Best definition of IT-Governance? It starts with common sense.

I just have to like friendfeed. Last week I had added a link to my delicious-collection ( http://richardmclaughlin.biz/the-best-definition-of-it-governance/ ) as I was writing a paper to my former employer about enterprise architecture and IT-governance. Though I did not agree on the proposed definition on the page, I did like the collection of different definitions of IT-governance that showed how hard it is to come up with a suitable definition to the term that would represent the intentions properly.

Nevertheless David Ing spotted the link in my feed and commented it: ”I don’t like this definition of IT governance. It seems to be too hierarchical in view, with overemphasis on oversight. . – David Ing”

He then linked to an interesting article written by him along few other system scientist, which actually reassured me that my discontent with current state of IT-management frameworks has also theoretical backing and there are people working towards models and ideas that would help us all work together better.

But what is wrong with IT-management and IT-management frameworks?

Whether you agree or not that there is something wrong depends on how you see the role of the IT and relationship with the business and IT – is it a relationship of master and servant, or a truly joint venture where both parties are working towards common goal. As IT can be seen just as a support function and a cost center, also management and governance mechanisms can be used to focus on those perspectives. Trouble with that is the possibility to have unintentional misalignment with larger organizational goals and IT’s cost reduction and standardization goals.

” Leaders in the parent organizations may need to clarify their interests in the inter-organizational relation as a whole, versus the initiatives that make up its parts.”

All the frameworks and models that I’ve studied, do start with the notion and idea of alignment, but as frameworks and models are discussed more and more – the overall goal of alignment and enabling business to succeed better is forgotten as focus and energy is put into defining common processes, roles and standards which guarantee success. But even as was discussed in the article, empirical evidence has shown processes that were created with good intentions can actually work against organizational goals if individual goals are not aligned and organization’s social system does not support solving these misalignments.

Friend of mine shared his lessons learned story from a large organization here in Finland, where previously internal IT was outsourced to a well known service provider. Even though they were doing a high profile and multimillion euro project for the organization, life and collaboration with the service provider was tedious as they had to follow rigid and slow processes instead of just doing what needed to be done. Misalignment in service processes and organizational goals meant that server hardware had to be waited for weeks or months in situation where Amazon can provide virtual testing server in just minutes. Service provider’s system administrators had to be coached and actually helped over the phone to debug and resolve system malfunctions as policies prevented giving access to the system to the customer. Compared to modern standards developers and consultants had to work with old hardware – even though investment in productivity boosting modern workstation would have cost less than few days billing.

Insanity that cost the organization lots of money and missed opportunities. Insanity that happened even though well thought IT-service processes were in place. Insanity that ruled over smart and competent people.

”Style is therefore critical to performance in joint initiatives. If complex joint initiatives are to be coherent, individuals within the relation must find ways to converge upon a shared style. …

A style, or coordination of actions, opens disclosive space and does so in a threefold manner: (1) by coordinating actions, (2) by determining how things and people matter, and (3) by being what is transferred from situation to situation. These three functions of style determine the way anything shows up and makes sense for us.”

Idea of style comes from Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus. It is not that different from the intentions of IT-governance frameworks or enterprise architecture practices, but it is a concept that seems to get lost in the process of application of the governance frameworks and ideas. I like Weill’s and Ross’s work ( IT Governance, Enterprise architecture as Strategy ) as well as ITIL 3 framework as they provide very nice ideas for a framework in which to operate IT for business benefit. The million dollar question is in the actual application of those ideas in the social context of the organization.

I simply love the stories about Nordstrom and other companies where company culture and style has enabled people to create simple innovations and work in collaboration, even though there has not been a process chart and step that says ’COLLABORATE FOR CUSTOMER VALUE’. Processes and checklists provide a framework and guidance. They should enable employees to do their work better, rather than just constrain. This is also where the value of good enterprise architects and architecture come in play. Great architects help the organization to create the vision, lay out foundations for execution, get people to agree on governance model and set up first building blocks with which people can start to work with.

They enable people and align efforts, and it all starts with common sense.

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Yksi vastaus artikkeliin: Best definition of IT-Governance? It starts with common sense.

  1. daviding sanoo:

    I’m glad that you enjoyed that paper. There’s a story behind it, with a connection to my history in Finland.

    In 2003, I was working with my friend Marianne Kosits on the idea that would become to be known as Relationship Alignment. (The booklet is distributed copy-by-copy, so I don’t have a link for it, but notice that there’s is an IBM brief in PDF available on the open web.(

    David Hawk organized a Symposium on Inter-Organizational Relations, held in Espoo in 2003. This provided a foundation for a lot of the original research.

    The paper was the academic background that I felt was required, but outside of my day job. The target length for an ISSS paper is about 20 pages. The paper ballooned up to about 50 pages — a real runaway! — and I couldn’t reduce it down to size. I turned to my long term colleague Ian Simmonds, who suggested moving the end to the beginning, making a few of the key points, and then pruning out from the remainder. The result is the paper you read.

    Most people duck out when I start citing Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus. They’re really ”applied Heidegger” … or ”Dreydegger”. I haven’t actually read Heidegger — the original is in German — so I lean on the interpretations of Hubert Dreyfus at Berkeley. (I don’t use iTunes, but I hear that he’s one of the top lecturers on the web.

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