Another View: IT governance acts as CIOs' steering wheel

Mimi Browning

Recently, the head of a major government organization who requested anonymity directed his CIO to develop an enterprisewide governance strategy for IT. The immediate reason was to remedy a systems lapse in a critical mission area. But there was also a strategic reason: to assure interoperability of the organization's information systems. When a non-IT chief executive makes IT governance part of the strategic agenda, chances are, the organization will have better odds for success. Derived from the Greek for 'to steer,' governance, as it relates to IT, is the science of aligning the organization's IT goals with its mission in a way that accommodates the decision rights of stakeholders and assures accountability for mission results and resource expenditures. Just as mariners steer their ships at sea, CIOs must take the helm of their IT domain and navigate a course toward accomplishing their agency's mission.

IT governance has many of the management components found in the classic systems acquisition process:

A shared vision. A meaningful vision is manifest when stakeholders reach consensus on where they want to go, what they want done and when. The vision should be integrated within the DNA of the organization's culture. A formal public document stating intent and objectives establishes a common foundation of trust and can assure stakeholders' commitment to steer together to accomplish the vision. The Declaration of Independence is a classic best practice of a shared vision.

A concept of operations. The CONOPS delineates the governing details for achieving the shared vision. It typically includes goals and objectives; organizational roles and responsibilities; specific policies, standards and processes; and decision rights for communities and stakeholders. A CONOPS establishes committees to reach consensus and sustain buy-in across the strategic, management and technology realms of the organization. Committees can be tedious and time-consuming, but they are the time-honored way of progressing in large, complex organizations.

Alignment with how the organization performs its mission. IT governance cannot be a standalone process. It must be integrated into the organization's way of doing business. For example, in order for capital planning and portfolio management processes and tools to be effective, they should fit closely with the organization's planning, programming, budgeting and execution processes. Similarly, new systems must be developed with clear links to enterprise mission goals, technology architectures and infrastructures, and customer cultures.

Advocacy. Whether CIOs are changing IT budget priorities, embarking on an enterprise IT solution or implementing a new technology, they must recognize the importance of waging an advocacy campaign. This involves educating the organization on the value of the change, managing stakeholder expectations, and addressing roadblocks and removing barriers. Influential CIOs in the Defense Department, for instance, are known for proving their warfighting mettle with the top brass by frequently going into harm's way'hotspots such as Iraq or Afghanistan'to learn first hand how to make the warfighters' mission better through the use of IT.

Measurements and controls. Day-to-day governors for success are the metrics and control mechanisms that assure what's being done directly improves the organization's mission and reduces costs. The best metrics are the essential few: reduced cycle time, improved customer satisfaction, return on resources, and mission and product improvement. Control measures are the classic cost, schedule and performance reviews that are used for program management.

In sum, IT governance is more than a CIO's silver bullet for success; it's the steering wheel the best CIOs use in getting there.

Mimi Browning, a former Army senior executive, is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

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