Legal Minutia Is Killing My Productivity

I understand that legal matters are part of the CIO territory, but they're starting to overtake my day-to-day work.

John McGreavy, Contributor

December 9, 2014

4 Min Read

The amount of time I spend on legal matters related to IT decisions is skyrocketing. What used to be a distraction is now a material impediment to productive work.

I'm not a lawyer and don't want to be one. At the same time, I understand that legal matters are part of the CIO territory. Handing every legal detail over to our lawyers or outside council would be a copout, even though they're always engaged in the process. I need to understand how contract terms and conditions may affect our company and the products and services we're evaluating.

Our lawyers provide me with advice, and that's critically important. But they don't tell me what to do unless there are legal or corporate absolutes under which we have to operate. Most often the issues that arise are a matter of risk tolerance rather than the cost and/or suitability of a technology set. And my team has to make these judgments, not the lawyers. But those legal aspects are becoming front and center in so many decisions we make.

[Why are Microsoft's software license agreements so indecipherable? Read Microsoft's Software Licensing: Why I've Had Enough.]

It's come to the point where we've begun to ask for a vendor's contract or license agreement at the first meeting, as we're no longer confident we can work out issues once we select a vendor. A couple of years ago, we thought we had picked a location services vendor for our fleet of leased vehicles. However, the vendor's lawyers refused to remove a clause that gave it the right to use "any of our information" in future marketing materials. How could we agree to that? "Our information" might include the locations of our customers, employees, and who knows what else.

The vendor wouldn't budge, which was unfortunate because it had an excellent solution. It's tough enough to sift through the general marketing noise to find truly great products and vendors. In this example, we ended up wasting many weeks of time and effort.

I raised this broad issue recently in three different meetings with other CIOs, and I'm not alone. The problem is getting worse, and it's eating away at our productivity. It's also turning me into the bad guy.

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Ray, one of our sales managers, recently sent me a link to a cloud-based project management service. He wanted to use it for sales planning, and I noticed he'd been encouraging others in our company to use it. We reviewed the vendor's terms and conditions and found them to be unacceptable. The agreement required us to give the vendor the rights to republish our company information for any purpose it chose. We can't do that, especially if our sales plans were to get published in a brochure aimed at our competitors.

In another case, one of our suppliers asked us to share select sales information with it. Fair enough. We've done that for years, as we represent its product line. But now the request comes with a legal agreement for us to take liability for the supplier's possible mishandling of our data. I get it -- its lawyers want to shift any risk to us.

So we respond. And they respond. And we respond. And so forth. Every response requires my review, some new wording, another approach, and a return to sender. It's coming up on three months since the supplier first made this request. That's one lengthy game of legalese ping pong.

We're headed in the wrong direction here. The IT profession and industry are founded on increasing efficiency and productivity through automation, and somehow we need to apply our expertise to the legal back-and-forth. With the growth in cloud services, the need for thorough legal reviews and reconciliation is growing dramatically. We must figure this out. Otherwise, we'll be letting the lawyers take over.

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About the Author(s)

John McGreavy


The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences under the pseudonym John McGreavy. Got a Secret CIO story of your own to share? Contact [email protected].

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