Governing the “Brought Your Own” and “Bought Your Own” Enterprise

IT World Canada

As published on IT World Canada’s Blogosphere, August 7, 2013

If you’re reading the business press this summer, you’ve probably noticed the number of articles emerging about how “bring your own device” is coming to an end, since it costs too much to support.

Let’s leave the puff pieces for a “declare us your standard” aside, and think about reality for a moment.

The technology genie is out of the bottle, and it’s not going back.

Back in the 1990s, Oracle’s Larry Ellison had a simple solution to the problem of technology popping up all over the company. He made Central IT a corporate function from a budget point of view. No chargeback, no allocations: truly free to all the user departments.

Anyone who wanted to go their own way could do so — out of their money (and they lost money permanently if they bought something and then decided to dump it on central IT). As a result, most of Oracle used what the centre gave them.

But that’s when technology cost serious money. Today, even a first level supervisor can find money for technology.

That’s why no matter how far the centralization-decentralization pendulum swings back to “centralized”, the whole thing’s not going back to central IT. As fast as items are poured in on one side, new technology is coming in on the other.

So we’re going to have to learn how to govern for effective results from technology across the enterprise. That means the business areas have to be part of the governance process — it can’t be driven just by the CIO, or by a central staff group.

I recall a highly outsourced organization, that had a small (less than 25 people) residue around the CIO. The outsourcer had about 500 staff handling the work of the organization.

Two years after outsourcing, there were 210 people who could identified in the business areas doing IT work. This is before “bring your own device” and before cloud providers and app development houses made getting code up and running a piece of cake.

That enterprise continued with a governance model that laid it all on the shoulder of the CIO, with the business leaders denying any responsibility. Needless to say, the outsourcer was frustrated, the business was frustrated, the CIO was frustrated (and the office became a revolving door for a while) and the company overspent like mad with key project languishing incomplete.

The Governance Board approach places the business unit leadership at the table to govern IT, regardless of where it’s funded, sourced, controlled, or used. The Board’s approach is to govern for results, not for “who should do it”.

Effective Governance Boards, for instance, rewards areas of the business that prove they can deliver increasing actual returns on investment obtained (AROIO) with ever more project resources, dollars, etc. Why not? Doesn’t it make more sense to increase enterprise revenues and decrease enterprise costs by getting results, rather than playing the “everyone has to get something” approach to projects?

The CIO, as chair of the Governance Board, remains the baton holder, but like the conductor of an orchestra, it’s the players who have to make the music. All the baton waving in the world does nothing if the players don’t play. Likewise, if you’ve got world-class players in one instrument and not in others, doesn’t a conductor start selecting pieces for performance that showcase his best, and de-emphasize his worst?

It’s, after all, how he puts results on the table for the CEO — and that is what the CIO is paid to do. Not to argue endlessly that “you shouldn’t do that”.

Which is why, once there’s a Governance Board, central IT is just another player at that table, instead of a privileged part of it. It’s there like HR, or Finance, or Sales … just another piece of the corporate architecture.

In turn, the Governance Board brings discipline to the rest of the enterprise. Business leaders can’t point the finger and say “well, you didn’t deliver this”, because the responsibility for delivery isn’t someone else’s. A Board decision to, for instance, release and fund a $3 million project for the sales organization means the head of sales is responsible for the results. Not the IT project manager. Not the CIO. The business.

How many times have you sat there needing decisions and the business can’t be bothered to make them — or to show up to the meetings — or to resolve conflicts? Meanwhile the enterprise is leaking money, and losing initiative.

Everywhere the Governance Board has been pitched, CEOs have loved it. So too CFOs. The reason is simple: it works with the organization, not against it — and it helps get the inevitable whinging about “IT won’t do x” out of their office.

“Get it done” becomes the mantra. True C-level officers like that.

“Brought your own” and “bought your own” technology has opened the door to bringing responsibility where it belongs to technology decisions and actions. About time.