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Mission Intelligence: Governance: It Takes Two to Tango

Governance is about the IT and business sides of the house coming together to change behavior and produce more efficient--and more satisfying--project lifecycles.

Dave Stodder

What projects are we doing right now? Do we know how much it costs to run them? Five years ago, Brigham Young University's Office of Information Technology (OIT) couldn't answer those basic questions. Like many organizations, OIT built stuff and then gave it to the users. Allocated certain funds for the year, users knew they had to "use it or lose it." So, business VPs and other users made sure they had requisitions in to the penny--and then pulled out all the political stops to make sure IT put their projects high on the priority list.

What was lost in the scramble was any good sense of how projects fit into the big picture of what BYU wanted to accomplish for its various constituents, including teachers and students who engage with BYU not only through its 11 colleges and schools in Provo, Utah, but also through affiliated campuses around the globe and online. To turn things around, OIT established an Enterprise Project Management Office (EPjM). Recalls Ernie Nielsen, EPjM's managing director: "Our goal was to make PM an organizational behavior, not something just for OIT's project managers."

Using processes honed during a stint at Stanford University and tools from Pacific Edge Software, Nielsen says OIT has been able to reduce its costs by 47 percent over the past four years and shorten the budgeting process from nine months to six weeks. "We still take nine months for what's called 'resource planning,' but the six weeks are now focused on helping users propose projects that stand a better chance of approval by our portfolio management team."

PM is a "change management effort," Nielsen notes, and that's never easy. "BYU has a wonderful reputation for a 'cultivation culture' that has kept people working here for 20 or 30 years. When we introduce more efficient processes, sometimes the cultivation culture feels slapped in the face. But we have to take responsibility for making the change--we can't point to the software and say, 'that's what's making us do this.'" The Pacific Edge tools gave OIT the flexibility to handle diverse user requirements. "In a global organization," Nielsen says, "you're never going to have everyone at the same level of maturity."

BYU's experience offers wisdom for enterprises trying to climb out of the silos, put aside piecemeal planning and step toward the dream of IT governance, where strategic alignment and project accountability win the day. First, organizations shouldn't feel like they have to invent new IT processes when best practices are available. That's where the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), discussed extensively in our cover package, comes in. And second, unlike previous ERP or other technology-driven revolutions, governance is about the IT and business sides of the house coming together to change behavior and produce more efficient--and more satisfying--project lifecycles.

Governance is an absolute requirement to succeed with strategic sourcing in the globalized economy described by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in his best-selling book, "The World Is Flat." "You can't manage global projects and resources if you don't have a well-conceived governance structure in place," says Harry Wallaesa, president of The W Group, a technology management and consulting firm. "CIOs can't cling to old structures and outmoded ways of thinking."

Bad habits and old ways die hard. Only together can business users and IT change them to succeed in a new world.

David Stodder is the editorial director and editor in chief of intelligent enterprise. write to him at [email protected].