Transparency without being Numbing

Whether you are an enterprise with a strong and respected CIO whose credibility across the business drives the credibility of the IT organization, or whether you are an IT organization that is using other techniques — the IT Governance Board, joint business : IT committees for architecture, planning and the like, or an active IT marketing and communications program — to work on your credibility, it is almost a given that credibility and transparency go together.

Looking around, in almost all cases, I can never find one that isn’t giving the business extensive information about the state of IT — and inviting comment back. Still, too much information, and too many requests for comment, can be numbing, and undo must of the good work of being transparent. How and where do you draw the lines?

In the early going, if there’s never been much of a history of openness for IT, the new view given by information can be a source of early respect, and being seen to respond to the comments this raises, as well as asking for them, even more so.

Still, everyone has their own problems: it doesn’t take long to cause others to wonder why you keep this up. “Don’t they know how to manage themselves?” was a question a VP of Marketing asked recently, and this is a normal response to being given “too much information” or being asked for comment too frequently.

The bar must escalate quickly, therefore.

Whereas a portfolio review and asking for comment might suffice in the first year, by year two there is an expectation that IT will come to the business with recommendations, scenarios, courses of action — and that it is these that are being put forward for comment.

IT, in other words, is expected to do a full job: not only identify where the business stands, but what to do about it, and why.

I note, in passing, that the traditional stuff of an IT newsletter — statistics on availability, responsiveness, projects, etc. — started life boring and doesn’t get better. These are internal matters: to raise them in public is to basically say “help us manage this”. Credibility simply oozes away.

Involvement — joint committees, a Governing Board — allows for more decision-making, but a caution: the decisions must be at the levels of principle and policy, not the nuts and bolts of things.

A governance decision to forgo a 2013 implementation of Windows 8/Metro, for instance, was formulated on the basis of three things: a technical evaluation that showed little benefit during that year (that company’s applications took advantage of no new features), an asset portfolio evaluation showing the depreciation issues with accelerated replacement of hardware which was otherwise fit for purpose (but not up to an 8/Metro expected working capacity), and a financial impact analysis showing what would be deferred to bring Metro to the forefront.

All of these were completed by IT, but the decision to remain an Windows 7 shop was made by the business (which might otherwise have had pockets moving to 8/Metro). Asking the same group to decide whether there was technical merit in moving to Metro, on the other hand, would have stepped over the line between “guiding IT” and “managing IT”.

The transparency involved in a decision like this is a great credibility builder, but it is often better to have nothing to say for now than to stretch and step over the line into the nuts and bolts of IT.

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About passionateobserver

I am a passionate observer of our society, the economy, and politics. Mostly I don't like much of what I see, so I write as a concerned citizen. To the fray, I bring a background in the philosophy of history, a lifetime's reading, a work history in information technology management, consulting and education.
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