Over the past two years I’ve been observing the dialog within the SharePoint community around governance. There are hints that the community is evolving as several people are now discussing the role of business in governance. This discussion was missing during initial treatments of the topic at conferences I attended. It was emblematic of the IT community as a whole during the past decade.
Much of the focus of IT governance has been on execution of permissions for access to information or applications. While this is important and the end goal of governance, this is the equivalent of law enforcement more so than actual governance which is the process by which decisions on access is made. IT organizations have become surrogate business asset management boards and in some cases the role has been pushed down to the lowest levels of IT. A natural result of such unrestrained delegation has been this focus on execution with the decisions on who and how information assess becomes an ad hoc process or left to those that build but do not use the systems.
These factors have left IT organizations frustrated as the businesses as they serve. IT organizations are either blamed for not “just taking care of it” or being “too arrogant, bureaucratic, unresponsive and out of touch with business needs”. IT Leaders are not complacent about this situation, but confused as to how to address it. Candid discussions the past two weeks with several organizations facing these challenges confirm this.
If an IT organization attempts to just take care of managing an enterprise’s information it faces the challenge of understanding what information is needed, who needs access, how it is to be used, and a variety of other attributes for this information. All this and then attaining agreement and adoption from the business community. This is a tall order for a organization that has spent the majority of its efforts on deploying and maintaining technology. One only need look at IT group budgets over the years to understand where its capabilities and competencies lay. One could blame MIS directors and CIOs for this however, this is what they were missioned and incented to achieve throughout the past decades. The typical IT Executives had been constantly receiving directions to lower costs of the infrastructure, increase capacity, and maintain the current technology. If one looks at IT Industry focus over the past several decades aside from the technology generations the one initiative that stands out is TCO, Total Cost of Ownership.
Doing the same thing and expecting a different result…
When management consulting started to address Information Technology management it has continually put its efforts into optimization of existing resources. This is equivalent to efforts that these firms put toward manufacturing hard goods products. The thoughts behind doing so was that human labor was cheap but equipment was expensive. So methods such as operations research to cut idle time through scheduling and a limited version of portfolio management meant to reduce capital holdings became the prevailing wisdom of the day. Most enterprises unaware that the paradigm of work was changing from expensive equipment to expensive labor accepted this IT strategy. During the 80s human resources became more expensive than physical resources, however, the management strategies and techniques have not kept pace with this reality in most enterprises.
Acceptance of this old strategy has meant that over time enterprises and IT organizations as a result, spent what resources not devoted to technology deployment and maintenance to developing competence on cost management or cutting. The areas of information strategy and architecture that had started in parallel were gradually thinned out, demoted and discounted as the orders of the day was cost management. Enterprises had by default outsourced their information management strategy to vendors. Those that disagree with this assessment can look no further than the details of most technology strategy groups within IT functions and see the primary activity is around technology purchase, deployment, maintenance optimization. Very little investment has been put forth on developing information management verses information technology capabilities. Of the fifteen organizations I’ve surveyed the past two months, all had Portfolio Management initiatives with a mission on reduction of application and hardware investments, only two had just the start a practice for the management of information as an asset and both are struggling with understanding how to ensure alignment with business.
This is not a condemnation of enterprise management, management consulting or the IT organizations. This is just a reporting of what I’ve seen over the decades as someone who has cycle through multiple functions within the business and multiple organizations. The circumstances, the decisions and actions made have resulted into the situation enterprises are in today. Like issues with the US Economy or the Environment these are results from the build up of small effects over a long period of time. Long horizon effects is something that most people and therefore organizations are not well suited to address, especially with the instant gratification culture we’ve developed into today. So it should not be unexpected that managing information –a new discipline — has not developed as a competency in the business side or IT.
I’m going to show them … a world without rules or controls, borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you
Where does that leave business and IT? Businesses need to reexamine their role in managing information. I say information specifically not information technology. Business members cannot delegate the responsibility to manage their information. Abdicating control over this critical component results in losing control of the business itself. For IT figuring out how to partner with the business to address complex issues is key. Discussing EA with my fifteen IT organizations and on LinkedIn CIO Network forum the questions I’m repeatedly asked is “how?”. How do we partner with business? How do we get business engaged with information/technology decision issues? Senior and technical leadership within IT organizations asking these questions does not suggest arrogance to me. IT’s focus on IT specific issues without linkage to the business paradigm and goals suggests a blindness or one dimensional quality which can be seen as arrogance by other disciplines in the enterprise.
I don’t have a magic formula for Business-IT engagement other than to open a dialog. However, for dialog to occur a common language or effective translation needs to occur. IT organizations need to develop an understanding of business and the means to translate business concepts into IT execution. This is more than just a word for word translation but an active exchange where concepts such as business models are investigated for IT enablement options, the alternatives are relayed back to enterprise executives and line of business management as well as the consequences of choosing an alternative from a business perspective so joint decisions can be made. This model of engagement is not new to industrial enterprises. Marketing, Engineering, and Manufacturing now team on making decisions in most leading corporations since the 80s under the banner of concurrent engineering. This is focused upon decisions about products and goods sold. Today as products and services include IT components, IT organizations should be prepared to “participate” not direct in these teams. Likewise IT needs to prepare itself to discuss business strategy, organization and operations on more than just a technology thread. Failure to be able to converse on content beyond IT will continue to relegate the IT organization as a suspected subordinate function.
How this effects Enterprise Strategy and IT Governance? Without the executive and line of business management participating in governance as full members the IT organizations will always be viewed as autocratic and detached from the business. IT organizations need to prepare, educate, and reach out to other’s as a colleagues.