IT governance is crucial to align IT with agency mission

While I won't say it is impossible to be aligned with your government organization's (or business unit's) goals without a governance process, your chances are probably greatly diminished by the lack of one. What are the benefits of IT governance and how do you begin implementing it?

You can hardly browse a technology publication these days without reading at least one article on "business and IT alignment." Clearly someone has figured out that successful IT management is more about the business and less about the technology. Yet for some in IT management, those words are just lip service. If you ask them if their departments are aligned with the business you will get a hearty "Heck, yeah!" However, if you ask them to describe their IT governance process, you will often get silence—because they have no such process.

This, of course, makes me doubt how closely they are aligned with the business because, in my opinion, they go hand in glove. While I won't say it is impossible to be aligned with your government organization's (or business unit's) goals without a governance process, your chances are probably greatly diminished by the lack of one.

What is IT governance and why do we want it?

IT governance is not very different from other governance processes. Governance is defined as "the processes that need to be followed in a successful department, team, or project." In the case of IT, governance is the administering of IT resources by the processes of strategic planning, prioritization, decision-making, and performance measurement.

It seems simple enough, but why would IT managers want such formality? After all, there are many omniscient IT managers and directors in existence who can tell departments exactly what they need—and they better darn well like it! After all, they are the technology experts. (I wish I was only joking here but a lot of this kind of thinking exists.)

Seriously, though, what are the benefits of having a governance body? My number one answer is "buy-in." If you want to become true partners with your customers (or even if you don't and just want them to go along quietly with your advice), you need to make them part of the process. Much of our success as IT is dependent on our customers buying into the solutions that we offer them to meet their needs. No buy-in often leads to failure.

Besides buy-in, IT governance can:

  • Aid in aligning IT with the organizational goals and strategy.
  • Raise the profile of IT.
  • Aid in compliance.
  • Help convert strategic goals into IT projects.
  • Aid in project and portfolio management.
  • Reduce IT risk.
  • Aid in IT strategic planning.
  • Aid in performance measurement.
  • Aid in embedding IT into the organization's culture.
  • Aid in demand management (demand for IT's services by other departments)
  • Optimize IT operations.
  • Increase project visibility.

Implementing a governance body

So, with all these benefits, how do you get started in creating IT governance? First and foremost, you must realize that one size does not fit all when creating or adopting IT governance policies. Each organization is unique and should evolve its own governance model based on its particular circumstances.

Organizations that employ no IT governance at all should start slowly (perhaps with an advisory body with strategic planning, standards making, and project prioritization) and add more functions to the governing body as it and the organization matures; organizations that are employing some form of IT governance may wish to expand their body further into decision-making and performance management.

Besides deciding what role IT governance is going to play in your organization, you will need to decide who sits at the table. This is often controlled by the size of your organization and at what level the governance committee has authority.

There are many who believe that IT governance sits at the highest levels of the organization and is strictly the domain of CIOs, CEOs and department heads. This is unfortunate because these same principals can scale down to the department level or even smaller business units. There is room for IT governance wherever there are decisions to be made regarding how to utilize technology resources to make a unit function better.

If you are a department-level, division-level, or bureau-level IT manager, there is no reason to shy away from this process. Just make sure that you stay in sync with the goals, objectives and strategic vision of the governance committee of your organization's higher body. If your organization doesn't have a governance committee, you can lead by example in improving IT performance and business alignment.

Choosing to participate in IT governance is an important step in becoming a more responsive IT entity. Doing so is no small matter and it should be approached with all the planning, research, and resources that is fitting a major project or program for your organization. Fortunately, you are not alone; besides the bevy of consultants that can help you get started, there is also a wealth of information on the Web, such as from the IT Governance Institute.