Selection & Prioritization

Canadian legal giant BLG faces the same IT challenges as any other large firm, but with experienced CIO Sandra Haynes, it’s easily finding the right tools to meet them

“We live in a period of significant change, in which every chief information officer faces mounting pressures on numerous fronts, yet budgets remain somewhat constrained.” That, according to Sandra Haynes, is the challenge she faces daily as the chief information officer of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG), Canada’s largest full-service law firm. But the experience she has gained over the course of her extensive career is helping her guide her team in sifting through the proliferation of technologies and applications to identify those that can benefit the firm. Below, she discusses how she came to join the firm and explains her process for protecting BLG’s technology assets while focusing on its overarching business objectives.

As a child, I knew I would do something with mathematics at the core. It was one of my strengths; the other was literature. I feel that I’ve really leveraged those strengths. The ability to communicate effectively with your business sponsors is hugely important to the success of the information technology [IT] organization, which feeds into the success of the firm.

I got my degree in mathematics and computer science at the University of Western Ontario. When I finished, I joined a large insurance company as a developer and quickly moved on to managing a team. I then had a lengthy stay at PricewaterhouseCoopers. My role encompassed every responsibility of an IT organization, but I essentially ran out of tarmac.

When I was invited to join BLG as its national CIO, I thought it was a great opportunity. Although BLG is a smaller firm than PricewaterhouseCoopers, as a professional-services firm it was similar in terms of culture. I joined in 2008.

It’s important to keep the focus on the business. The role of a CIO is to be responsible for the management, implementation, usability, stability, and security of the information and technology assets of a firm. But it’s important to focus less on the technology and more on the business objectives. By improving existing business processes, you help the firm’s professionals be more productive and respond to client needs and, in doing so, help the firm to grow.

The challenges of the CIO role are numerous: integrating cloud computing into existing systems where it’s appropriate to do so; managing big-data analytics; accelerating the adoption of mobility into business strategies and processes; and, certainly, guarding against increasing security threats. We have 2,000 employees working on 2,200 computers across six locations.

Today’s IT workers are typically plugged in 24-7, but chief investment officer Sandra Haynes thinks it’s important to disconnect from technology, so she spends as much of her free time as possible outdoors. “My hobbies are very different from my work,” she says.

Security threats are increasing not just in terms of origination and frequency but in terms of complexity. In other words, the bad guys are getting very sophisticated. And it’s not just the individual hacker that some time ago we would have been guarding against; now we’re dealing with well-funded entities whose attacks are extremely targeted.

I also mentioned the adoption of mobility, which can refer to many things. We’re tackling the challenge of meeting mobility needs from many perspectives. We support a wide variety of mobile devices in a secure, managed fashion.

Selection and prioritization is important. How do we come to choose which projects we actually initiate, execute, and deliver? For a CIO, that’s very relevant, and your ability to do it effectively is a key ingredient in your success. The approach I’ve taken over the course of my career is ensuring strategic alignment. How well does the IT strategy align with the longer-term goals of the business? I also consider the extent to which an initiative might force a change in existing business processes; what benefit the initiative has—looking beyond cost savings and productivity, as there are many other potential benefits that need to be looked at; and certainly risk, by which I mean: how likely is it that the initiative will fail to meet expectations?

One initiative that is quite strategic is our leveraging of an investment in the Microsoft SharePoint technology platform. We’ve used it to deliver client extranets. These are online services that significantly enhance information sharing between our lawyers and their clients in a very secure fashion.

I feel strongly that developing and coaching your teams is very important. Provide timely and constructive feedback. Adapt your coaching style to the individuals—their abilities, strengths, needs, interests, motivation level—within the context of their roles and responsibilities.