IT-driven change demands commitment to governance

In recent years, IT governance has come to the forefront as a potential panacea to address the ongoing challenge of realising value from today’s increasingly significant investments in IT-enabled change.

The seismic shifts occurring in technology itself, the way it is delivered and the way it is used, make the need to address this challenge greater than ever. And yet, most IT governance continues to focus on delivering technology capabilities, not the organisational change that technology is both shaping and enabling.

Implementing organisational change requires changing our “traditional” approaches to governance. In fact, it requires that we “change how we change”.

As Geoff Codd suggests in The Drowning Director, the way forward requires “The introduction of an IT management and governance framework that explicitly stimulates and facilitates collaboration and knowledge exchange across the business/IT divide from the board downwards.”

Such a framework must help organisations address the Four “Ares” my co-authors and I introduced in The Information Paradox:

  • Are we doing the right things?
  • Are we doing them the right way?
  • Are we getting them done well?
  • Are we getting the benefits?

There are a growing number of proven IT governance frameworks available in the marketplace. These include ISACA’s recently released COBIT 5, and their earlier Val IT, which, in my opinion, provides a clearer focus on business value.

Other frameworks include IVI’s IT-CMF, as well as a number of offerings from AXELOS, PMI and others. 

There is no shortage of resources to help business leaders implement effective governance over IT-enabled change investments, and, as a result, to address the Four “Ares”.

However, the reaction of business leaders when presented with many of the existing frameworks is all too often “You’re making this much too complex!”

Given their origins in the IT world, frameworks can indeed appear somewhat over-engineered and intimidating, but the underlying issue is that we continue to promote bigger and better mousetraps to business leaders who are not aware that they have a mouse problem – or are in denial.

Unfortunately, denying complexity only exacerbates it. Only when complexity is understood can it be simplified, and then only so far.

As Albert Einstein said, “everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler.”

Enterprise governance

The way technology is being used today, and the business changes required if business value is to be realized from its use, are increasingly complex.

ERP, CRM, supply chain management, business intelligence, digital marketing – all are extremely complex programs of business change. Change that is both shaped and enabled by technology, but where technology is only one, often quite small element of the change.

The challenge today is not developing more frameworks: it is getting awareness and understanding by those who need to commit to adopting existing frameworks.

In the 20 years plus that I have been speaking around the world on this topic, a comment I invariably get is “My boss should have been here!”

Middle managers and practitioners are generally aware of, and in many cases understand the problem. They recognize what needs to be done but are not usually the decision makers, and don’t have the authority or resources do it.

Most executives – those that do have the authority and the ability to deploy resources – rarely understand the nature of the problem, and, as a result, have little interest, let alone commitment, to do anything about it.

This is not an IT governance issue: it is an enterprise governance issue. Even if the IT function had the ability to step up to this, which is rare, they often do not have the credibility, and certainly do not have the span of control or authority to implement the necessary business changes.

This is and must be the responsibility of business leaders. They must accept accountability for the realisation of value from their use of technology.

More on this in my next article.

John Thorp is thought leader in the field of value and benefits management, with close to 50 years' experience covering all aspects of the information management field, including technical, management and executive position. He is author of The Information Paradox


Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie is assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc. He has over 17 years of experience in the publishing industry and has held a number of senior writing, editing and sub-editing roles. Prior to his current...

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