CIOs Running IT Governance: A Lose-Lose Scenario

Should CIOs be responsible for both IT governance and IT management? Of course not. But corporate reality begs to differ.

I thought I was having one of those Lost-inspired flashbacks when I read the year on a Forrester report I had just received. I triple-checked the date: April 30...2010.

The report's title was what threw me off: "IT Should Not Own IT Governance."

Hold on a sec. The wisdom of this business stratagem seems (to me, anyway) as obvious as: "Do Not Stick Your Hand or Foot Under Lawn Mower While Engine Is Running." Or: "Wiring Money to Deposed Nigerian Businessmen You've Met Via E-Mail Should Be Avoided at All Costs." Not the basis of a brand-new report in 2010, but something companies and boards had figured out years ago.

Sigh. Alas, we press on.

Let's dig a little into the report and see why Forrester Research's well-respected principal analyst, Craig Symons, decided to write this.

Symons spends the opening portion of the report justifying how critical IT is to today's enterprises: IT empowers business. But IT investments are risky. Thusly, good IT can be the difference between business success and failure. Agreed. (Those statements wouldn't sound so oddly commonplace if the report were for non-IT executives. But the report is for CIOs.)

Nevertheless, after that section one can sense the "But..." approaching in the report. And here it is: "Yet IT governance practices don't reflect this."

It appears that in many companies "technology-related decisions have been either delegated or abdicated to the IT organization that 'understands' it," according to Symons. He blames this thinking on older, less technology-inclined board members (think: Matlock) who have little interest in IT—never mind having to take responsibility for governing it.

I find it hard to believe that today's top executives and board members view IT as something to relegate to the "island of misfit functions," one that can be easily forgotten. That seems wildly irresponsible—like "violating Sarbanes-Oxley" irresponsible. But perhaps that's just me and the view I've got from this very high horse.

Symons' next point seems obvious, but if this predicament is as prevalent as he intones, then his spot-on statement should be taped to the walls of boardrooms everywhere:

When IT is responsible for both IT governance and IT management, it is often in a lose-lose situation. When IT wears its "governance hat," it must make decisions about where and when to invest in IT without sufficient knowledge of the enterprise, business units, and functional strategies. It must also make decisions about how to prioritize the projects in its active portfolio, again without a complete understanding of all the various strategies and dependencies.

Again, I'm surprised by this deficiency, especially after hearing from CIOs such as CVS's Stuart McGuigan and Bayer's Claudio Abreu about their governance strategies. Boards and line-of-business execs need to have skin in the game, too. Survey data shows that CIOs are aware of the problem: According to the 2010 State of the CIO survey data, IT governance came in third on CIOs' top priorities list (behind aligning IT and business goals, and controlling IT costs).

The Forrester report then offers strategies on how CIOs can engage boards to share decision-making and accountability, and ultimately raise the IT IQ of members as IT governance permeates throughout the executive and board ranks.

Good luck with that.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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