There was a windstorm on Vancouver Island last night - one that blows off the Pacific and seems to make the whole island shudder. There was a weird noise that seemed to be coming from inside the house. As I lay in bed, the last thing I wanted to do was wander around the house looking for the problem. So I kept telling myself it was just my imagination and everything was ok. Then BLAM! Something fell inside the house. There was no making excuse anymore. I had to leap out of bed and deal with it.
IT governance has become one of those issues. For the past ten years the holy grail of IT has been governance. But the wind has been shaking the house of governance for sometime now. Over the years I have seen a number of organizations create governance structures and governance models and governance committees. Typically these models are well planned and follow all the appropriate literature. Some processes achieve moderate success while others continue to struggle.
Typically the CIO creates the governance model, chairs the meetings, sets the agenda, and drives the action. They are attempting to govern IT in the enterprise. But they are attempting to govern someone else’s assets. What gets forgotten in these models is the reason for creating IT departments in the first place. IT departments exist to support the strategic and operational goals of the business. IT was created to realize the dreams and aspirations of their stakeholders. The assets are not theirs to govern. The mistaken notion that IT can govern someone else's property is the root of the problem.
I suggest we shift our thinking from governance to stewardship. Stewardship is the responsibility to take care of something belonging to someone else. By moving from a model where IT attempts to govern someone else’s assets to a model where IT recognizes the true ownership of the assets changes everything.
In a stewardship model, the needs and concerns of IT clients actively influence the decision-making process of the IT department. The decision-making process becomes transparent to stakeholders. The clarity creates trust among the IT department’s clients.
The intention of a stewardship process is to engage clients in enterprise IT decision-making. The organization uses an open and transparent process where clients actively and regularly participate in guiding the future of technology at the organization. The role of the IT department is to facilitate the process of decision-making, not to govern the decision-making.
The purpose of a vibrant stewardship model is to engage IT stakeholders in the prioritization of work and the selection of the criteria that determines those priorities. Successful stewardship allows customers to influence and guide IT planning, policy, and priorities for the entire organization. All appropriate stakeholders discuss information systems investments in a collaborative fashion.
Stewardship is the open, honest, and responsible management of something entrusted to your care. Governance is about making decisions that set expectations, grant power, or measure performance. These are two different worlds representing significantly different mindsets. Governance can lead to IT forgetting its role in the organization and attempting to assume more responsibility than is appropriate. Stewardship is about helping the organization realize its information technology dreams and aspirations.
In case you were worried about my house, everything was okay. The wind blew open a poorly fastened door and a painting that was loaned to us by my mother-in-law was blown to the floor. I fixed the door so it will never shake loose again. Hopefully I have improved my stewardship of my mother-in-law’s painting.