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IM|IT Governance Framework

Bryan Shane, Patricia Lafferty and Tim Beasley

An effective IM/IT governance framework benefits organizations in many  ways, including the ever important cost savings.

In most public sector. organizations, Information  Management/Information Technology (IM/IT) plays a vital role in delivering key  programs and services. It does this by:

  • providing the applications necessary to process  transactions that are important to program and service delivery, including  both program-specific and administrative functions;
  • supplying the tools necessary to ensure the personal  productivity of individual staff members;
  • providing the means to ensure the effective collaboration  and coordination of programs and services with other staff, clients and  suppliers;
  • permitting the development of business strategies and  innovations by exploiting unique technological advantages;  and
  • furnishing the information necessary to make both  strategic and operational decisions.

The annual  IM/IT budget usually consumes more than half of all capital expenditures in most  public sector departments. This is in addition to the considerable amount spent  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.

Goal

The goal of  effective IM/IT governance is to ensure that all IM/IT initiatives have been  managed from an organization-wide perspective and  that they contribute to the institution’s strategic business  goals.

Elements of an IM/IT governance  framework

A governance  framework includes three elements:

  • Governance principles – the principles by which all  IM/IT initiatives will be governed;
  • Governance structure – the roles and responsibilities of the  major stake holders in the IM/IT governance decision making process, including  committees and organizational elements at the branch level; and
  • Governance process – the various stages required to review, assess and  approve or reject new IM/IT initiatives.

Governance  principles

The IM/IT  governance framework must adopt the following principles of operation at the  branch level to ensure effectiveness:

  • All IM/IT initiatives considered must support the  department’s long-term business goals and be based on its long-term IM/IT  strategies.
  • All new IM/IT  proposals must be supported by a business case addressing the priorities  established in the informatics strategic plans.
  • IM/IT initiatives are  subject to the governance process, including those related to application  development, infrastructure modifications, major projects and/or purchases of  hardware or software. (See Selection criteria later in the article.)
  • The IM/IT governance process must be as simple and  efficient as possible to ensure the maximum relevance and importance of  informatics initiatives without unduly delaying initiation.
  • The IM/IT governance process must interface effectively  with departmental operational and strategic planning processes.
  • The framework must support  existing IM/IT policies, standards and guidelines.

Governance  structure

The governance  structure relies on branch committees and other organizational elements to  oversee IM/IT matters.

The two major  committees are:

  • Management Committee (MC), the executive committee of the program branch has  ultimate responsibility for setting its business directions. It is the final  decision-making authority on all branch IM/IT issues and approves the IM/IT  strategic direction and priorities as well as the overall IM/IT budget and  initiatives. Its responsibilities encompass the approval of specific IM/IT  projects including funding and human resourcing.
  • The Information  Management Committee (IMC) includes representatives from the program branch  including regions and the departmental informatics organization. Based on a  thorough review of the business case, it recommends most major decisions related  to IM/IT investments to the management committee.

In addition to  these committees, the governance structure centers on several key organizations within the branch. one of these, the Information  Management Organization (IMO), is the unit charged with assessing  branch IM/IT needs, completing and updating the IM/IT strategic  operational plan and assessing and addressing associated risks. It monitors  projects that are underway and resolves problems related to individual  projects or multi project priorities. It coordinates all IM/IT initiatives and  provides status reports on the initiatives to the Management Committee on a  quarterly basis. It also maintains, monitors and reports on the branch IM/IT  budget and recommends allocation of funds to IMC.

In  addition to these standing committees and organizations, each IM/IT project has  a steering committee. The steering committee’s role is to oversee the work of the project team,  ensure that the project remains on schedule and within  budget and keep the project in sync with the business requirements it is meant  to address.

Governance  process

This governance framework proposes a seven-step process for  launching new IM/IT initiatives in a branch. These steps are presented here in  the order they would apply to a new candidate initiative.

  • Project proposal development: In this  initial step, anyone in any program branch may conceive an idea for a new  IM/IT project. The first step is to enlist a senior manager (director or  director general) willing to act as a project sponsor. The idea must be  documented in a standard project proposal format, a  two to three-page document  outlining the opportunity/ problem, the project’s objectives and scope and the  expected benefits. This proposal is then submitted to IMO which reviews the  proposal against a number of criteria, including its alignment with the  business and IM/IT directions of the branch/department. IMO forwards promising  ideas to IMC for further consideration. Others may be returned to the project  sponsor for refinement.
  • Project proposal approval: IMC can  either give the proposal the go-ahead to proceed to business case development  or reject it with reasons. Rejected proposals may be amended and resubmitted.
  • Business case development: The next  major step is to develop a business case. The business case uses a standard  format to provide the information necessary from a business and technological  point of view. The business case presents a detailed examination of the  opportunity/problem, the project’s objectives and scope, and the estimated  cost, benefits and risks. The project sponsor assigns a project manager to  prepare the business case and, in some situations, a subject matter specialist  to assist. The departmental informatics organization also assists by providing  a preliminary determination of feasible technical solutions.
  • Business case approval: Once the  business case has been reviewed and approved by the project sponsor, it is  submitted to IMC. Then IMC reviews it to ensure that it aligns with the business vision and strategic IM/IT  priorities of the branch and department and that its overall budget and timing  are reasonable. The proposals that meet these criteria are recommended to MC for  approval. Such approval establishes the IM/IT initiative as an official project,  with a budget for the initial stage only, that is, for user  requirements/technical solution development. From this point on, budgets are  approved on a stage-by-stage basis. The project management discipline is used as  the primary engine in the governance process to ensure the relevance and success  of the initiative.
  • User requirements / technical solution  development: A project team composed of a project manager from the program  branch and a technical project manager from the departmental informatics  organization is assembled. The user project manager documents all required  functionality in a User Requirements Report. The technical project  manager focuses on defining the best technical solution for the client,  assessing the proposed solution against operational, support and maintenance  implications and documenting the results in a Technical Solution Report. The technical project  manager tries to ensure that the proposed solution uses standard and supported  products according to approved usage. If the appropriate technical solution  has serious implications for the department’s IM/IT infrastructure, the  technical project manager must obtain the necessary approvals from the  departmental informatics organization.
  • User requirements/technical solution  approval: The first step in this stage is to obtain the project sponsor’s  approval of the user requirements and the departmental informatics  organization’s approval of the technical solution. Once obtained, the  accompanying project plan/budget for the remaining stages (which includes class  B estimates) goes to IMC for approval IMC may accept, reject or insist on  revisions to the plan and budget. After IMC approval, the project  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: The  remaining stages lead to project implementation and the deployment of  the resulting solutions. This may involve augmenting  the project team. Throughout the project, IMO and the project sponsor review  and assess functional and technical progress and adherence to budget on a  monthly basis and at the completion of each remaining stage of the project. if  they detect lack of progress or significant deviations from the project plan,  they may recommend corrective action to IMC and/or MC.

See the end for a graphic illustration of the governance  process

Selection  criteria

Clear criteria are required to determine when the  governance process should be applied. In general, it should apply to IM/IT  initiatives arising from within the branch that meet the following criteria:

  • The initiative is not  included in the department or branch business plan and is not funded (the  assumption being that those initiatives that have made it onto the  departmental plan have already been approved through the annual governance and  planning cycle).
  • The initiative is not  included in departmental IM/IT plans and strategies.
  • The cost of the initiative  exceeds a specified value such as $30K based upon a class B estimate.
  • The project is national in  scope and/or involves at least two regions.
  • The project will impact on  corporate information/data administration.
  • The project does not employ  departmental standard and supported products according to approved usages.
  • The project is likely to  have either an appreciable impact on the department’s IM/IT infrastructure,  operations’ support or maintenance.
  • IM/IT initiatives,  which are “stand-alone” in nature, do not involve the sharing of data and are used as operational tools that are not  subject to the IM/IT governance process.

Benefits

An effective IM/IT  governance framework provides many benefits:

  • It provides an appropriate  process to discuss and resolve issues related to specific IM/IT initiatives  both at headquarters and in the regions.
  • It streamlines the process  for defining IM/IT requirements, obtaining approvals and developing and  implementing effective solutions for IT projects (for example, application  development, major procurements, infrastructure modifications, etc.).
  • It facilitates  identification of business opportunities, benefits, risks and impacts for the  employment of new IM/IT applications or initiatives in the organization.
  • It identifies gaps,  duplications and overlaps in IM/IT initiatives across the organization.  Specifically, it eliminates duplication of effort in developing applications  or other IM/IT solutions which are needed by all core business lines. The  effective implementation of this process can save 10 to 20 percent in both the  capital and operational IM/IT budget. in large departments where millions of  dollars are expended in this area, the result could be considerable cost  savings or cost avoidance. The savings realized by combining or eliminating  overlapping IM/IT projects can be applied to other important organizational  needs.
  • It establishes IM/IT  standards, policies and guidelines for program branches that conform to those  of the department.
  • It helps to ensure  that the change process associated with the implementation of new IM/IT  initiatives is managed in a way that ensures a smooth transition in terms of  policy, staff productivity, procedural changes, effective support and  technology infrastructure.

Bryan Shane is a senior  partner with BPC Management Consultants. For more than 20 years, he has provided  consulting services in strategic management, information technology and  performance measurement to a wide variety of public and private sector  organizations. He has recently published a series of three articles on  performance measurement in the public sector. Mr. Shane holds a MEd from the  University of Ottawa. He has also completed extensive graduate studies in  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.

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