Usama Georges, CIO, San Diego County District Attorney
What are some of the widely prevalent challenges you notice in the Legal Tech landscape?
One of the major challenges is validating information (the authenticity of the data) and finding out who did what and when. Because until now we were not collaborating appropriately, as it’s a long manual process to figure out if a person committed a crime in my county or has any criminal background in other counties or other states. Thus manual discovery is slow and mostly impossible based on the information that we get or we find on the defendant. Navigating the policies in place is challenging and we have to make sure that we abide by them at all times. So how do we deal with this situation? How do we build that kind of collaboration without violating any of those policies? If we get hacked or design a certain approach that is not safe, then the nightmare that follows is terrible. The safety of the personal information of the public and the citizen is of the utmost importance to us, which brings us into the need for digital transformation.
Then the question becomes,“how do you adopt digital transformation and collaboration while simultaneously ensuring the safety of the citizens’ information for both victims and defendants?”There are many advanced technical products, and we would be keen to adopt them, but at the same time we have to be careful with the data. So these are the pain points that we are facing to help us achieve the transformation necessary without endangering our citizens’ information.
Could you shed some light on the approach that you follow while choosing the right solution provider?
Collaboration is the most important trend between the law enforcement industries and all legal agencies that deal with any type of crime. It is the way to choose the right solution provider. We meet with Law enforcement agencies on regular basis, if it’s within the region or within the state or the nation and we try to figure out how we can collaborate. I communicate with a lot of people throughout the state and nation and if I see a method that’s proven good in any county or state, I will ask their permission to use the technology or for the code to see if we can use it. When our employees go out for conferences, they come back with solutions that other counties have implemented, and so we work with them to find the best way to apply it in our county.
Predictive analysis with the help of machines and does not necessarily replace human efforts; the emphasis is given on human factor in the organization
We will then look at the workflow and the idea behind it and will work with them to adapt it to our needs. In each case, we will notify them if we modify it and will pass it on to them and thank them for their idea. We try to stay with providers who comply with the DOJ and have compliance agreements to prove it.
What are the strategic points that you go by to steer the company forward?
At any office or in any public, private, or nonprofit organization, you need a seat at the table. In the past, IT was always looked upon as a utility company, “as long as things are working, one can access their stuff and as long as they can access it remotely and the internet is working.”It is when something goes wrong that they want to know why it’s not working. This is not the right approach.
Being an internal partner to the business is the right solution. At our office we are fortunate, because the District attorney, the assistant District attorney and the rest of the staff believes in IT. I always promote that IT is the propeller of the business. You can build a big boat, but if your propellers don’t work, then the boat is not going anywhere. So as small as the propellers are to the boat, they are the ones who are moving the business. This is something we always promote; we are partners of the business and not just a utility company or a support team. We must make the decision based on our business needs rather than what IT thinks is right. For example, there are certain security capabilities that we want to acquire and apply but before we bring them in and start applying them, we sit down with the business and talk about it. We look at that fine balance that is hard to achieve in most offices, security and productivity So, on our side we understand the business because we need to know the business inside out in order to serve it as an IT division.
How do you see the evolution a few years from now with regard to disruptions and transformations within the arena?
When we look at the history of policing or of law enforcement from the old ages, crime has always been around,but it has evolved to be what it is right now, and we are just adjusting the ways we do business to fight the evolving cybercrimes. For example, cybercrime exceeds regular crime by far. You need to adjust for this by bringing in more professionals that are both legally and IT educated. We have that kind of capability in our office. Many people think crime is physical but nowadays those criminals are not doing it because it endangers their existence. So, they are doing it from the comfort of a café, or their house and we need to adjust the way we fight and prosecute it. This is one of the things that we always work on. But executing this is a challenge because we don’t know whether to bring in officers or attorneys and have them study information technology or take information technology engineers and train them on law enforcement. This is a major concern. We need to come up with a hybrid of those in order to face the rising number of cybercrimes committed.
Using analytics is another method to face such challenges, as it helpsto predict efficiently as to what can happen in the future based on the things that have happened in the past. This is another thing I can see a lot of law enforcement agencies using on regular basis.
What would be the single most important piece of advice that you could impart to your colleagues to excel in this space?
The role of the CIO remains the same while the environment keeps changing. I came from a for-profit and scientific environment to a legal environment. So the first thing a CIO needs to do is to understand the business so that you can serve the business right. The second advice would be to stay humble and that will bring you a lot of success. Promote leadership within your teams; let them innovate and come to you with ideas. Also,adopt ideas from the business side, don’t shut them down as shadow IT projects, let them come to you, let them bring their ideas and then implement them such that everybody succeeds.