A Leader In Tech And The Boardroom

Thomas Phelps Headshot
Thomas Phelps stays on the cutting edge, not only as CIO of Laserfiche, but also on the board of directors for several tech organizations.

Thomas Phelps’ involvement within his local IT community goes far beyond his day job.

Phelps is CIO of Laserfiche, a company based in Long Beach, California that provides intelligent process automation and enterprise content management software. But he also sits on the board of directors of STEM Advantage and Cal State Long Beach 49er Foundation—and is the immediate past executive chair at Innovate@UCLA.

Driving it all—his belief in the power of lifelong learning.

What is your involvement in these organizations and how does this help you in your role as CIO?

As a CIO, it’s critical to stay abreast of leading technologies that can impact our business, product development and people. Involvement with organizations such as Innovate@UCLA is one way to accomplish this. Innovate@UCLA is an executive leadership organization that is affiliated with UCLA Office of Advanced Research Computing.

Our vision is to be the leading voice in the tech community that inspires business innovation. Along with our own programs that feature industry thought leaders, we partner with Gartner Evanta to host the Southern California CIO Executive Summit.

My board leadership roles provide me with a platform to help advocate and sponsor others in the tech community. For example, many emerging IT leaders want to showcase their thought leadership, broaden their professional network, promote their personal brand or obtain a CIO role. Through my board role, I’m able to mentor others and position them for public speaking, board service or IT leadership roles.

I’m very passionate about education and teaching—and how lifelong learning can lift people out of poverty and provide tremendous career opportunities. I’ve also been an instructional developer at Motorola, an adjunct professor at University of Southern California, and an accredited instructor for the Certified Information Systems Auditor review course from ISACA, a global technology leadership organization in 180 countries.

STEM Advantage provides scholarships, mentoring and paid internships to women and students from underserved communities at California public universities. I joined the STEM Advantage board and now also serve as a board director for Cal State University, Long Beach 49er Foundation.

It’s in every IT leader’s best interest to help cultivate the next generation of talent by providing input into the curriculum of leading public schools. Given the cybersecurity talent shortage, several individuals on the Computer Engineering and Computer Science Advisory Board supported launching a new minor in cybersecurity applications at CSULB. I enjoyed being part of this initiative and have recruited other IT leaders to also join and get involved.

AI adoption is a technology that many companies are trying to navigate. Should this be a priority for CIOs? Why or why not?

If you’re not focused on AI, then you could be setting up your business for failure as an industry laggard. Unlike other technologies that were heavily hyped such as blockchain, AI is becoming a business imperative to sustain a competitive advantage. AI can be used to create new products, accelerate time to market, deliver better service and improve productivity.

Also, AI is frankly, pretty cool. In the war for talent, it’s important to provide the latest in AI tools and collaboration technologies to people and also invest in major initiatives that can radically change your business and be interesting to work on. Who wants to work at a company that is still talking about dated technologies and run off of just email?

What is your advice to CIOs looking to adopt AI?

First, create an AI governance model for the responsible use of AI. Second, identify appropriate use cases for AI across the business. Third, provide the tools, resources, training and guidance for successful AI adoption. While AI tools and services can enhance productivity, they may also create legal, security and ethical risks. These tools may lead to IP infringement, leak sensitive data, introduce security vulnerabilities into code or provide inaccurate, misleading or harmful information.

At Laserfiche, we formed an AI Governance Committee comprised of our CTO, CIO, general counsel and others. We created an AI Governance and Usage policy and had all employees acknowledge it. We also published a list of approved generative AI tools and provided guidance on acceptable use. Laserfiche recently announced product features that incorporate generative AI.

What are three key trends that CIOs are not focused on right now, but should be paying attention to?

I wouldn’t call them trends, but “must-haves” in any organization: enabling a relentless focus on product and technology innovation to provide a competitive advantage; optimizing costs while preparing to scale for growth; and providing governance over IT, cybersecurity and AI.

I’ve seen too many companies focus on one extreme or another—such as scaling for growth, but not managing its contracts and spend appropriately—instead of striking the right balance.

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