3 min

Why Strong IT Governance Is Like the Brakes of a Car

Used effectively, tools such as ServiceNow help IT teams prioritize speed while maintaining strategic control.

IT teams often must navigate a natural conflict between responding quickly to changing business needs and ensuring consistent, reliable service delivery. In more than 20 years of being immersed in the world of IT governance and IT service management, I have seen significant changes in the way we identify, design, implement and manage services. The introduction of the Agile Manifesto and related principles in the early 2000s seriously challenged the traditional system development lifecycle. 

However, my experience is that organizations often apply agile processes at the expense of strategic thinking rather than in conjunction with it. This results in suboptimal products, repeated work and, in the end, extra costs, delayed time frames and unsatisfied customers — the exact things that agile aimed to address. I believe organizations can achieve much greater benefits when they are agile and strategic at the same time.

When Agile Prioritizes Speed Over Completeness

“Less is more” is a common theme that IT leaders grapple with. We are all inundated with more information through more media than ever. Consequently, we are often asked to give the “elevator speech” version of a proposal or concept. Moreover, agile practices call for the ability to receive and act on new and changing business requirements with little or no delay, a focus that sometimes prioritizes speed over completeness. Adding to this, I find many organizations are looking to achieve a “one-sheet strategic plan” to provide guidance on priorities and direction.

I am not criticizing any one of these concepts. I fully understand the need to be succinct and direct, as well as the need to move quickly to bring value to the organization before the environment changes. I am suggesting, however, that if we start and stop at the “elevator speech” level of detail, if we implement agile processes in a vacuum without a strong framework around them, or if we stop with the one-sheet strategic plan and provide no additional guidance, we leave too many details open to interpretation. Inadvertently, we create an environment where we cannot optimize complex strategies and services.

I think we can all come up with an example (or several) of an initiative that was identified quickly and kicked off immediately with only a high-level outline of what was to be developed and how it would fit into the organization’s strategy. Often in these scenarios, just as we start making progress, we get more information that leads us to change our design, potentially incurring repeated work or unusable products. Over the course of developing a significant service, there is the potential to change course multiple times before we finally achieve a production-ready product for release.

But what is the alternative? We could wait for all the requirements to be understood, the process optimized and all related products and services to be fully fleshed out before we start. But experience teaches us that stakeholders may lack the patience for that level of planning. Moreover, iterative build/show cycles result in earlier feedback and deliver a better product more rapidly. We need a way to move quickly and to achieve safe, reliable results.

Governance Ultimately Helps Organizations Move Faster

This is where governance comes in. By putting the right structures, controls and guidelines in place, we can feel more confident about moving quickly because we have appropriate checks to ensure that decisions remain aligned to business and IT strategy. To paraphrase an old saying, governance structures and controls don’t slow you down. Like brakes on a car, they enable you to go faster safely.

At a high level, governance has one overarching objective: value creation. Value is influenced by benefit realization, risk optimization and resource optimization. In short, governance focuses on achieving the optimal benefit (value) with the least risk from the appropriate level of resources. 

To achieve this objective, governance provides direction to IT in the form of IT strategy that aligns with and supports the organization’s business strategy and then monitors the results against both, adapting as required. Direction and monitoring attempt to ensure that the IT organization is structured to deliver the IT strategy, that IT resources are optimized in relation to the strategy and that the enterprise architecture enables the strategy to be fulfilled. In addition, it requires an investment evaluation process to ensure that all IT investments lead to corporate value, and that risks and opportunity costs are considered as part of the strategy development.

IT Platforms Provide Structure to Stay on Course with Business Strategy

All of this may seem like a gargantuan undertaking. But I strongly suggest that it is the best way to get optimal results from your IT investments. Through appropriate planning and organizational change management, governance can become integrated into the fabric of an organization. When this happens, strategy and agility can not only coexist in the same environment but can support and build on each other. A clear and disciplined governance practice allows organizations to make decisions quickly and safely. We can provide value to our business quickly and reliably, becoming an enabler of success.

I also believe that leveraging an enterprise platform such as ServiceNow will accelerate an organization’s governance journey. Implementing a platform won’t create your business and IT strategies, nor will it establish the right IT organization or risk framework. However, it will give you a method to document and manage those items and provide real-time feedback on success so you can adapt with agility to ensure you are on course to achieve your business objectives. 

Story by Greg Wheeler, who joined CDW in December 2015 after a 31-year career with the state of New York, where he led the Enterprise IT Service Management Program, introducing and implementing ITIL-based service management practices adapted for state government. Greg focuses on best practices and the alignment of people and processes based on his certified Information Technology Infrastructure Library expertise and vast background in IT service management, IT asset management and IT operation management. Greg has a strong passion for leveraging IT business management and IT governance with IT service management, helping to mature customers and ensure alignment of their services and decision-making processes to business priorities.