As a legal adviser on technology projects, the nature of my work has shifted significantly over the years. One of the key roles of ICT was, and remains, about driving the business and ensuring key operational efficiencies.
It used to be that almost every ICT project was about “keeping the lights on” – which is obviously as important now as it was years ago. But the most dramatic change has come in the role of ICT as a tool to enhance companies’ business performance. Even businesses that would not traditionally describe themselves as technology-based have increasingly moved to use ICT as a revenue generator product. And that shift has changed the nature of most technology projects.
Two of the most common issues I meet, however, with the new generation of ICT-as-a-revenue-item projects are, first, what are the levers by which technology leads to increased revenue and, second, whose job is it to pull those levers?
Clearly, ICT itself doesn’t automatically lead to revenue generation: it’s all about how it’s used and applied. The growth of Big Data and analytic technologies has opened the door to large-scale manipulation and analysis of data that many companies hold about their customers and suppliers. But the value to be derived depends on the degree of targeting and skill at data manipulation.
The revenue generation possibilities of a company’s technology portfolio also typically depends upon making the best use of available intellectual property rights protection, and appropriate use of contracts with suppliers and customers, in order to make certain that the value accrues back to the business. Intellectual property rights are again becoming increasingly valued by investors and shareholders. While maintaining effective intellectual property rights can be expensive, especially when it comes to registering a series of patents, the revenue that can be made from licensing a patent portfolio or, increasingly, sale of a patent portfolio can justify the initial expenditure.
A number of companies are now increasingly ramping up their operations to maximise the value of their back-book of patents where they can’t see any immediate exploitation needs within the scope of their normal operation. And, of course, intellectual property rights are increasingly relevant for defensive purposes as we see more incidence of enforcement of patents.
It’s one thing to target how ICT can be used to derive revenue; but it’s another thing to work out who should do it. In many companies, responsibility for protection of technology rights in poorly defined within the corporate structure. Is this a CIO task? A General Counsel task? Or is there some other arm of the business that ought to take on the responsibility for this sort of activity? In default of agreement, the role often falls back to the CIO – which is fine as long as the CIO is ready and armed with the right resources.