The Governing Concepts of Governance

By Kevin Fogarty Print this article Print

Clear governance policies can help executives choose and manage projects—but only if the chosen practices are followed.

After three years of tight reins, tighter budgets and gimlet-eyed interrogation over every expense, the last thing many technology managers want is more corporate oversight.

But they’d be fools not to, according to those who view structured decision-making as a way to increase the impact of information technology, and therefore the stature of its managers.

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Plans for “I.T. governance”—a term for how a company’s executives choose and manage information-technology projects—assign responsibility for decisions to those best equipped to handle them, especially if they’re not technologists.

The topic has been heating up the inquiry lines at Gartner Inc. as the economy revives interest in technology’s role in the business, says Michael Gerrard, vice president and chief of research at Gartner Research.

Gerrard’s advice is to focus your technology plan by dividing decisions according to department. Decisions on projects that affect business operations should be made by business managers; those that concern efficient technology management and the behind-the-scenes systems should be made by technology managers.

Next, show business managers in detail how much it costs just to keep current technology running, let alone to pay for new projects.

Bob Moore, vice president of information technology at telecommunications supplier Paetec Communications, says that once executives understand the spending patterns, they are usually eager to help align technology decisions with the company’s overarching goals.

Gerrard advises having a panel of top executives first define company strategy and how information technology can support it. A second layer of panels, within each business unit, then decides what each needs to fulfill its part of the plan; a third panel of tech-savvy representatives from the business units helps set technology standards useful to all.

The key is to define projects not according to the technology involved, but according to the business change they’re designed to create. A customer-relationship-management system, for example, should be proposed and overseen by managers responsible for customer relationships, not those responsible for installing it.

This article was originally published on 2009-02-03
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