Changing behavior: A key component to IT and business success

Today, as I was listening to a big data discussion for a Wikibon wiki post I’m working on, something kept distracting me.  It was my thoughts on “IT vs. the cloud” as a follow up to a post I wrote the other day on why organizations that want to embrace the cloud in a significant way need to first get their governance house in order.  I wanted to provide some additional thoughts based on some follow up items I received… I promise it’s the last thing you’ll read from me for a while on governance, but I believe strongly in these items.

My colleague Stu Miniman commented on my post correctly indicating that it’s the speed and agility of cloud services that internal IT organizations have to compete against.  Separately, I’ve also heard that some people consider “IT governance” processes as unnecessary impediments to line of business progress.

It’s disheartening to see both of these trends.

Can’t we just be friends?

First of all, if internal IT departments are, in fact, “competing” in this way, all is lost.  The internal IT function exists to support the business.  This includes ensuring that technology efforts that are undertaken are ones that are supportable and can meet stated goals and promises.  For decades, IT departments have had to make build vs. buy decisions and have learned to separate fact from fiction.

That said, I understand why IT departments have gotten a bad rap.  Some still see their function as standalone and unto themselves.  They’ve forgotten that they are there to provide a technology environment that supports business activity.  In these environments, the CIO sometimes doesn’t even know what business initiatives are being undertaken as he is too focused on the technology.  This is a really bad combination.

Further, there are still some CIOs out there that have a bad perception of anything considered a “not built here” initiative, wrongly believing that the IT department must build from scratch everything that the business wants or needs.

These kinds of IT departments used to be more common than they are now, but they are still out there and I’ve seen them.  Users with real needs are simply blown off; their needs go ignored because IT doesn’t see the value, even when that value is perfectly evident.

It’s no wonder that some in the business perceive the cloud as their savior.

In a perfect world, the IT department would have a leader with strong business acumen—that doesn’t even have to mean that the CIO came from the business; a CIO that’s taken the initiative to learn the business is more than sufficient—that sits with the executive team and is a part of the decision-making process.  The CIO, before formulating a strategy to a business problem, first attempts to understand what kinds of outcomes are to be expected by a solution to a business problem.  Further, this CIO partners with his business colleagues in reviewing existing services in a comprehensive build vs. buy analysis.  The business leaders in this scenario have enough trust and confidence in the CIO to respect his judgment when it comes to whether or not a particular service can integrate with existing systems.  As I’ve written before, it’s critical that acquired services do integrate with existing processes and data lifecycles.  In short, business and technology decisions are made as a partnership rather than being something contentious.

A throttle is important

In my governance post from a few days ago, I mentioned that implementation of good governance was necessary to be successful in the long term with regard to acquisition of cloud services, but good governance is necessary across the whole spectrum of technology.

In fact, if governance is working, some projects will never see the light of day.  Not everything that is brought forward needs or deserves attention from IT or from other parts of the business.  It’s important to keep in mind that, like IT, lines of business are not separate entities unto themselves.  They are part of the larger whole that makes up the organization.  Just because a particular executive brings forward what he considers an essential technology need, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the need should be worked on.  There may be higher priority items that the business must fund instead.  Even low cost services may not get attention.  After all, each service requires some level of integration with existing systems.  Diverting staff attention to something that governance deems non-critical bears an opportunity cost in the form of inattention to other critical items.  The governance group will understand key organizational priorities and ensure that technology resources are brought to bear on those priorities… and those alone.

There are those that believe that business units should be able to do whatever they want and treat IT as a group of order takers.  They see governance structures as a mechanism for saying “no”, when nothing could be further from the truth.  As I’m mentioned before, I’m a big fan of speed and agility when it comes to service acquisition, but believe that a “throttle”—a governance mechanism—is critical so that the speedy and the agile don’t run into a brick wall or drive off a cliff.  Some may see the throttle—governance—as an obstacle.  I see the throttle as playing a very necessary part in getting from point A to point B in a successful way.

When governance is implemented correctly, it will be empowered from and trusted by the most senior levels of the organization and it provides the CIO with a framework under which to operate.  Now, it’s no longer perceived as “the CIO saying no or calling the shots” but should be viewed as a key business apparatus making go or no-go decisions that are in the best interests of the organization.  This is the ultimate in the much-ballyhooed “alignment” discussions that have taken place over the past decade.

Summary

Sometimes, IT deserves the bad rap it gets, but far too often, IT is blamed for the misdeeds of overzealous business executives that can’t come to agreement on what should be true technology priorities for the organization.  This leads to situations in which the CIO and IT are not considered trusted business partners.  Through the use of good governance, a better relationship between all business executives—which includes the CIO—can be fomented to the long term health of the organization.

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