Must it be so painful?


Most CIOs will tell you that their company’s quarterly IT steering committee meetings are about as much fun as oral surgery. This may be an unfair comparison.

At least in the case of oral surgery, patient and surgeon can usually agree on what needs to be done, and the patient is usually willing to rely on the judgment of the surgeon to determine how to solve a particular problem. Steering committees, on the other hand, often struggle to prioritize business needs and consider themselves well suited to teaching IT professionals how to plan and implement major technology initiatives.

Innocent bystanders (i.e. IT staff) think that board meetings are executive forums where strategic technology plans are made to support their company’s financial goals. In reality, most meetings are ritual affairs.

Decisions are largely made behind closed doors before committee meetings. The meetings themselves are just ceremonies where decisions are officially announced and made public. In some cases, there is so little discussion at committee meetings that follow-up meetings are needed with selected executives to decipher what was actually decided.

Do you have a broken IT governance process?

In fact, many existing steering committees are broken and out of use. Nevertheless, they have taken on a life of their own and no one knows how to fix or replace them.

The following symptoms are key indicators of a broken or dysfunctional IT governance process.

  • Committee meetings are constantly rescheduled due to other more urgent demands on committee members’ time.
  • Committee business is done by email because its executive members cannot find the time to meet as a group.
  • Committee members delegate participation in meetings to subordinates who are not empowered to make decisions and do not think it is their responsibility to socialize the decisions that are actually made.
  • Delegation initially occurs on an ad hoc basis, but quickly becomes semi-permanent, turning committee meetings into information-sharing discussions rather than technology decision-making events.
  • More meeting time is spent educating members on new technical capabilities, vendor evaluations, and contract supply issues than on business results.
  • The committee loses strategic focus and degenerates into high profile discussions about ongoing projects, IT staffing priorities, service desk operations, IT budget performance, etc. In effect, the quarterly meeting becomes a broader review of the entire IT function.
  • Committee members do not engage in meaningful discussion of business needs and repeatedly make investment decisions based on each executive’s personality and perseverance. Members regularly share their skepticism about the business cases used to justify specific IT decisions, but they choose to share their skepticism with selected peers after a decision was taken rather than at formal Committee meetings.

Is there a cure?

Leaders of Fortune 500 companies constantly encourage their teams to take inspiration from agile, fast-growing startups. Well, here is their chance.

Startups frequently employ growth advice to guide their technology decisions. Growth boards challenge their executive members to quantify the incremental revenue or benefits that will result from specific IT investments and personally commit to delivering the claimed financial results.

In principle, this is what IT steering committees should do in large companies. In practice though, steering committees spend far too much time and effort building ornate business cases to justify their investment decisions.

These business cases can include material and indirect savings, avoided future costs, customer satisfaction indicators (which may or may not increase future revenue), competitive pressures, etc. Business cases based on a wide variety of financial and operational results frequently lose credibility and are inherently difficult to compare with each other.

In small start-ups, the commitment of individual leaders to deliver tangible financial benefits based on investments in new technical capabilities is much more immediate and visceral. The supply chain operations manager can commit to reducing inventory working capital through the use of a new AI tool. The sales manager can commit to increasing sales quotas in their field organization using a new lead qualification app.

Admittedly, it’s easier to move the needle in a small company with 2,000 employees and $300 million in annual revenue than in a large company with 10,000 employees and $5 billion in revenue. . But the main difference between the discussions of the growth council and those of the steering committee is that Board members personally demand the IT tools they need to achieve specific financial results, while committee members merely approve technology initiatives they don’t fully understand.

It’s a subtle but incredibly telling difference when it comes time for employees to adopt new work practices based on the use of new technical capabilities.

Instigation of change

Shockingly, many existing steering committees do not have a formal charter or an established set of operating principles. Like any other ritual ceremony, the format and agenda of committee meetings has evolved over time based on the whims, suggestions and requests of individual leaders, many of whom are no longer with the company. A first step towards instigating change in these circumstances could be simply to prepare a written charter and use this document as a pretext to rethink existing practices.

In cases where some type of fundamental charter exists, it may be appropriate to delete that document on the grounds that it was created for a different business – a smaller, less complex, and far less technology-dependent business than the company that exists today. . Companies are constantly overriding internal processes. IT governance is just another process that needs to be revisited to meet the demands of today’s business.

Many CIOs would be surprised at the support they will receive from their fellow executives to initiate such changes. Business leaders want to be involved in strategic technology decision-making, but they don’t want to waste their time discussing long lists of non-strategic projects, all justified by elaborate business cases and intuitive ROI projections. unrealistic.

CFOs can be a CIO’s best ally in overhauling a company’s existing IT governance process. Although some CFOs have a pathological addiction to business cases that predict financial results to five significant digits, most are deeply skeptical of business case projections. They would much rather have a senior executive put their personal bonus on the line to justify a specific IT investment.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, your CFO can be your best partner in replacing old IT steering committees with business growth boards. Who knows? The brand change alone could lead to more traffic in the future!


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