Everyone in management elsewhere in the enterprise shares three beliefs:
“I don’t really understand information technology.”
“I read about this really interesting thing and we should have it, too.”
“We can make millions from our data.”
What information and communication technologies can do for an enterprise depends on three other things:
“Are we willing to fundamentally change?”
“What’s our strategy for succeeding in the future really entail?”
“How good are we at dealing with failure?”
Bridging the gap between these two is the reason IT governance has come to the fore, for bridging it can’t be put off as it has been done in the past.
Here’s why: in the past, most of what we were doing was automating and supporting basic functions that organizations perform.
Today, value comes in doing things differently. What needs to be done differently varies from one organization to the next, but automating what exists isn’t the name of the game any longer.
That job’s done — indeed, in many enterprises, it’s been overdone, making the organization more rigid than it should be.
Still the belief that there’s a magic solution in deploying yet another piece of technology persists. IT people, in turn, genuinely want to serve the broader organization, and thus are quite willing to entertain the search for “the right answer”.
That’s a good way to spend, spend, spend, and fail to see results on the bottom line.
What an IT Governance Board does is get the business leadership around the table with the CIO to set directions, prioritize investments, and establish policies. It’s a place where the questions and assumptions we started with can be exposed (through the work the Board does) and finally dealt with.
For instance, if the strategy going forward is for rapid product customization, or rapid service delivery wrapped around products, the last thing in the world you want is overspecified process software. The quest for a univocal process oriented to efficiency that drove its creation has created something designed to slow down change.
Note that there’s nothing wrong with either strategy, but it’s important to recognize that prior strategies are embedded in the current portfolio — and that getting to the new strategy will require reinvestment to clear the way.
In other words, there’s no magic, just a lot of hard work and scrounging up of cash to pay for it all.
Now that is something the business managers do know. They start to realize that their decisions about IT are not technology decisions (where they’re uncomfortable) but business ones (where they are). One assumption starts to melt.
At the same time, the “I heard about…” or “I read about…” infatuations start to drift away, too. There’s a growing sensitivity to the notion that enterprises aren’t clones of each other — and that’s sufficient to turn “I want” into “What do you think about?”.
The prioritization process, with attention to the IT value chain, which starts with taking in many ideas but refining them before “projects” ever hit the table to be decided on, allows everyone at the table to think big, and back away gracefully depending on what’s found. Meanwhile, the desire to say “yes” gets turned into the desire to figure out exactly what it’s going to mean if we do this in IT — a healthy change!
As the Board consolidates, there’s also a growing awareness that information isn’t a free by-product of systems, but something you plan for. Then — and only then — can the question of whether the data contains value can be answered.
At the same time, the business leaders begin to realize that that value is only obtained in their work areas — leading to more attention being paid to getting real returns on investment when projects are undertaken.
Within two to three years, the belief in magic around IT has ended, replaced by a recognition that this is no different than any other function. It’s filled with hard work to be done, old ways to be changed, and interactions and interrelationships around the enterprise if value is to be created.
No CIO can get everyone there on his/her own. Get them to the table. Let them learn by doing.