The Many Definitions and Connotations of “Governance” in IT

June 6, 2016

After spending 17 years in the technology and IT space, I find I’m rarely that surprised by things anymore, especially things involving organizational dynamics or politics. It’s all certainly happened in IT before. But I have to admit, as we help more and more IT customers with their strategic planning and prioritization efforts, I am actually quite surprised at how a certain word is received across the organization: GOVERNANCE.

At first glance, it is a seemingly innocuous word, right? Been around a long time. Been used by thousands of organizations, products, and groups. But the baggage it can pack is truly amazing. You can ask 20 IT leaders what their FIRST impression is when they hear the word “governance”, and I assure you you would get 20 different reactions. And they would span the gamut from positive (“Good governance has RADICALLY changed our relationship with our BU partners”) to nothing (“Governance is a word we have never really used here”) to off-the-charts negative (“Governance is what the last set of consultants tried to preach at us, costing us millions and setting us back 5 years”). And interestingly, none of them are really wrong!

Governance, especially in IT, is far from a new term or a revolutionary idea. It’s been around forever and implemented in a million different ways. It’s used by IT organizations to keep “outsiders” away from their data and systems. It’s used by IT organizations to define the rules and regulations of security access. It’s used by IT organizations to make infrastructure usage regulated and predictable. It’s used for dozens of things.

But, amazingly, do you know how Gartner defines it? “IT governance is defined as the processes that ensure the effective and efficient use of IT in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.” Do you notice what you do NOT see in that definition? “Rules”. “Regulations”. “Access”. “Limitations”. Etc… That’s right, Governance is about making IT hum! It’s about ensuring IT delivers the systems and services necessary for the organization to succeed! It’s about ensuring the right things are invested in and the right things are DIVESTED away from. And it doesn’t have to be hard or over-complicated.

From our experience with dozens of IT leadership groups, the hardest part of IT Governance is getting over the baggage of the word. It’s convincing the rest of the organization that you’re just trying to get a common set of definitions and processes in place for HOW things will be prioritized. HOW decisions will be made. And HOW things will be delivered. It’s about predictability, communication, and transparency. It’s a shame that it needs an internal PR effort to get over that hump, but the benefits of an easily understood and easily implemented way to link the business strategy to the decisions made by IT and to the ongoing review of delivery are innumerable.

And that’s how I like to define it: IT Governance is ensuring that the strategy of the business is used in the selection and prioritization of IT resources (before AND during execution) and that ALL of the right stakeholders are involved.

How do YOU define the G-word?