You can hardly browse a technology publication these days
without reading at least one article on “business and IT alignment”. Clearly,
someone has figured out that successful IT management is more about the
business and less about the technology. Yet for some in IT management, those
words are just lip service. If you ask them if their departments are aligned
with the business you will get a hearty “Heck, yeah!” However, if you
ask them to describe their IT governance process, you will often get silence—because
they have no such process.

This, of course, makes me doubt how closely they are aligned
with the business, because in my opinion, they go hand in glove. While I won’t
say it is impossible to be aligned with your government organization’s (or business
unit’s) goals without a governance process, your chances are probably greatly
diminished by the lack of one.

What is IT governance and why do we want it?

IT governance is not very different from other governance
processes. Governance
is defined as “the processes that need to be followed in a successful
department, team, or project.” In the case of IT, governance is the
administering of IT resources by the processes of strategic planning, prioritization, decision-making, and performance

It seems simple enough,
but why would IT managers want such formality? After all, there are many omniscient IT managers and directors in
existence that can tell departments exactly what they need—and they better darn
well like it! After all, they are the
technology experts. (I wish I was only joking here, but a lot of this kind of
thinking exists.)

Seriously though, what
are the benefits of having a governance body? My number one answer is
“buy-in”. If you want to become true partners with your customers (or
even if you don’t and just want them to go along quietly with your advice), you
need to make them part of the process. Much of our success as IT is dependent
on our customers buying into the solutions that we offer them to meet their
needs. No buy-in often leads to failure.

Besides buy-in, IT
governance can:

  • Aid in aligning
    IT with the organizational goals and strategy.
  • Raise the
    profile of IT.
  • Aid in
  • Help convert
    strategic goals into IT projects.
  • Aid in
    project and portfolio management.
  • Reduce IT
  • Aid in IT
    strategic planning.
  • Aid in
    performance measurement.
  • Aid in embedding
    IT into the organization’s culture.
  • Aid in demand
    management (demand for IT’s services by other departments)
  • Optimize IT
  • Increase project

Implementing a governance body

So, with all these
benefits, how do you get started in creating IT governance? First and foremost,
you must realize that one size does not fit all when creating or adopting IT
governance. Each organization is unique, and should evolve its own governance
model based on its particular circumstances. Organizations that employ no IT
governance at all should start slow (perhaps with an advisory body with
strategic planning, standards making, and project prioritization) and add more
functions to the governing body as it and the organization matures; those organizations
that are employing some form of IT governance may wish to expand their body further
into decision-making and performance management.

Besides deciding what
role IT governance is going to play in your organization, you will need to
decide who sits at the table. This is often controlled by the size of your
organization and at what level the governance committee has authority. There
are many that believe that IT governance sits at the highest levels of the
organization and is strictly the domain of CIOs, CEOs, and department heads. This
is unfortunate because these same principals can scale down to the department
level or even smaller business units. There is room for IT governance wherever
there are decisions to be made regarding how to utilize technology resources to
make a unit function better.

If you are a department-level,
division-level, or bureau-level IT manager, there is no reason to shy away from
this process. Just make sure that you stay in sync with the goals and
objectives and strategic vision of the governance committee of your
organization’s higher body. If your organization doesn’t have a governance
committee, then you can lead by example in improving IT performance and
business alignment.

Choosing to
participate in IT governance is an important step in becoming a more responsive
IT entity. Doing so is no small matter and it should be approached with all the
planning, research, and resources that is fitting a
major project or program for your organization. Fortunately, you are not alone;
besides the bevy of consultants that can help you get started, there is also a
wealth of information on the Web, such as from the IT Governance Institute.

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