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August 24 2011

With IT leadership, the "how" is as important as the "what"

The other day my IT operations leader entered my office in a state of confusion. He had just been reviewing our uptime statistics and was baffled by what he saw.

In 2010, on one particular web stack we had an uptime of 99.88% (translates to about 10 hours of an outage). But when he looked at our data for 2011 to date, we had 100% uptime. While clearly glowing with such a result, his confusion was based on the fact that we had not implemented any specific technology or fixes in this stack to garner such impressive results. He said: "I am very proud of these results. I just don't know what we did to achieve them."

In this instance he was asking the wrong question. It was not what we did. It was how we did it.

Doing things right

Our IT strategy is and will always be focused on doing the right things. Getting positive results is the bottom line. But while doing the right things is essential, it can be equally important to do things the right way.

It is my belief that a fleshed out IT strategy reconciles predictability with innovation. It will seldom fly to just have one or the other. Both are required and they must feed off each other.

The core challenge essential to implementing both is finding the right blend for your organization. I have written about it here. In the first year of our IT transformation much effort was expended on putting in place good process to support the right level of predictability. It's a work in progress.

Getting the right level of process consistent with culture and organizational needs is a science unto itself.

The IT team made good progress in process areas such as IT governance, project management best practices, IT service management, business analysis and change management. It is in the latter that we gained particularly positive results.

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Managing change

At its core, change management is about moving from one state to another to achieve a desired result while being adequately prepared and managing to an acceptable level of risk. It is also an important vehicle for communications between individuals and across teams.

Put bluntly, change management is good business.

Change happens all the time within IT. What contributes to the definition of a world-class IT organization is how that change is accomplished.

As O'Reilly IT entered 2011, we decided to be very deliberate about change. We agreed that we would be hyper-judicious in the infrastructure changes we made. We became priority junkies. Every time a change was identified we asked questions such as whether it was a priority, if there were alternatives, and studied the consequences of not making the change (see the change tool later in the blog).

And as we did that, something extraordinary happened.

The IT operations team started to get the most important projects deployed. Distractions became manageable and the priorities process kept everyone on track.

But most of all, we experienced increased infrastructure stabilization.

Of course some stabilization occurred because the improvements that were being made were being applied through a rigorous change management process. But, moreover, there was greater stability because less unnecessary change was being applied.

Change management was helping us make changes successfully and it was also helping us to determine what changes not to make.

Good process still gets insufficient focus

In IT, most of the time technology gets all the press. We get excited by new innovations and start-ups that introduce cool new capabilities. We are thrilled when a big player disrupts the market with something really compelling. And we should. We live in amazing times and new technology is a big part of that.

But often lost in the enterprise is that while technology represents a part of change — albeit, a critical part — the processes to implement and manage that technology are as important (and often more) than the technology itself.

I would guess we have all seen a great technology fail in an organization because of non-technology reasons. At the same time, I bet we have all seen how good technology coupled with good processes has resulted in excellent results.

When my IT operations leader observed great things happening despite technology, he was inadequately recognizing how we were working. For all involved it provided a rewarding "aha" moment.

Quick tool to manage change

I will conclude by sharing a brief tool that both IT and business can use for managing technology-related change. These are the minimum questions that must be asked for every change. They are simple questions, but all too often one or more is omitted when embarking on a change that expends scarce enterprise resources:

  1. Why [Governance]: Is the change aligned and essential to achieve business objectives?
  2. What [Measurable Outcome]: Is it understood whether it is a technology or process (or both) that will provide the desired result? Can the outcome be measured?
  3. Who [Resourcing]: Have the appropriate participants been identified for this change?
  4. How [Methodology]: What approaches have been identified to execute and manage this change?
  5. When [Prioritization]: Has sequencing been agreed to relative to all other objectives?

If both IT and the business are in agreement on the answers to each of these questions, you've just taken your IT management up a few notches. And you might just find a few people surprised by the positive results.


April 08 2011

What happens to e-government if government shuts down?

Test PatternAs the government shutdown clock ticks inexorably forward, many people are wondering how much of government will continue to operate or, in a literal sense, stay online.

If the government shutdown takes .gov sites offline, visitors may encounter a standard notice that the funding lapse is to blame. (In a perfect world, visitors to the Oatmeal might even encounter a custom graphic for government.)

The rest of the online world won't be going offline, however, and thankfully there has been no shortage of reporting about what will happen to government websites in the event of a government shutdown.

Declan McCullaugh, reporting on potential federal government website shutdowns for CNET, highlighted the rub of the matter: "This is something of an unprecedented situation for federal Web sites, which were in an embryonic stage during the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s."

Would a government shutdown push government websites offline? According to reporting available this morning, the best answer appears to be a qualified "yes," but with exceptions. The best bet is that many .gov websites will be left static, as opposed to going offline altogether, although top White House officials have indicated some may go dark.

From Federal Computer Week:

A senior Obama administration official said on April 6 that in event of a shutdown, "most federal websites will not continue to operate. Those that will continue to operate are part of excepted activities, meaning they protect safety of life or property or receive funding from other sources, such as user fees or multi-year appropriations." Excepted activities include those related to law enforcement, health, public safety and national security.

More perspective of what citizens could expect with respect to e-government came yesterday in a White House memo that included official guidance on information technology:

The mere benefit of continued access by the public to information about the agency' s activities would not warrant the retention of personnel or the obligation of funds to maintain (or update) the agency's website during such a lapse. However, if maintenance of the website is necessary to avoid significant damage to the execution of authorized or excepted activities (e.g., maintenance of the IRS website may be necessary to allow for tax filings and tax collection, which are activities that continue during an appropriations lapse), then the website should remain operational even if its costs are funded through appropriations that have lapsed. If it becomes necessary to incur obligations to ensure that a website remains available in support of excepted activities, it should be maintained at the lowest possible level. For example, in the IRS case above, the IRS website would remain active, but the entire Treasury Department website would not, absent a separate justification or a determination that the two sites cannot not feasibly be operated separately."

In other words, add "tax collection" to that list of excerpted e-activities as well. From ComputerWorld:

"We need to be able to collect the money that is owed to the U.S. government," said a senior Obama administration official, speaking with reporters on background Tuesday. "And that's the same process as issuing electronic refunds, so electronic refunds and collection of monies will continue."

As the old saying goes, there are no certainties in life but death and taxes.

There's much more to consider in e-government than whether the websites themselves would stay up, including ubiquitous government mobile phones and the IT systems that support many core functions. It's not clear whether Americans are likely to continue to see the President and his BlackBerry. Cutting the digital tether elsewhere, however, will that mean tens of thousands of government workers will be turning in mobile devices, laptops and other IT gear. The impact of a shutdown on federal IT services is likely to highlight just how dependent many government functions have become on technology over the decades.

Does government social media go on furlough?

There's another new wrinkle to consider in the event of a shutdown: official government accounts on social media services like Facebook or Twitter, and the personal accounts of government workers. As Karen Tumulty reported in the Washington Post on Wednesday:

... under the provisions of a 19th-century law known as the Anti-Deficiency Act, it is quite literally illegal for federal employees deemed nonessential to voluntarily work during a shutdown. In the modern era, that means they can't use e-mail or voice mail.

If a "non-exceptioned" government worker provides information, answers questions or performs anything related to work using a social media account, they might be seen as violating their furlough.

On the other hand, government workers who serve in core functions in emergency response and national security will still be at work and operating their official social media accounts. Notably, the Associated Press reported yesterday that the U.S is set to begin using Twitter and Facebook for terror alerts. While the alerts don't start until the end of April, the news drives home how much social media has become integrated into the nation's communications ecosystem.

There are plenty of other observers wondering what the furlough would mean for tweeting. As Nancy Scola mused in techPresident, this is unexplored territory:

This whole business isn't something that even agencies themselves have necessarily thought through. I emailed the State Department's press shop this morning to try to get some clarification about what's official, what's not, and whether the distinction has any meaning any more. When a State press person called back this afternoon, it quickly became clear to both of us that they're not real clear internally on how they're thinking about the matter. We nailed down that @StateDept is an official Twitter account. Beyond that, she pledged to follow up.

Given the increasing importance of social media in a time of need, in crisis response, and growth of digital diplomacy, there will be many tricky choices ahead for the nation's government workers. It would be very surprising, for instance, if FEMA administrator Craig Fugate did not use all of the communication tools he has at his fingertips were a crisis to arise, up to and including his @CraigAtFEMA Twitter account.

How many .gov websites are there?

One interesting observation that emerged from reading over the coverage of what happens to federal websites during a shutdown: no outlet is reporting how many .gov websites exist. Way back in 2001, a UN benchmarking study found over 50,000 .gov websites worldwide.

In the decade since, the conventional wisdom would be to expect that there would be more .gov websites than before.

Across the Atlantic, for instance, in 2008 it was unclear how many government websites existed in the United Kingdom: 2,500 was the estimate offered up then. Fast-forward to today's UK initiatives to streamline online spending and that number appears to be down to 820 websites, with review that may reduce that further.

There's another saying to consider as Congress weighs budget cuts to federal e-government spending: you can't manage what you can't measure.

To whit: How many .gov websites are there? How many people visit each one? There's no audit in the 2010 UN E-Government Survey. There's no official database that's currently available for citizens to browse. At the federal level, a white paper that came out of the presidential transition estimated that there were 24,000 U.S. government websites online in 2009, when the paper was published. That answer came from a reference librarian, Jeannie Straub, who answered a Quora question I posed.If you have a better answer, please share in the comments below, on Quora, or via Facebook.

Photo: dtv svttest by kalleboo, on Flickr

March 09 2011

Seldom a love story: IT and end users

No signToday, the IT department is often a victim of its success. With technology increasingly at the center of business initiatives, the demand for services is an insatiable. And while most IT professionals come to work each day to be productive and add value, more often than not, it's an uphill battle to keep internal customers happy. Working either harder or smarter hasn't necessarily produced the customer satisfaction dividend anticipated. Moreover, it has served to increase expectations of what can be provided and it has continued to raise the bar for IT.

Typically, IT will deliver the right thing at the right time (as long as there is leadership support and good requirements), but it can be painful getting there. Internal customers will be happy to get their solution, but they might not be happy in the manner it was done. It's a perception issue. IT is too often judged almost exclusively on how something was produced rather than what was delivered.

Should IT be chasing kudos or trying to get the job done right?

In the service business, success is often measured by having happy customers. In the marketplace, happy customers are repeat customers. Organizations with internal service departments are not usually subject to these types of competitive pressures. Sure, cost must be managed otherwise a service may be better performed outside the business. But even where cost is higher, organizations continue to enjoy the benefits and pay the premium of keeping many services internal. For example, they can exert maximum control and are not subject to continued contractual interpretations and disputes. With that said, if you're a captive cost-center, quality customer service has to be driven by something else such as culture, incentives, or vision. In other words: it's a choice.

If an IT team is delivering quality services and products but still not meeting, say, the speed of service expected, that might be an acceptable trade-off. In other businesses, quality may suffer in place of speed. In project management, there is a maxim known as the triple constraint. That is, changing one of the following: speed, cost, and scope usually results in an impact to the others. In service delivery, the triple constraint is often quality, speed, and customer satisfaction (underlying these is a fourth, the inadequately addressed component of risk.)

It's a worthy goal to be both a world-class customer service provider and a producer of high quality products and services. It's possible to manage the service triple constraint without too many trade-offs. But to be that organization requires an important operating principle: IT must rarely be the arbiter of priorities. That role must live squarely outside of IT.

Changing IT from an organization of "no" into an organization of "go"

I've seen it repeated throughout my 20-year IT career: internal customers come to the IT team with a need and it's IT who says it can't be done. Customers get frustrated and they have a poor view of the IT team. Usually they are saying "no" because of a capacity issue rather than a technical limitation. When IT says no to a customer, what they're really saying is that something else is more important. That's IT being an arbiter of priorities.

Yes, it goes back to IT governance, something I've discussed as being absolutely essential to business success.

But while IT governance can work as a process at the leadership level, it will fail when the IT team doesn't have the understanding and the language of the process to support it as it manifests downstream.

When confronted with a priority decision, an IT staffer needs to move arbitration back to the business.

The staffer typically wants to know what to do, not whether they should do it.

Therefore, you must transition your staff from saying "no" to asking questions about priority and capacity. It certainly can be the case that more than one request has priority. If so, it's now a question of investment. Spend more and you'll get more resources.

Bottom line: these decisions are made by the business, not by the IT staffer who's just trying to do the right thing.

Internal end-users and IT may never have a love affair, but if roles are better defined and understood, all parties will be less frustrated, have greater empathy for where they are coming from, and customer satisfaction will be firmly focused on the quality of the product or service being provided.

Photo: Encouraging No-No’s by jurvetson, on Flickr


February 23 2011

Interim report card on O'Reilly's IT transformation

report cardLast year O'Reilly Media committed to a new journey: An IT strategy was adopted with the intent to transform the way technology was delivered to support the goals of the business. It was equal parts ambitious and essential.

We're more than six months into the execution of that strategy and it's clear there is still significant work to do be done to realize the benefits. Some things have gone really well and some areas continue to challenge us. In this blog I'll share and grade our progress to date.

While continuing to have success in the marketplace, O'Reilly Media recognized that supporting the future needs of the organization would require a rethinking of how IT was delivered. Motivated by the same growth factors as many businesses, O'Reilly Media required more innovative solutions, delivered with greater speed, and at the right cost.

Working closely with leaders and other key stakeholders across the O'Reilly Media businesses resulted in an IT strategy that was agreed upon in the fall of 2010. The strategy was based on four major pillars:

  1. Governance
  2. Architecture
  3. Strategic sourcing
  4. Hybrid cloud

I discussed the four pillars in a previous post.

Here's how we've done in each of these four areas:

1. Governance

There's one indubitable truth to all IT organizations: demand for services always exceeds supply. Try as you might, it's an appetite that can't be met. One of the core goals of IT governance is to ensure — with so many competing demands — that the right things are being prioritized and addressed. Responding to the person who screams loudest is not an IT governance strategy.

In reality, governing priorities require a process that is well understood and supported across all teams. It's also considered a burden, albeit an essential burden I would argue, and can meet with considerable resistance. I wrote about the difficulty in implementing IT governance here.

At O'Reilly Media I am really proud of our progress with IT governance. I do recognize that some of the progress is back-office and not immediately apparent to our end-users. I'm confident that will come in time. All the essential components of IT governance are in place and it is fully operational. The process begins at ideation and runs across decision-making right through to implementation. Today we have a fully agreed upon IT roadmap of projects that stretches to 12 months and soon we will have a view of the next 18 months. It's a process that has enabled us to move forward with essential projects such as business intelligence and author tools. Bravo!

The grade for this area reflects the fact that the full process is only recently functional and it is still not in a state where most people who interact with IT can see the full value. What we have to do is refine the process, make it much more agile and lightweight where it makes sense, and demonstrate results that clearly show it is the right way to align technology with business goals.

Grade: B-

2. Architecture

O'Reilly Media, like most businesses, runs a collection of complex systems that support its operations. And like most businesses those systems have evolved over time as needs dictated. Unfortunately, unless there had been a grand master plan back at the beginning, things work because of brute-force efforts at integration; not because of a well thought-out multi-year architectural plan. That's no criticism of our business. It's just the way things have happened for most organizations.

An enterprise architecture approach aims to reverse this trend and take the long view. It means ensuring that IT is designed and aligned to support the goals and strategies of the business. To do this, the structure and processes of the business must be well understood and documented.

In O'Reilly IT, our first step was to create a new position to lead our architecture strategy. The solutions architect role was filled and that person is now beginning to describe the next steps and create milestones in the difficult but highly rewarding journey ahead of us.

There is much to be done, such as creating an architectural review board to govern standards and make critical design decisions; to fully enumerate an IT service catalog; and to integrate an architectural mindset into solutions development.

I'm going to assign this a lower grade. It's not a reflection of the challenge and our success to date. It's merely an appreciation of the level of effort ahead of us.

Grade: C

3. Strategic Sourcing

While acknowledging the concerns people have over strategic sourcing, it's an area of our strategy that everyone easily understands. Strategic sourcing is about identifying and applying talent from wherever there is a viable source, at the right cost and at the right time. Done correctly, it should also result in internal staff working on higher value work.

Strategic sourcing is also a way to convert IT from an organization that when capacity gets tight, must resort to saying "no." If you want IT to be an enabler, it can't also be a roadblock. Strategic sourcing turns the situation from a "no capacity" problem into a discussion about investment. If it's really important, capacity can be purchased. (I'll discuss this specific subject in more detail in a future post.)

I've said it many times; strategic sourcing is not an equivalency of outsourcing. Strategic sourcing might mean using existing staff, and even skills that are available in other parts of the business.

In this area we've made good progress. We've completed a full project using a combination of existing internal employees and a newly identified off-shore company. We've also hired several US-based contractors using new talent placement vendors. Our existing team has found our strategic sourcing efforts to be complementary to our efforts and indeed our internal work is being elevated to higher-level value.

Strategic sourcing is now part of our project on-boarding process. Some process remains to be completed. But we're aggressively moving forward as the business gets more confident in our ability to supply capacity, and as we see an improving economy that is showing signs of a tightening supply of full-time talent.

Grade: B

4. Hybrid Cloud

O'Reilly owns several data centers in addition to utilizing a colocation facility. It's an organization that has historically allocated a physical server for each application. Maintaining and supporting this infrastructure is costly, high effort, and a distraction from the higher value work that we could be doing.

That said, a private cloud strategy that predates the existing strategy had been in place for some time, and some applications had moved into an internal virtualized infrastructure.

Our hybrid cloud strategy proposes to quickly identify application candidates to move into the public cloud or replace with software-as-a-service equivalents, and as appropriate, move the remaining applications to our private cloud.

On paper, hybrid cloud for us seems obvious and straightforward. O'Reilly Media has the risk posture and ambition for such a strategic move. However, it's clear now that we've faced unanticipated obstacles.

The key issue is that the resources you need to do the heavy lifting are often the same resources that need to maintain and support the existing infrastructure. It's a classic chicken and egg paradox. You can't make progress on reducing the overhead of the legacy infrastructure when you're consumed with maintaining that infrastructure. In addition, we wanted to hire a person to lead our cloud strategy and soon learned that such talent is scarce at best.

So what have we done? We identified a person on the existing team to lead our cloud efforts (although we have to wait until he finishes a high-priority infrastructure project) and we've had to queue up some critical maintenance projects in advance of our cloud migration work. We are also in the process of identifying external partners to help us implement our cloud solutions.

On balance this means we haven't made the progress we've wanted. We're deeply committed to this strategy and are now optimistic we'll make significant progress soon. You can read more of my views on cloud computing here.

Grade: C-

Overall, I've been generally pleased with our progress. A lot of work remains and it will be some time before staff across our businesses experience the benefits of this strategy.

We're still in the deep fog of change. We're experiencing a combination of talent changes (new people joining us and some legacy staff exiting), expected process growing pains, and some strategy implementation bumps.

Change is tough and can be frustrating for both end-users and IT staff.

In my view, implementing our IT strategy is like changing the wings of an aircraft in-flight. We're making considerable change but at the same time we can't disrupt the services and projects that are already underway. To this end, I am deeply grateful to the O'Reilly IT team as we haven't skipped a beat. We continue to deliver a considerable volume of value to the business while fundamentally changing the very nature of how we deliver that work.

In addition, it's also important that we've continued to get support for the changes across the business. Those that see the changes are very pleased and others remain patient.

If you're going to succeed with your IT transformation, you've got to keep the business on your side.

Being CIO can be a tough gig. But seeing positive change and how, when done right, technology can empower people and teams to do amazing things, is exhilarating and reminds us of why we do this work.

Photo: Report Card by Mark Gstohl, on Flickr


February 09 2011

The impact of IT decisions on organizational culture

It's said that with great power comes great responsibility. Among business functions, the IT group has disproportionate control over what can and can't happen in an organization.

Let's take instant messaging as an example. Assuming IT makes the final decision (which is often the case), enabling instant messaging both internally and with external parties can fundamentally change the way a business communicates. But prohibit instant messaging (which still happens today), and the IT organization is fundamentally dictating how communication will take place. That's considerable power for a business function, and it must be managed carefully.

Should IT dictate how everyone works?

The obvious and most visible control the IT organization has is over product choices. If you're reading this blog on a work computer, it's likely you didn't choose that model yourself. If your software is locked down, I'd guess you didn't select the browser or the word processor or the email client. Fortunately some organizations allow staff to download applications of their choice, but they are often the freebies, and not the major business solutions. For those there is an approval path and it usually leads back to the IT organization.

Given that the IT organization has chosen many of your basic information tools, it has already predetermined what you can and can't do.

Advice: Non-IT staff should participate in your standards and product selections process. Also, in addition to understanding what the technology will enable, it's important to explore and articulate what it will limit.

Is IT enabling or killing ideas?

I've written about the critical importance of IT governance, and in fact, have made it a cornerstone of the IT transformation at O'Reilly Media. With all its significant benefits, the risk with IT governance is that it becomes the opposite of what is intended. The process in which a new idea becomes a great new product or solution can live or die with IT. That's the power the IT organization has within a business. Executives know this and it is often a source of considerable frustration.

IT is often characterized as an enabler. While mostly accurate, to what degree have we acknowledged that through our decisions it can be a limitation? And more importantly, how do we manage that risk?

Advice: Don't lock your IT governance down. It must be a process that quickly changes as constraints are identified. Stick to the principles but constantly look for ways to reduce friction.

Does your IT organization move fast enough?

Does the IT organization move as fast as the business? Ideally yes, but we all know that the sobering reality is that IT, largely due to its popularity as an enabler (read: demand for IT almost always exceeds supply of capacity), is often a bottleneck. I've seen it too many times: a request won't even make it to IT because there is a perception that it will never get done or at least not get done in a timely manner. If this is the perception in your organization, then IT is stifling innovation. In other words, IT is limiting the possibility of a favorable cultural quality.

Advice: Provide clearly linked-to IT governance, understand current perception and look for ways to manage and prioritize ideas outside of those deeply aligned with business strategy. It's important to explore and continuously evolve your processes to be more agile. I also offer some additional thoughts in my blog about predictability and innovation.

Living with your IT decisions

I've touched on a few examples here, but it must be clear to you now that almost all IT decisions today can have lasting negative implications (we already assume that we understand the benefits of our decisions). Choices like an ERP suite or architectural decisions around how data is stored and shared can have profound impacts on the ability for stakeholders to make timely business decisions. In many cases, and particularly in our new business environment, these IT decisions can make or break a business.

Smart organizations foster the culture they want. They make deliberate decisions to encourage and discourage certain behaviors. Today, business brand and culture are often intertwined and those that get it right consistently win in the marketplace.

While I believe we recognize the limiting qualities of IT decisions, I'd suggest we've insufficiently studied the degree to which those decisions in aggregate can have a large influence on organizational culture.

It might be time to better understand the relationship between the culture of your organization and the IT decisions that are being made.


January 11 2011

Why is IT governance so difficult to implement?

"Governance? Process? Yuck, nasty words!"

Those are the actual opening words I used in an introductory email to O'Reilly Media business leaders whom I was inviting to participate in an important new process. What I was introducing had the potential to become antagonistic bureaucracy and could seriously backfire. So I was treading carefully but knew I had to move forward to enable our desired IT transformation and sustainable on-going effective operations.

But let's step back and understand the origin of my motivation for this new process.

As an IT leader, do these statements sound familiar? Demand for IT capacity far exceeds the ability for the IT team to deliver. Everyone who makes a request considers theirs to be a priority and wants it done as soon as possible. There's considerable frustration from requesters that their work is not getting addressed or has been put on-hold to address other priorities. The IT team is highly stressed, lacks direction, and morale is low.

The good news is that IT remains a highly valuable and in-demand business resource. The bad news is that all too often these statements reflect the state of IT operations for many businesses. And while it can continue like this, the costs are all too well known. IT becomes the bottleneck to business growth (yikes!) and effective operations and nobody is happy: not the IT team and not the business.

If you want to transform IT and fix these all-too-common issues, a new approach must be adopted. The trouble is that by introducing the methods to fix these problems, in the short-term it can be tough to win buy-in. In effect, you have to introduce a modicum of bureaucracy which will often arouse aversion by business leaders. Getting past those first few months and demonstrating success will help you turn the corner and transform the way IT is delivered. It's not easy.

So what is this process?

What I'm describing here is IT governance. In simple terms, IT governance is a process that ensures that IT capacity is working on the right things at the right time to enable business goals. It's a set of controls that focuses on organizational success while managing associated risks. Sounds simple, right? The devil is in the details! While nobody could argue that any process that aligns IT to business goals is the right strategy, it's the change required and the compromises on the part of business leaders that can derail this most worthy of efforts.

Why is IT governance so difficult to implement?

Business leaders want to do the right thing. They want the business to succeed and they will work hard to make that happen. But all too often, they are motivated and rewarded by having their small part of the organization succeed. IT governance requires that the scarce resource of technology capacity be diligently distributed across the organization for overall business success. In other words, it requires that IT cannot be allocated on the basis of individual team needs but rather on collective, organizational goals. (Of course, we recognize that a small percentage of IT budget should be set aside for specific team needs and in many organizations each team gets a dedicated amount of cash for that very reason).

How does IT governance work?

IT governance works like this: all technology investment requests are brought to a central authority (at O'Reilly Media we call it our governance review board) and the merit of every request is debated and a decision is arrived upon. Membership of the board is made up of senior members of the organization that represent every function.

What is the core value that ensures IT governance will work? The ability to compromise.

If participants are focused on the success of the entire business, compromise becomes easier. Those not used to this type of approach will initially be frustrated, and that's why the first few months are essential. You have to demonstrate that this is a better way to manage your scarce IT resources. If it works well, it solves most of the issues described earlier in my post. Seriously!

I'm passionate about IT governance because I see the enormous value it has for every type of business. But more specifically, to me, this is the central activity that will ensure the success of O'Reilly Media's IT transformation. I've said it many times to my team and the business, if IT governance doesn't succeed, it will radically hinder our abilities to do the important things we want to achieve. That's no over-statement.

How is IT governance at O'Reilly Media working?

So far, so good. We now have a clear roadmap of IT projects that have been agreed and approved to move forward on. Business leaders are happier because they know what is being worked on and when solutions will be delivered. Some leaders have reservations, but they are remaining open-minded. The IT team knows what to work on and understands the role of the solution relative to other systems and goals. It is a win-win. But there is still important work to do and demonstrating the long-term value is still ahead of us.

Is IT governance optional?

There are many ways to implement IT governance, but the principles remain the same. While we can debate the method of implementation, I'll go to bat to suggest that we cannot debate the essential value of IT governance. Regardless of the size of your business, some form of IT governance must be part of your organizational processes.

Bureaucratic? Sure. Essential? Definitely.


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