by Lynn H. Vogel

Peer to Peer – Everyone Gets to Play

Sep 01, 20065 mins
IT Leadership

IT governance certainly has moved to center stage. MIT’s Peter Weill published a book simply entitled IT Gover¿nance; there are conferences devoted exclusively to IT governance; an IT Governance Institute conducts research on the subject and, of course, almost every consulting firm under the sun now offers services to review and redesign IT governance processes.

Everyone seems to be talking about IT governance, and most people agree that careful selection of who makes decisions about technology investments will have a major impact on how successful those investments will be. But how do you make good governance happen? The real challenge is not the designing of committees, processes, forms and procedures; it’s meeting the challenge of participation.

Getting people involved is what IT governance is really about. As Weill notes, “Behaviors, not strategies, create value.” For IT governance processes to make a difference, one of the primary behaviors that CIOs need to encourage is the broad participation of IT customers.

At the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, we try to stay away from calling much of what we do “IT projects” because we’ve discovered that it really does make a difference if investments are viewed as projects belonging to IT or projects belonging to the business and enabled by IT. Consequently, we have “business projects” in which IT is a major and often critical component. Only infrastructure investments are called “IT projects.” By changing the way we speak about projects, we have been able to shift the focus of the enterprise from the technology decision to the business decision about how technology should be used.

Thought Leaders, Opinion Leaders and Others

Just recasting IT projects as business projects doesn’t, however, guarantee broad-based participation in IT governance. Building participation in the IT governance process requires three components:

Involving thought and opinion leaders.

Balancing individual needs and companywide requirements.

Providing organizational support for participation.

The first step is to understand that there at least two types of participants in every organization: thought leaders (those who can think outside the box) and opinion leaders (those who are viewed as credible and trustworthy throughout the company).

In health-care organizations, for example, I have identified physicians who are thought leaders—the first to try a new technology and the first to want remote access to clinical data. They subscribe to technology publications and install sophisticated networks at home. Opinion leaders, on the other hand, tend to be more conservative in adopting new technologies, but when they do embrace them, you can be sure that their colleagues will follow.

A successful governance process requires a balance of participation between these two types of leaders. Both are needed to make good technology decisions. Thought leaders keep us focused on what the future holds; opinion leaders keep us grounded in what will really work.

Second, the governance process needs to include both those who are deeply knowledgeable about the business processes in their own departments and people who understand the importance and potential impact of IT investments across the company as a whole. IT investment decisions must be both wide and deep in order to be truly effective.

Third, and probably most important, governance processes won’t function well without strong organizational support. Participants in the IT investment decision-making process are typically volunteering their time. Tasks such as providing monthly reports on IT investment progress and assisting in the development of benefits realization and ROI studies are time-consuming. Rather than expecting volunteers to do all this on their own, you need a team dedicated to supporting them and, by extension, the governance process.

Our governance team at M.D. Anderson started out as a traditional project management office (PMO). But we recognized that many of our IT-enabled business projects were actually managed by project managers within the business units. So our focus shifted to two primary functions:

Supporting the work of the various committees, including making sure that projects were properly documented and that monthly financial reports got produced.

Serving as a resource to project managers throughout the company by sponsoring training seminars.

Each staff member in our new Project Support and Coordination Services Office is a trained project manager, most with formal project management certification.

The ROI of Participation

After a major redesign of the IT governance process at M.D. Anderson almost two years ago, we were able to increase overall participation tenfold. We now have 200 people (out of 16,000 in the organization) taking part in IT governance. Each of these people spends at least an hour a month focusing on IT investments—discussing successes or failures, monitoring the progress of current investments and looking ahead at new directions and possible investments for the future.

Are our IT governance processes functioning any better with all of this participatory behavior? The answer is yes. In a formal review of our IT governance process by an independent third party, more than 85 percent of a sample of participants thought that the redesigned IT governance processes were a definite improvement over our previous processes. Having business owners participate in the technology decision-making process creates a sense of ownership, making information technology implementations not something “done to the business” by IT but something they have embraced from the beginning.

Broad participation in IT governance has been a critical factor in making IT investment decisions successful at M.D. Anderson. One might even argue that without governance participation, our track record of technology success would be in serious trouble.