IM|IT Governance Framework
Bryan Shane, Patricia Lafferty and Tim Beasley
An effective IM/IT governance framework benefits organizations in manyÂ ways, including the ever important cost savings.
In most public sector. organizations, InformationÂ Management/Information Technology (IM/IT) plays a vital role in delivering keyÂ programs and services. It does this by:
- providing the applications necessary to processÂ transactions that are important to program and service delivery, includingÂ both program-specific and administrative functions;
- supplying the tools necessary to ensure the personalÂ productivity of individual staff members;
- providing the means to ensure the effective collaborationÂ and coordination of programs and services with other staff, clients andÂ suppliers;
- permitting the development of business strategies andÂ innovations by exploiting unique technological advantages;Â and
- furnishing the information necessary to make bothÂ strategic and operational decisions.
The annualÂ IM/IT budget usually consumes more than half of all capital expenditures in mostÂ public sector departments. This is in addition to the considerable amount spentÂ on staff and operational IM/IT activities.
A more effective IM/IT governance framework will strengthen the performance and expediency of decision making in the public sector and maximize the contribution of IM/IT in enhancing and enabling program delivery.
The goal ofÂ effective IM/IT governance is to ensure that all IM/IT initiatives have beenÂ managed from an organization-wide perspective andÂ that they contribute to the institution’s strategic businessÂ goals.
Elements of an IM/IT governanceÂ framework
A governanceÂ framework includes three elements:
- Governance principles – the principles by which allÂ IM/IT initiatives will be governed;
- Governance structure – the roles and responsibilities of theÂ major stake holders in the IM/IT governance decision making process, includingÂ committees and organizational elements at the branch level; and
- Governance process – the various stages required to review, assess andÂ approve or reject new IM/IT initiatives.
The IM/ITÂ governance framework must adopt the following principles of operation at theÂ branch level to ensure effectiveness:
- All IM/IT initiatives considered must support theÂ department’s long-term business goals and be based on its long-term IM/ITÂ strategies.
- All new IM/ITÂ proposals must be supported by a business case addressing the prioritiesÂ established in the informatics strategic plans.
- IM/IT initiatives areÂ subject to the governance process, including those related to applicationÂ development, infrastructure modifications, major projects and/or purchases ofÂ hardware or software. (See Selection criteria later in the article.)
- The IM/IT governance process must be as simple andÂ efficient as possible to ensure the maximum relevance and importance ofÂ informatics initiatives without unduly delaying initiation.
- The IM/IT governance process must interface effectivelyÂ with departmental operational and strategic planning processes.
- The framework must supportÂ existing IM/IT policies, standards and guidelines.
The governanceÂ structure relies on branch committees and other organizational elements toÂ oversee IM/IT matters.
The two majorÂ committees are:
- Management Committee (MC), the executive committee of the program branch hasÂ ultimate responsibility for setting its business directions. It is the finalÂ decision-making authority on all branch IM/IT issues and approves the IM/ITÂ strategic direction and priorities as well as the overall IM/IT budget andÂ initiatives. Its responsibilities encompass the approval of specific IM/ITÂ projects including funding and human resourcing.
- The InformationÂ Management Committee (IMC) includes representatives from the program branchÂ including regions and the departmental informatics organization. Based on aÂ thorough review of the business case, it recommends most major decisions relatedÂ to IM/IT investments to the management committee.
In addition toÂ these committees, the governance structure centers on several key organizations within the branch. one of these, the InformationÂ Management Organization (IMO), is the unit charged with assessingÂ branch IM/IT needs, completing and updating the IM/IT strategicÂ operational plan and assessing and addressing associated risks. It monitorsÂ projects that are underway and resolves problems related to individualÂ projects or multi project priorities. It coordinates all IM/IT initiatives andÂ provides status reports on the initiatives to the Management Committee on aÂ quarterly basis. It also maintains, monitors and reports on the branch IM/ITÂ budget and recommends allocation of funds to IMC.
InÂ addition to these standing committees and organizations, each IM/IT project hasÂ a steering committee. The steering committee’s role is to oversee the work of the project team,Â ensure that the project remains on schedule andÂ withinÂ budget and keep the project in sync with the business requirements it is meantÂ to address.
This governance framework proposes a seven-step process forÂ launching new IM/IT initiatives in a branch. These steps are presented here inÂ the order they would apply to a new candidate initiative.
- Project proposal development: In thisÂ initial step, anyone in any program branch may conceive an idea for a newÂ IM/IT project. The first step is to enlist a senior manager (director orÂ director general) willing to act as a project sponsor. The idea must beÂ documented in a standard project proposal format, aÂ two to three-page documentÂ outlining the opportunity/ problem, the project’s objectives and scope and theÂ expected benefits. This proposal is then submitted to IMO which reviews theÂ proposal against a number of criteria, including its alignment with theÂ business and IM/IT directions of the branch/department. IMO forwards promisingÂ ideas to IMC for further consideration. Others may be returned to the projectÂ sponsor for refinement.
- Project proposal approval: IMC canÂ either give the proposal the go-ahead to proceed to business case developmentÂ or reject it with reasons. Rejected proposals may be amended and resubmitted.
- Business case development: The nextÂ major step is to develop a business case. The business case uses a standardÂ format to provide the information necessary from a business and technologicalÂ point of view. The business case presents a detailed examination of theÂ opportunity/problem, the project’s objectives and scope, and the estimatedÂ cost, benefits and risks. The project sponsor assigns a project manager toÂ prepare the business case and, in some situations, a subject matter specialistÂ to assist. The departmental informatics organization also assists by providingÂ a preliminary determination of feasible technical solutions.
- Business case approval: Once theÂ business case has been reviewed and approved by the project sponsor, it isÂ submitted to IMC. Then IMC reviews it to ensure that it aligns with the business vision and strategic IM/ITÂ priorities of the branch and department and that its overall budget and timingÂ are reasonable. The proposals that meet these criteria are recommended to MC forÂ approval. Such approval establishes the IM/IT initiative as an official project,Â with a budget for the initial stage only, that is, for userÂ requirements/technical solution development. From this point on, budgets areÂ approved on a stage-by-stage basis. The project management discipline is used asÂ the primary engine in the governance process to ensure the relevance and successÂ of the initiative.
- User requirements / technical solutionÂ development: A project team composed of a project manager from the programÂ branch and a technical project manager from the departmental informaticsÂ organization is assembled. The user project manager documents all requiredÂ functionality in a User Requirements Report. The technical projectÂ manager focuses on defining the best technical solution for the client,Â assessing the proposed solution against operational, support and maintenanceÂ implications and documenting the results in a Technical Solution Report. The technical projectÂ manager tries to ensure that the proposed solution uses standard and supportedÂ products according to approved usage. If the appropriate technical solutionÂ has serious implications for the department’s IM/IT infrastructure, theÂ technical project manager must obtain the necessary approvals from theÂ departmental informatics organization.
- User requirements/technical solutionÂ approval: The first step in this stage is to obtain the project sponsor’sÂ approval of the user requirements and the departmental informaticsÂ organization’s approval of the technical solution. Once obtained, theÂ accompanying project plan/budget for the remaining stages (which includes classÂ B estimates) goes to IMC for approval IMC may accept, reject or insist onÂ revisions to the plan and budget. After IMC approval, the projectÂ plan and budget is forwarded to MC, which also has the right to reject, approve or revise it. If MC’s decision is positive, the project proceeds to the next stages.
- Project implementation: TheÂ remaining stages lead to project implementation and the deployment ofÂ theÂ resulting solutions. This may involve augmentingÂ the project team. Throughout the project, IMO and the project sponsor reviewÂ and assess functional and technical progress and adherence to budget on aÂ monthly basis and at the completion of each remaining stage of the project. ifÂ they detect lack of progress or significant deviations from the project plan,Â they may recommend corrective action to IMC and/or MC.
See theÂ end for a graphic illustration of the governanceÂ process
Clear criteria are required to determine when theÂ governance process should be applied. In general, it should apply to IM/ITÂ initiatives arising from within the branch that meet the following criteria:
- The initiative is notÂ included in the department or branch business plan and is not funded (theÂ assumption being that those initiatives that have made it onto theÂ departmental plan have already been approved through the annual governance andÂ planning cycle).
- The initiative is notÂ included in departmental IM/IT plans and strategies.
- The cost of the initiativeÂ exceeds a specified value such as $30K based upon a class B estimate.
- The project is national inÂ scope and/or involves at least two regions.
- The project will impact onÂ corporate information/data administration.
- The project does not employÂ departmental standard and supported products according to approved usages.
- The project is likely toÂ have either an appreciable impact on the department’s IM/IT infrastructure,Â operations’ support or maintenance.
- IM/IT initiatives,Â which are “stand-alone” in nature, do not involve the sharing of data and are used as operational tools that are notÂ subject to the IM/IT governance process.
An effective IM/ITÂ governance framework provides many benefits:
- It provides an appropriateÂ process to discuss and resolve issues related to specific IM/IT initiativesÂ both at headquarters and in the regions.
- It streamlines the processÂ for defining IM/IT requirements, obtaining approvals and developing andÂ implementing effective solutions for IT projects (for example, applicationÂ development, major procurements, infrastructure modifications, etc.).
- It facilitatesÂ identification of business opportunities, benefits, risks and impacts for theÂ employment of new IM/IT applications or initiatives in the organization.
- It identifies gaps,Â duplications and overlaps in IM/IT initiatives across the organization.Â Specifically, it eliminates duplication of effort in developing applicationsÂ or other IM/IT solutions which are needed by all core business lines. TheÂ effective implementation of this process can save 10 to 20 percent in both theÂ capital and operational IM/IT budget. in large departments where millions ofÂ dollars are expended in this area, the result could be considerable costÂ savings or cost avoidance. The savings realized by combining or eliminatingÂ overlapping IM/IT projects can be applied to other important organizationalÂ needs.
- It establishes IM/ITÂ standards, policies and guidelines for program branches that conform to thoseÂ of the department.
- It helps to ensureÂ that the change process associated with the implementation of new IM/ITÂ initiatives is managed in a way that ensures a smooth transition in terms ofÂ policy, staff productivity, procedural changes, effective support andÂ technology infrastructure.
Bryan Shane is a seniorÂ partner with BPC Management Consultants. For more than 20 years, he has providedÂ consulting services in strategic management, information technology andÂ performance measurement to a wide variety of public and private sectorÂ organizations. He has recently published a series of three articles onÂ performance measurement in the public sector. Mr. Shane holds a MEd from theÂ University of Ottawa. He has also completed extensive graduate studies inÂ statistics and evaluation.
Patricia Lafferty is a partner with BPC Management Consultants and possesses extensive experience as a senior professional manager She has served as a senior consultant to both private industry and the federal government for more than 20 years. Her areas of specific expertise are strategic change management, facilitation, implementation planning and performance consulting. She holds a MEd (Administration) from the University of Ottawa.
Tim Beasley has been providing management consulting services to clients in Canada and the United States since 1978, primarily in strategic information systems planning and project management. He is currently Vice President and Ottawa Branch Manager of Sierra Systems Consultants, Inc. Mr. Beasley holds a BA (Physics) from Dartmouth College and a MSc (Management) from the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He a certified management consultant and a member of the Canadian Institute of Management Consultants.