IT Governance Tips: Help to Improve Executive Buy-In

Beset by funding and other resource challenges? IT governance, if done right, will improve your reputation, increase funding and help your IT systems impact strategic business operations.

IT alignment is important, but it's nothing without IT governance. Instituting effective IT governance means sharing ownership of IT initiatives with other CXOs—without that your program will fail.

Also read, 5 Tips on IT Alignment That Can Generate Profit by Richard L. Routh.

When CIOs are asked to list the most significant challenges they face, it often looks like this:

  1. Inadequate funding and other resources to do the things they would like to be doing for their company.
  2. Even the funding that IT supposedly has is not stable enough to guarantee that expensive IT projects will survive a long development time.
  3. Insufficient stature—they don't have a seat at the table.
  4. Fighting the perception of the other CXOs that they lack the political skill to function at the full potential of an executive.
  5. Fighting the perception of the other CXOs that the CIO is more a technology leader than a business leader (and certainly not a strategic business leader).
  6. Fighting the perception of the other CXOs that even if the CIO wanted to be a business leader, she/he lacks the business skill necessary to assume a business leadership position.
  7. Lack of understanding on the part of the other CXOs about the strategic role that IT could play—if only they better understood and appreciated the potential contribution IT (and the CIO) could make.

If the above list looks something like the challenges you face, there's good news. All that can be overcome simply by instituting effective IT governance. Many CIOs, once they learn how to do IT alignment, are then hampered by their attempts to get the full cooperation of the other CXOs—thereby stifling or at least stunting the potential effectiveness of a good IT alignment plan. (Also read Recipe for Good Governance. Or listen to the podcast by Peter Weill at MIT's Sloan School of Management.)

There are several different paradigms for IT governance; four are detailed below—it's up to you to decide which of them is best for you and your company. (More models are detailed here.) Each is effective to one extent or another under the right circumstances. But what you'll have to remember as you consider each of the different approaches to IT governance is that the primary function of any effective IT governance is to share ownership of IT initiatives with other CXOs. You might be very meticulous about dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's in the way you carry out the steps of your IT governance process, but if you don't end up sharing ownership of IT initiatives with the other CXOs, your IT governance program will be ineffective. And on the other hand, you may be sloppy and imprecise about how you execute your IT governance program, but if you end up getting the other CXOs to share ownership with you for all your major IT initiatives, then your IT governance program will be very successful. (Need a little more information on IT governance? Read ABC: An Introduction to IT Governance.)

The single most important indicator of IT governance success is the extent to which the other CXOs share ownership of IT initiatives with you!

So...what does "share ownership of IT initiatives" mean? It boils down to getting the other CXOs involved in making IT resource allocation decisions. Then they will no longer view you or treat you as the lone executive over all IT technology, but they will come to see themselves as your teammates in helping you to oversee at least all things strategic about IT. No, they won't get involved in the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the IT infrastructure—nor would they ever want to do that. They are quite happy to leave all those operational details (and headaches) to the "IT people." But they will learn to value their involvement in making decisions about what new IT initiatives are being pursued by the company, and they will become involved in helping to ensure the successful development, implementation and operation of strategically important IT systems.

Many CIOs and IT directors balk when they first hear of this concept of sharing ownership of IT initiatives with the other CXOs. Some of the most common objections are:

  1. I will lose control! We'll have chaos!
  2. We will lose quality in the way IT is executed, because a bunch of prima donna business people who have no understanding or experience with technology, will be hacking their way through a process that will end up degrading the quality of IT this company needs to be successful.
  3. I will lose stature and credibility. I will risk developing the perception in the minds of the other CXOs that I don't know how to do my job and that is why they have to help me! They'll start wondering why they need me to be in charge of IT since I obviously am not in charge.
  4. The other CXOs will not like this idea, because their plates are already full with their own responsibilities. They do not have the time nor the inclination to do my job along with theirs, so I could never get them to share ownership of IT initiatives even if I wanted them to.
  5. If I tried to do this, they would view it as me ducking my responsibilities or as a tacit statement of my incompetence.

Actually, each of the above concerns is stated exactly opposite of how things will really turn out if IT governance is done properly. You will find the following to be true if you get the other CXOs to share the ownership of decisions about how to allocate IT resources:

  1. Your control over IT will actually improve as the other CXOs more knowledgably and enthusiastically support your IT efforts. This is because you will now enjoy greater increases in IT funding, more stable funding, higher user acceptability of your systems and higher success rates for your new IT systems.
  2. The other CXOs will help you identify big impact opportunities, improving the quality of your IT systems because of their impact on strategic business operations.
  3. Your stature and credibility actually go up. The other CXOs now see you as more politically astute (read: "effective"), a better team player at the executive level and more competent at leading the company in the development and use of IT systems that make more sense for the business. They will begin to accept you as a savvy business executive instead of marginalizing you as a "just a techie."
  4. The other CXOs will start to see that the more they participate in IT resource allocation, the more IT will be able to benefit them and help them accomplish their business objectives.
  5. You will get your seat at the table—and be welcomed as an equal among the other CXOs.

If you are up to speed on what IT alignment is all about, then you understand the importance of getting the other CXOs involved in the process. Some CIOs are struggling with how they are going to get the other CXOs to do their part in the IT alignment process so it can reach its full potential in their company. IT governance is the answer.

Dr. Richard L. Routh is the director of the Institute for CIO Excellence and a full-time faculty member at the University of South Carolina Upstate in the Department of Informatics.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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