When negotiating with vendors, CIOs need lawyers with sharp IT understanding. Here's how to get the legal team up to speed.
One of the difficulties that CIOs--and indeed any member of IT management--faces is having their lawyers provide the true value that IT needs.
Wait, you say. How do lawyers provide value to IT other than the obvious review of terms and conditions in contracts?
Lawyers can provide real value by being knowledgeable about what their clients do and the world that they live in, so that their review of terms and conditions is done from a position that reflects that knowledge and not ignorance of it.
For example, it's pretty unlikely that most commercial lawyers have any idea what DASD means. A few more might know what FTP is because they've become computer junkies. The more that the lawyer handling your contract understands about what's going on when contracts are presented to them, the more likely it is that they will negotiate terms and conditions that allow you to receive the biggest bang for your buck.
In today's world, it's insufficient that lawyers just understand the contract terms that you are faced with or that they are tenacious negotiators; those skills are generally presumed to be there. There are other things that enhance those skills and allow a lawyer to provide IT with the kind of counsel that enables them to truly participate in critical decision making.
Obviously, lawyers need to maintain some objectivity--you can't expect them to be caught up in every aspect of the deal and be able to provide the impartial legal service that you count on receiving.
On the other hand, the more they truly understand your overall tactical and strategic business goals, the more likely they are to see beyond the basic terms of a particular agreement. This is critical to IT's success in the long term. Understanding long-term goals of your IT organization lets your lawyer structure agreements and provide guidance that is consistent with your business goals.
I can tell you from personal experience that very few in-house lawyers have any real understanding of IT. I certainly didn't start out that way. There are a number of goals that IT needs to accomplish to turn their lawyers from someone who merely dots the "i" and crosses the "t" to someone who IT relies on and wants as part of their process.
Having those goals isn't enough--you also need to think about you can achieve them. Here's how:
Goal 1: You need lawyers that are familiar with--if not experts in--IT transactions. The occasional tourist isn't going to do you any good, as they don't develop a real feel for the nature of the beast that is an IT transaction.
Solution: Make an effort to have the same lawyer (or group of lawyers) work on all of your transactions. Remember that the vendor's lawyers work on nothing but these transactions, and if you have an "amateur" on your side, you will be operating at a distinct disadvantage. Clauses that appear to be routine legalese to the inexperienced IT lawyer have the potential to turn into weapons of your destruction in the hands of the vendor lawyers.
Goal 2: You need lawyers who see each transaction in the overall context of your business and technical requirements and have an real understanding of what those requirements mean. Otherwise, there is no way they will see the big picture. If all they get is the occasional snapshot--and have no understanding of what your organization actually does--then they don't get a true picture of what is going on. You can be sure that the vendor lawyers understand what's going on.
Solution: It's up to IT to educate their attorneys as many aspects of IT's business as it can. That way, when they look at a contract, they can see it in the context of the other deals that they have worked on for you. This doesn't just happen by itself--it's up to you to spend the time to make it happen. Osmosis may be a great scientific principle, but if you wait for that to happen, you're not going to get anything done.
Page 2: Knowledge and Focus
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