 

And, by taking charge of legal tech adoption, they can mitigate the risks of manual tasks and shadow legal technology and maintain control over the organisation's legal operations.

Or they can play it safe — as the inevitable wheels of progress continue to turn, with or without them.  

GCs, you’re writing your own story as we speak. 

The question is, how will it end? 


Hear more from Jim as he interviews top GCs, CLOs, other legal leaders on the Innovative Legal Leadership Podcast.


Jim Delkousis