Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sustaining Successful IT Governance Environment

A tremendous amount of importance is being given to governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), ans thus IT governance is becoming a necessity in today's business context. There is strong pressure on senior management and the Board members to have a good understanding of their IT systems and the controls that are in place to avoid things such as fraud and security breaches. As the global corporate and economic climate continues to shift, businesses need to be prepared to anticipate, respond to, and mitigate risk with flexible processes that can be adapted to any methodology. This calls for assessing and continuously monitoring of the IT Governance as it operates in an organization.

IT governance represents a continuous journey (not an end state in itself), which focuses on sustaining value and confidence across the business functions. Many companies start on a short term approach and focus on the compliance component of IT governance, without developing a balanced longer term approach consisting of both a top down framework and roadmap together with bottom up implementation to address the broad range of IT governance issues and opportunities in a planned, coordinated, prioritized and cost effective manner. 

Getting it Right First

Different IT governance stake holders need different features so the solution needs to be structured, taylored and feature risk management. Because process is at the heart of IT Governance the solutions has to be process centric but also support all other perspectives, organisations, technology, application, infrastructure, etc. Being process centric, IT Governance aspects should be integrated into the existing process framework of an organization, so that it becomes real, operational and sustainable.

It is important to get the IT Governance pieces well integrated and have the same operational first. To have an effective and operational IT Governance program, at the minimum, the following should be taken care of.

  • Executive Commitment - The Board and the Executive Leadership Team are committed to implementing and sustaining a robust Governance environment.
  • Do Homework - Educate yourself on past, current and emerging best practices.
  • Gather knowledge - Develop, adopt, integrate, leverage and tailor current and emerging best practices models, frameworks and standards to make them work for the enterprise - create an integrated IT governance framework and roadmap for your organization.
  • Sell it - Market the IT governance value propositions to the organization and communicate its goals and objectives.
  • Assess Current State - Assess the “current state” of the level of IT governance maturity and identify gaps. 
  • Define Future State - Based on the knowledge gathered, develop a “future state” IT governance blueprint.
  • Implementation plan - Come up with an implementation plan by breaking down the components into well defined work packages and assign an ownership and responsibility.
  • Roll out - Implement a scalable and flexible governance policy and process.

Continuous Improvement

There could not be a second thought in that the IT Governance needs to be sustainable by putting in place a lifecycle for continuous improvement.  IT Governance like any other process framework need continuous improvement in line with the changing business and technology environment and to ensure that the desired benefits are realized for ever. While the improvement cycle can be as simple as that of Demings PDCA, ISACA has suggested a seven step cycle as below:

  • What are the Drivers?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • What needs to be done?
  • How do we get there?
  • Did we get there?
  • How do we keep the momentum going?

At the minimum, organizations should address the following questions to have the IT Governance continuously improved and thus sustained:

Image Source: The Advisory Council

With an integrated IT Governance framework in place, these improvement steps cannot be performed in isolation for the IT Governance function alone. Such improvement life cycle shall be applied to each of the functions, like Service Management, Asset Management, People & Project Management, and IT Portfolio Investment Management. The improvement life cycle shall thus at such levels and when such functions improve and deliver the desired results and value, IT Governance in turn will also be delivering. 

How much is enough?

As a process, operational governance must be carried out by one or more people. Even though it is useful to treat governance as outside the day-to-day operations of an organization, those carrying out the governance process may or may not belong to the governed organization. Even so, those who are carrying out the governance process must be concerned with certain external forces on the organizations as well. These external forces could be External Policies, External Standards, Government Regulations, etc. 

It is needless to mention that continuous improvement of IT Governance requires investment and it is equally important to justify the investment in continuous improvement pays back. Thus, the organization should know how much improvement is enough for them and accordingly focus its resources for this activity. However, knowing how much of IT Governance is enough is a key challenge, which will depend on the following factors:

  • Investment in IT (capital and expense), strategic value
  • Management philosophy and policy (e.g. mandatory and discretionary)
  • Program/Project and/or Operational visibility
  • Complexity, scope, size and duration of initiatives
  • Number of interfaces an integration requirements
  • Degree of risk
  • Speed of required implementation
  • Number of organizations, departments, locations and resources involved
  • Customer or sponsor requirements
  • Type and location of outsourcing (e.g. domestic, international)
  • Regulatory compliance 
  • Level of security required
  • Degree of accountability desired and audit-ability required (per external auditors)
  • Management Control Policies and Guidelines

Key Principles

To sustain and continue to make progress on the journey to achieving higher levels of IT maturity, an organization should adopt select principles from managing and accelerating change and transformation, which include the following key elements:

  • Proactively Design and Manage the IT Governance Program. Requires executive management sponsorship, an executive champion and creating a shared vision that is pragmatic, achievable, marketable, beneficial and measurable. Link goals, objectives and strategies to the vision and performance metrics and evaluations.
  • Mobilize Commitment and Provide the Right Incentives. There is a strong commitment to the change from key senior managers, professionals and other relevant constituents. They are committed to make it happen, make it work and invest their attention and energy for the benefit of the enterprise as a whole. Create a multi-disciplinary empowered Tiger Team representing all key constituents to collaborate, develop, market and coordinate execution in their respective areas of influence and responsibility. 
  • Make Tradeoffs and Choices and Clarify Escalation and Exception Decisions. IT governance is complex, continuous and requires tradeoffs and choices, which impact resources, costs, priorities, level of detail required, who approves choices, to whom are issues escalated, etc. At the end of the day, a key question that must be answered is, “When is enough, enough?” 
  • Making Change Last, Assign Ownership and Accountability. Change is reinforced, supported, rewarded, communicated ( through the Web and Intranet), recognized and championed by owners who are accountable to facilitate the change so that it endures and flourishes throughout the organization.
  • Monitoring Progress, Consistent Processes, Technology and Learning. Develop/ adapt common policies, practices, processes and technologies which are repeatable across the IT Governance landscape and enable (not hinder) progress, learning and best practice benchmarking. Make IT governance an objective in the periodic performance evaluation system of key employees and reward significant and sustainable progress and achievements. 

People often think they have a choice between "governance" and "no governance," but in reality the choice is between "good governance" and "bad governance." Every organization has a framework of decision-making and some set of often unstated measures. The needs of the business and the role of IT evolve; these unintentional governance solutions do not. Good governance is intentional, and it takes effort and attention. The operational perspective described in this article provides an approach for doing governance well.

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