Best Advice: 'Be Inquisitive'

Longtime CIO Len Tenner advocates a full-cycle approach to I.T. governance; that means a nitty-gritty view of technology components and processes

John Soat, Contributor

September 10, 2004

3 Min Read

Len Tenner knows a thing or two about business-technology management. Tenner was CIO of human-resource-services powerhouse Hewitt Associates for 15 years. During that time, he managed a staff of 600 and built an IT architecture to support 11,000 associates. Tenner retired in 2001, but he hasn't stopped thinking about IT management. He's come up with an approach he calls "Full-Cycle IT Governance," which he hopes will help business-technology executives be as effective as they can.

Visibility and transparency are what's really missing, Tenner says.

Tenner points to an interesting conclusion in a recent book, IT Governance: How Top Performers Manage IT Decision Rights For Superior Results (Harvard Business School Press, 2004): Companies with excellent IT governance have profitability levels that are over 20% higher than those with poor governance, given the same strategic objectives.

The keys to excellent IT governance, according to Tenner, are visibility and accountability. Full-cycle IT governance is a 360-degree, cradle-to-grave overview of IT functioning that allows the CIO to better align the technology organization with business objectives. "It's a subset of overall corporate governance, which is on the minds of all executives these days," he says.

Full-cycle IT governance requires the CIO to have a complete view of his or her IT assets, from personnel to PCs, including--and especially--software components. "It goes down to the assets that make up the IT business," he says. IT is now an integral part of every company's DNA. But most top execs--and the CIO is guilty, too--have lost sight of what they have. "The ability to have visibility and transparency is what's really missing. The idea with full-cycle IT governance and getting down in the nitty-gritty is to bring up the information that allows you to make intelligent decisions."

Full-cycle IT governance involves three strategic layers: clearly articulating business strategy, which is the job of the CEO and the CIO; putting together a corresponding IT strategy; then setting up an architecture and applications portfolio that supports the overall objectives. "You have total alignment between your business objectives and what it is you're going to build," he says.

Full-cycle IT governance isn't easy. For one thing, Tenner says, there's been a shift away from technical sophistication on the part of CIOs and toward business orientation. Tenner's strategy requires the knowledge and commitment on the part of the CIO to track IT at both macro and micro levels. But the payoff is substantial. "With that kind of granularity, you have the ability to not only provide information but to provide accountability as well."

There are technologies that lend themselves to full-cycle IT governance, Tenner says. For project management, Microsoft's Project is probably a standard, though it's something of a blunt instrument. For linking the business side and the IT side, Mercury Interactive Corp.'s IT Governance Center is particularly well-suited, he says. For defining technology structure, the toolset from IBM's Rational division is a good fit. And for managing software assets, Flashline Inc.'s FlashPacks work well. Tenner has a vested interest in the last product set: He's on Flashline's board.

Significant advantages of full-cycle IT governance come from standardization and reuse: the ability to not only keep track of your IT investments but to leverage them across the company. "Having the visibility into how things work on a project level becomes key to getting the return on investment you think you're going to get," Tenner says.

Full-cycle IT governance isn't about more business savvy, Tenner says, but there is one characteristic that's important: "Be inquisitive."

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