“Governance? Process? Yuck, nasty words!”
Those are the actual opening words I used in an introductory email to O’Reilly Media business leaders whom I was inviting to participate in an important new process. What I was introducing had the potential to become antagonistic bureaucracy and could seriously backfire. So I was treading carefully but knew I had to move forward to enable our desired IT transformation and sustainable on-going effective operations.
But let’s step back and understand the origin of my motivation for this new process.
As an IT leader, do these statements sound familiar? Demand for IT capacity far exceeds the ability for the IT team to deliver. Everyone who makes a request considers theirs to be a priority and wants it done as soon as possible. There’s considerable frustration from requesters that their work is not getting addressed or has been put on-hold to address other priorities. The IT team is highly stressed, lacks direction, and morale is low.
The good news is that IT remains a highly valuable and in-demand business resource. The bad news is that all too often these statements reflect the state of IT operations for many businesses. And while it can continue like this, the costs are all too well known. IT becomes the bottleneck to business growth (yikes!) and effective operations and nobody is happy: not the IT team and not the business.
If you want to transform IT and fix these all-too-common issues, a new approach must be adopted. The trouble is that by introducing the methods to fix these problems, in the short-term it can be tough to win buy-in. In effect, you have to introduce a modicum of bureaucracy which will often arouse aversion by business leaders. Getting past those first few months and demonstrating success will help you turn the corner and transform the way IT is delivered. It’s not easy.
So what is this process?
What I’m describing here is IT governance. In simple terms, IT governance is a process that ensures that IT capacity is working on the right things at the right time to enable business goals. It’s a set of controls that focuses on organizational success while managing associated risks. Sounds simple, right? The devil is in the details! While nobody could argue that any process that aligns IT to business goals is the right strategy, it’s the change required and the compromises on the part of business leaders that can derail this most worthy of efforts.
Why is IT governance so difficult to implement?
Business leaders want to do the right thing. They want the business to succeed and they will work hard to make that happen. But all too often, they are motivated and rewarded by having their small part of the organization succeed. IT governance requires that the scarce resource of technology capacity be diligently distributed across the organization for overall business success. In other words, it requires that IT cannot be allocated on the basis of individual team needs but rather on collective, organizational goals. (Of course, we recognize that a small percentage of IT budget should be set aside for specific team needs and in many organizations each team gets a dedicated amount of cash for that very reason).
How does IT governance work?
IT governance works like this: all technology investment requests are brought to a central authority (at O’Reilly Media we call it our governance review board) and the merit of every request is debated and a decision is arrived upon. Membership of the board is made up of senior members of the organization that represent every function.
What is the core value that ensures IT governance will work? The ability to compromise.
If participants are focused on the success of the entire business, compromise becomes easier. Those not used to this type of approach will initially be frustrated, and that’s why the first few months are essential. You have to demonstrate that this is a better way to manage your scarce IT resources. If it works well, it solves most of the issues described earlier in my post. Seriously!
I’m passionate about IT governance because I see the enormous value it has for every type of business. But more specifically, to me, this is the central activity that will ensure the success of O’Reilly Media’s IT transformation. I’ve said it many times to my team and the business, if IT governance doesn’t succeed, it will radically hinder our abilities to do the important things we want to achieve. That’s no over-statement.
How is IT governance at O’Reilly Media working?
So far, so good. We now have a clear roadmap of IT projects that have been agreed and approved to move forward on. Business leaders are happier because they know what is being worked on and when solutions will be delivered. Some leaders have reservations, but they are remaining open-minded. The IT team knows what to work on and understands the role of the solution relative to other systems and goals. It is a win-win. But there is still important work to do and demonstrating the long-term value is still ahead of us.
Is IT governance optional?
There are many ways to implement IT governance, but the principles remain the same. While we can debate the method of implementation, I’ll go to bat to suggest that we cannot debate the essential value of IT governance. Regardless of the size of your business, some form of IT governance must be part of your organizational processes.
Bureaucratic? Sure. Essential? Definitely.