IT governance has traditionally been the responsibility of IT leaders, but as technology evolves, it is becoming more democratized. Does this also suggest that governance responsibilities should be more democratized as well?
The answer to this question is not straightforward, but for some organizations, it may be feasible to take a different approach to managing specific software or IT systems.
The purpose of IT governance
IT governance is the function dedicated to aligning corporate objectives with IT.
This discipline bridges the gap between areas such as IT operations, IT strategy, corporate strategy, and enterprise architecture.
In contrast to IT service management (ITSM), which views IT as a “machine” that must be operated, IT governance takes a top-down perspective on IT in the context of the business.
An IT governance framework will generally outline the specific activities required, guiding principles, best practices, and objectives.
ITIL 4, for instance, defines three core activities that should be performed by those in charge of IT governance:
- Direct the organization’s vision, strategies, and policies
- Monitor how well the organization adheres to its directives
- Evaluate performance through ongoing reviews
While ITIL itself is an ITSM framework, and can be a useful tool for IT governance, there are other frameworks that are specifically built for governance.
COBIT is a comprehensive model that is geared towards governance, making it a more useful tool for organizations that need a more sophisticated approach than that offered by ITIL.
One important point to note about these frameworks is that they are both being continually updated, and the latest versions incorporate modern business principles, such as agility.
Since the role of IT in the business is evolving, and since organizational agility has become so essential in today’s uncertain economy, it may be a good idea to rethink even the role of high-level functions such as IT governance.
How the role of IT is changing
In a number of organizations, IT has been viewed as a “back office” department whose sole purpose was to operate the organization’s technology.
Yet that perception has changed radically in recent years, and most companies have come to realize that IT plays a critical role in driving digital transformation and, furthermore, in meeting an organization’s strategic objectives.
Today, IT can help implement changes that:
- Enhance employee performance and organizational performance
- Differentiate a business from its competitors
- Enable an organization to stay operational during disruptions and crises
- Act as the central pillar of an organization’s strategy
At the same time, other trends may suggest the need for more adaptable and agile business models.
For instance, the following trends demonstrate how quickly IT is evolving:
- The accelerating speed of digital transformation
- The democratization of software across the enterprise
- Changes to customer needs and expectations, such as with multiexperience offerings
- No-code platforms that enable anyone to build apps or automate workflows
To stay relevant, businesses and their IT departments must also be able to adapt and deliver solutions swiftly. This suggests that new ways of thinking may be needed in IT, and this is exactly why many IT frameworks are evolving and becoming more agile, as mentioned above.
Should IT governance become more agile?
Optimal governance agility requires that senior management delegate the responsibility of delivery to the next management layer. This enables self-management, continuous improvement, and speed.
The important point when using an agile approach to governance is not about what decisions are being made, but about how they are being made. It requires a mindset shift, open communication, and total participation.
To enable this approach, teams must:
- Follow the principles laid out in the Agile Manifesto
- Decide upon the metrics most useful to them
- Foster a mindset that is built around collaboration
- Focus on utilizing strong user data and analytics to build best practices
Since an agile model such as this one offers greater autonomy and decision-making power to lower levels in the organization, it can boost speed, efficiency, and resiliency. These are just a few benefits of taking a laissez-faire approach to certain business functions. After all, when employees have more autonomy, bureaucracy and procedure are less of a hindrance in decision-making.
Teams with authority over the applications that make up their tech stack can be more self-sufficient without detracting from strategic decisions made by the CIO and other IT leaders. Examples of agile IT changes include customizing and automating workflows, as well as creating department-specific content with no-code platforms.
Agile approaches to governance will need to be implemented concurrently with other changes in policies and procedures.
For example, changing one’s own existing ITIL change management requirements—that is, what constitutes an emergency, normal, or standard change—will be needed as technology itself becomes more composable, fluid, and democratized.
Organizational agility in the modern world depends on IT agility, which may require the adoption of new models of governance.
Extending decision-making responsibilities to lower levels of management and redefining the way IT changes are processed can improve the speed of digital adoption, business transformation, and everyday operations.
Naturally, IT governance must still be a top-down business function, so it is perhaps best to invest in a hybrid approach to governance, rather than a complete overhaul of existing processes. A combination of incremental change and experimentation may be the safest bet when adjusting IT governance policies.