Reflections on 50 Years in IT- and the Pursuit of Value

SunriseIMG_2908It has been many months since my last post to this blog – the result of continued recuperation from last year’s surgery, involving a good amount of vacation travel, and a reduced work schedule.  Now however, with that all hopefully behind me, as I sit in my office looking out at the sunrise over beautiful Saanich Inlet, and the snow covered Vancouver Island mountains beyond, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the fact that 2013 marks my 50th year working in, with and around technology. To think about what has changed, what is still changing, what hasn’t changed, and what has to change if we are to really unlock the potential value of our use of IT.

What has changed?

To cover all the changes that have occurred in 50 yrs would need a book, not a post, so suffice it to say that when I started working in 1963 for  C-E-I-R (UK) Ltd., 1401I was working with an IBM 1401, which had  a (not really published as such) processing speed  close to 10 million times slower than today’s microprocessors, 8k of storage (later upgraded, with an additional unit, to 16k), no solid state/hard drive, displays or communication capability, and no operating system (that was me!). Weighing in at around 4 tons, it needed a fully air conditioned room, with a raised floor, approximately twice the size of my living room.

Today, in my home office, I have a (now pretty old) MacBook Air with 256GB of storage, an iPad with 32 GB and an iPhone with 64 GB (I’m still not sure why I did that), and a number of printers all wirelessly connected within my house and to the world beyond through the internet. I have access to an ever growing body of knowledge that can answer almost any question I have, and, generally free through Skype, to anyone in the world I want to talk to (and see). I can manage my banking, pay bills, check my medical lab test results, organize my travel, shop, read books, listen to music, watch videos, play games, organize, edit and enhance my photographs and videos, and a myriad of other tasks. And, I can do the same from almost anywhere  – including from a lanai in Hawaii, a stateroom (we used to call them cabins) on a cruise ship or, unfortunately, now a airplane. And, of course, this doesn’t include all the other computing power in the house,  our security system, appliances, watches, cameras, cars, etc. but you get the picture. And I’m just one guy!

At the enterprise level, we have experienced extraordinary advances in computing power, storage and communications capabilities, and how we interface and interact with all this. Technology is now no longer a “black box” – it is embedded in almost all business processes, and in everything that we do. As described in a recent blog by Mark McDonald of Gartner, the technology model is changing from computing – the technology in and of itself, to consumption – how individuals and organizations use technology in ways that can create value for them and, in the case of organizations, their stakeholders.

What’s still changing?

On the technology front – everything, and at an increasingly rapid pace. We are in the middle of what I first described in a January 2012 post as a “perfect storm” of technological change, including:

  • Increasing adoption of the Cloud, Software (and just about anything else) as a Service which is fundamentally changing the delivery model for technology – and business services and, as a result, leading to seemingly endless debate about the role of the IT function and the CIO as I discussed in a January, 2011 post;
  • The explosion of “Big Data”, and along with it analytics and data visualization – here, as described by Bryan Eisenberg in a recent post, it’s not the “big” that’s so important, although it is impressive and presents it’s own challenges, but rather the shift beyond analyzing samples of data to all the data, historical data to real-time data, and structured data to unstructured data. All of which with a cost structure for using these data tools has now made it more widely available and accessible to a greater number of organizations, regardless of size. Other implications/challenges here include the need to look beyond analytical tools themselves to the creation an environment where people are able to use their organization’s date and their knowledge to improve operational and strategic performance, as described by Joe Peppard and Donald Marchand in a recent HBR article, as well as the increasing personalization of data, and the question of “whose data is it?” as discussed by my son, Jer, in a 2011 TED talk.
  • Mobility, consumerization and BYOD which are fundamentally changing how, where and when we interact with technology and access information – as described by Mark McDonald of Gartner in his previously mentioned post on the technology model changing from computing to consumption;
  • The emerging ” internet of things” (TIOT) where everything talks to everything and which, as described by Andrew Rose of Forrester in a recent WIRED UK article, brings with it unprecedented challenges in security, data privacy, safety, governance and trust.; and
  • Robotics and algorithmic computing which have considerable potential to change the nature of work as described by Sharon Gaudin in a recent Computerworld article.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list – it doesn’t, for example, include 3D printing or wearable technology, both of which will also have significant impact, and it will certainly continue to change and be added to, but it does capture the main areas where change is occurring, and the essence and magnitude of that change.

What hasn’t changed?

Back in 1998, together with what was then DMR Consulting. later Fujitsu Consulting, I wrote The Information Paradox, which described the conflict between the widely held belief that investment in IT is a good thing, and the reality that this, all to often, it’s value cannot be demonstrated. The book’s main premise was that benefits do not come from technology itself, but from IT-enabled change, and that benefits do not just happen, nor do they happen according to plan – they need to be actively managed “from concept to cash”. It put forward the view that this was not a technology problem, but one that business leaders needed to own and step up to – that realizing the potential value of IT to organizations should be an imperative for all business managers. It proposed an approach, the Benefits Realization Approach, to enable them  to address the challenge of value. In the second version of the book, published in 2003,  an Afterword built on the Benefits Realization Approach to address the essence of overall organizational governance focused on enterprise value. (A good summary of the book can be found on Basil Wood’s bazpractice blog). Yet today, 15 years since The Information Paradox was first published, the track record of so called “IT projects” remains dismal, and realizing the value promised by IT remains elusive. Why is this? The answer lies in what has not materially or broadly changed over the last 5o years, including:

  1. A continued, often blind focus on the technology itself, rather than the change  – increasingly significant and complex change – that technology both shapes and enables (more on managing change in this post);
  2. The unwillingness of business leaders to get engaged in, and take ownership of this change – preferring to abdicate their accountability to the IT function (as discussed in this post);
  3. Failure to inclusively involve the stakeholders affected by the change, without whose understanding and “buy in” failure is pretty much a foregone conclusion;
  4. A lack of rigour at the front-end of an investment decision, including, what is almost universally  a totally ineffective business case process (as described in this post);
  5. Not actively managing for value; and
  6. Not managing the journey beyond the initial investment decision.

Overall, despite all that has been written and spoken about this challenge, and the growing number of frameworks, methodologies, techniques and tools that are available, we still have  what is predominately a “culture of delivery”  – “build it and they will come” – rather than a “culture of value”, one that focuses on creating and sustaining value from an organisation’s investments and assets. For more on this , see my recent APM UK paper on the topic.

What needs to change?

In work I have been doing with Joe Peppard, we have identified 8 things that business leaders, starting with the CEO, need to do. These are:

  1. Don’t see IT as something separate from your core business – technology today is embedded in, and an integral part of most, if not all parts of your business processes.
  2. Don’t focus on the technology alone – focus on the value that can be created and sustained through the business change that technology both shapes and enables.
  3. Do recognize that you are ultimately accountable for the overall value created by all business change investments – and ensuring that accountability for the realisation of business benefits anticipated from each investment is appropriately delegated to, and accepted by, other executives and managers.
  4. Do demand rigorous analysis of every proposed business change investment, whether or not IT is involved. Ensure that you and your team know and can clearly define expected outcomes – (value), that there is a clear understanding of how that value is going to be achieved, that all relevant stakeholders have bought in to the required changes, and that they are capable of making or absorbing them and delivering on the expected outcomes.
  5. Do recognize that the business case is the most powerful tool that you have at your disposal to manage business change investments – insist on complete and comprehensive business cases, including desired outcomes, benefits, costs and risks, and clear explanation of how each benefit will be achieved with unambiguously assigned accountabilities, supported by relevant metrics.
  6. Do recognize that benefits don’t just happen and rarely happen according to plan –outcomes and plans will change – don’t think business case approval is the end of the story. Mandate that the business case be used as the key operational tool to “manage the journey”, updated to reflect relevant changes, and regularly reviewed.
  7. Do know if and when it’s time to stop throwing good money after bad, or when there are better uses for the money and “pull the plug.”
  8. If your CIO doesn’t “get” the above points, and hasn’t already been talking to you about them, get one who does and will!

So, what is it going to take to make these changes happen? For myself, I am going to continue to try to make a difference – but more directly, and more directed. Since the initial publication of The Information Paradox, I have travelled the world presenting to, talking and working with many hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals. Some of the organizations have heeded these ideas, embraced  a value culture, and continue to thrive, many have taken some of the ideas across the organization, or all of the ideas in parts of the organization with some success, and others have tried but slipped back. There are many individuals who tell me that my ideas have changed their lives – sometimes resulting in success, in other cases simply greater frustration in that they understand what has to be done but can’t make it so. At the end of many presentations or discussions, I almost invariably get the same two comments. The first – “You’ve given us a lot to think about”, to which I always reply “Great, but what are you going to DO about it?”  The second comment, which in some ways answers my question – “My boss should have been here”. Getting the “boss” to come to listen to anything that has an IT label has been, and continues to be a challenge as I discussed in my last post. Where I and they have been successful, it is only when we have got the attention, understanding and commitment of of the Executive Team. It has become quite clear that without this commitment, the best we can do is tweak around the edges – and that is just not good enough.

So, it’s time to be more direct – getting this “right” is not an option for business leaders – it’s their job and they cannot be allowed to shirk it. The CEO, supported by the Board and Executive Management Team is accountable for ensuring that effective governance is in place around IT decision-making, with specific focus on value, as well as for the selection, oversight and optimisation of value from the portfolios of business change investments and assets. This should be a condition of employment, and grounds for immediate dismissal if they with fail to do so.

It’s also time to be more directed – to get the message directly to business leaders – a shareholder or taxpayer revolt would be a good idea, but, turning 70 next year,  I can’t wait for that. I will however be working to get in front of more boards, or organizations of directors, targeting articles to more business-oriented publications, presentations to more business-oriented events, and targeting presentations, seminars and workshops to business executives.

We can, and must all play our part in this. In my case, in addition to getting more active on this blog, I am currently working on articles in business journals, as well as executive briefings and workshops – I will be co-instructing one of these, Value Management Master Class: Enterprise Governance of IT for Executives and Senior Managers, with Peter Harrison from IBM at the University of Victoria in Wellington, NZ on April 11th & 12th. If you’re interested and live in the area, or would like to visit Wellington – a beautiful city, you might want to consider this opportunity, or – even better – encourage your bosses to do so.

 

Value from IT – There is a Better Way!

I have just returned from a hectic, but very successful couple of weeks in Australia. There I had the opportunity to meet with and talk to many people, including many CXOs, on the topic of “Delivering on the Promise of IT”. Overall, I was encouraged that there is more awareness of the need to do better when it comes to managing IT investments, but discouraged that there is still little awareness of how to do so, and even less appetite to take it on. As always, at the end of many sessions, a frequent reaction was “you have given us a lot to think about.” As I continue to say, we certainly need to think before we act, but thinking cannot be a substitute for action. A couple  of people echoed a comment that my friend Joe Peppard from the Cranfield  School of Management in the UK told me he had had from a senior executive of a European bank – “I didn’t know there was a better way.”

Well, there is a better way! As originally presented close to 15 years ago in The Information Paradox, proven Value Management practices exist, including, but certainly not limited to ISACA’s Val IT™ Framework, including:

  • Portfolio Management – enabling evaluation, prioritization, selection and on-going optimization of the value of IT-enabled investments and resulting assets;
  • Programme Management – enabling clear understanding and definition of the outcomes and scope of IT-enabled change programmes, and effective management of the programmes through to their desired outcomes;
  • Project Management – enabling reliable and cost-effective delivery of the capabilities necessary to achieve the outcomes, including business, process, people, technology, and organizational capabilities; and
  • Benefits Management – the active management of benefits throughout the full life-cycle of an investment decision.

This is illustrated in the figure below.

If enterprises are to successfully adopt and meaningfully use these practices, their leaders will have to change their behaviour. They will need to acknowledge that this is not an IT governance issue, it is an enterprise governance issue. Further, they will have to evolve from an enterprise governance model rooted in a culture of delivery (of technical capabilities) to one based on a culture of value – creating and sustaining value from investments and assets (for more on this, see a recent paper that I wrote with the Benefits Management SIG of the APM in the UK). In the IT context, this means recognizing that we are no longer dealing with “IT projects”, but with increasingly complex programmes of organizational change – change that is often both shaped and enabled by technology, but of which the technology is only a small part.

They should start by focusing on the business case. The business case sows the seeds of success or failure. Most today are woefully inadequate – based on “delusional optimism” and “strategic misrepresentation” (aka lying!), resulting in:

  • limited or no clarity around desired outcomes
  • limited or no understanding of the scope (“depth” and “breadth”) of change required to achieve the outcomes;
  • failure to balance “attractiveness” with “achievability” (including organizational change capacity, project and programme management capabilities); and
  • limited or no relevant metrics (both “lead” and “lag”).

In the context of IT, business cases must be owned by the business, and for any type of investment, used as a living, operational management tool to manage the full life cycle of an investment decision, and supported by the value management practices outlined above.

Again, in the context of IT, as Susan Cramm states in her book, 8 Things We Hate About IT, this will require  a significant  realignment of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities related to IT. There must be a partnership in which:

  • The IT function moves from providing infrastructure to being a broker of services (both internal and external – and increasingly external) while retaining responsibility and accountability related to fiduciary, economies of scale and enabling infrastructure;
  • Business units accept responsibility for defining the requirements for, meaningful use of, and value creation from these services; and
  • The IT function, as a trusted partner, helps the business:
    • Optimize value from existing services;
    • Understand the opportunities for creating and sustaining business value that are both shaped and  enabled by current, new or emerging technologies;
    • Understand the scope of business change required to realize value from those opportunities (including changes to the business model, business processes, people skills and competencies, reward systems, technology, organizational structure, physical facilities, etc.; and
    • Evaluate, prioritize, select and execute those opportunities with the highest potential value such that value is maximized.

The challenge here is not a lack of proven value management practices – it is the “knowing – doing gap”, as described by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton in their book of the same name. We know what to do, and (should know) how to do it. Yet, so far, here has simply been little or no appetite for, or commitment to the behavioural change required to get it done, and stick with it.

The cost in money wasted and, more importantly, benefits and value lost, eroded or destroyed is appalling. It’s way past time to move beyond word to action – the status quo is not an option!

There is a better way!

Get With The Programme!

Technology is today embedded in almost everything that we do as individuals, societies and organizations. We have come a long way from the early days – yes, I was there – when the primary use of technology was automating operational tasks such as payroll, where benefits – largely cost savings – were clear and relatively easy to achieve. Today, applications of IT enable increasingly strategic and transformational business outcomes. While these outcomes would not be possible without the technology, the technology is only a small part of the total investment that organizations must make to achieve their desired outcome, often only 5% to 20%. The reality is that these are no longer IT projects – they are investments in IT-enabled business change – investments in which IT is an essential, but often small part.

Unfortunately, our approach to managing IT continues to lag in recognizing this shift. We still exhibit “silver bullet thinking” when it comes to IT. We focus on the technology, and delegate – more often abdicate – responsibility for realizing value from the technology to the IT function. In a recent post, IT Value Remains Elusive, I discussed a recent ISACA survey in which 49 percent of respondents stated that the CIO or IT managers are responsible for ensuring that stakeholder returns on such investments are optimized – with 8 percent saying no one was responsible. Technology in and of itself does not create value – it is how enterprises use technology that creates value. With the evolution of how we use IT, a different approach to the management of investments involving IT has become a business imperative if we are to fully realize the potential value of these investments.

Realizing this value requires broadening our thinking to take many more interrelating activities into account – moving beyond stand-alone IT project management to business programme management. Managing programmes of business change where technology initiatives contribute to business results in concert with initiatives to change other elements of the overall business system, including the business model, business processes, people skills, and organizational structure. It also means that accountability now must be shared between the business and the IT function – while the IT function is accountable for delivering the required technology capabilities, it is the business that must be accountable for realizing value from the use of the technology. This includes: deciding which programmes to undertake; ownership of the overall programme – including all the necessary  initiatives ; and ensuring that expected business value is realized over the full life cycle of the investment decision. Further, to support this, the business case for any proposed investment should be: at the programme level; complete and comprehensive – including the full scope of change initiatives required to achieve the desired outcomes; and a “living”, operational document that is kept up to date and used to manage the programme through its full economic life cycle.

We originally introduced programme management as one of the cornerstones of the Benefits Realization Approach in The Information Paradox. With Val IT™, we included it as part of the Investment Management domain (IM). OGC has also introduced Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) and, more recently, Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O), and the Project Management Institute (PMI) have extended their PMBOK to include Programme Management. The good news is that there is certainly no shortage of resources for those who want to implement Programmme Management. The bad news is that, while many organizations across the world have significantly increased value through their use of Programme Management, they are the “early adopters” with the majority of enterprises still lagging.

One of the reasons for this is that there is a common tendency to view programmes  as large, complex beasts – only applicable to large enterprises – and a mistaken belief that using the term will over-complicate things. Nothing could be further from the truth – certainly not when programme management is intelligently applied. Enterprise Resource Planning, Customer Relationship Management, Supply Chain Management, Business Intelligence, Social Networking, etc. are extremely complex programs of business change. Denying complexity – taking a simplistic view of change – only increases complexity. Only when complexity is understood can it be simplified, and then only so far. As Albert Einstein once said “Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler.” The line between simple and simplistic is a dangerous one. Implementing organisational change requires changing our “traditional” approaches to governance – it requires that we “change how we change”!   Effective Programme Management is an important part of that change.

Taking the programme view can still however be a very daunting prospect – there can be just too much to take in all at once – unless an appropriate technique is used – one designed specifically for this purpose. In an earlier post, A Fool’s Errand, I discussed the need for a benefits mapping process (using Fujitsu’s Results ChainCranfield’s Benefits Dependency Modelling, The State of Victoria’s Investment Logic Mapping, or some other similar technique) to develop “road maps” that support understanding and proactive management of a programme throughout its full economic life cycle. Using Fujitsu’s Results Chain terminology – the one I am most familiar with – the process is used to build simple yet rigorous models of the linkages among four core elements of a programme: outcomes, initiatives, contributions, and assumptions. With the right stakeholders involved, and supported by strong facilitation, such a process can, in a relatively short time frame, result in clearly defined business outcomes and contributions, enabling management to ensure alignment with business strategy, define clear and relevant measurements, and assign clear and unambiguous accountability. They help to “connect the dots” and facilitate understanding and “buy in” of the those who will ultimately receive the benefits.

The challenge facing enterprises today is not implementing technology, although this is certainly not becoming any easier, but implementing IT-enabled organisational change such that value is created and sustained, and risk is known, mitigated or contained. This is where Programme Management, supported by benefits mapping can and must play a key role. The OGC states that: “The fundamental reason for beginning a programme is to realise the benefits through change.” In a March, 2008 Research Note, Gartner said that “We believe [strategic program management] is the management construct best suited to enable better business engagement, value delivery and risk”. Enterprises who want to enable such outcomes would do well to take a serious look at Programme Management.

A Fool’s Errand

I referenced Stephen Jenner, the UK Government’s “rottweiler of benefits management” in an earlier post, Lies, Damn Lies and Business Cases. Stephen is also the author of a new book, Realising Benefits from Government ICT Investment – a fool’s errand, a copy of which he graciously sent me. It arrived just as I was heading off on a couple of weeks vacation which gave me the opportunity to read it without the usual interruptions. In reading the book, I can only agree with Donald Marchand’s testimonial in which he says: “Jenner provides very credible guidance and  methods on ICT project value realisation in the public sector. The book is timely, practical and a very good primer on contemporary “best practice” thinking in both the public and for-profit sectors.” Indeed, as I read it, I thought of it as a “field book” for benefits management, and certainly not one limited to the public sector.

Without giving away too much of the content of Stephen’s book, he starts with identifying three key elements that are required to manage value on an active basis – these are:

  • Planning effectively for benefits realisation by ensuring the benefits claimed in business cases are robust and realisable – eliminating “delusional optimism” and deception (“benefits fraud”) by:
    • classifying benefits;
    • validating benefits;
    • connecting benefits to organizational strategies/objectives;
    • ensuring a clear and shared understanding among all stakeholders of the benefits they will be accountable for, and the business changes they will have to make to realise the benefits; and
    • ensuring benefits are translated into real business value.
  • Identifying and capturing all forms of value created, including:
    • financial/economic, social, and political value;
    • value arising from cross departmental benefits;
    • the value of avoiding “things gone wrong”; and
    • the opportunity value of infrastructure investments.
  • Realising the benefits, and going beyond benefits realisation to value creation by:
    • ensuring clearly defined, understood and accepted accountabilities;
    • tying benefits to departmental and individual targets and incentives;
    • regularly reviewing performance throughout the full life cycle – encompassing the project and beyond;
    • going beyond reviewing to actively looking for additional benefits; and
    • continually optimising the overall portfolio of investments in IT and IT-enabled change.

The book is organised around these three elements, within which it provides many valuable  insights, and a wealth of practical methods and techniques, illustrated with examples, and peppered with some great quotes. (You’ll have to read it yourself to understand the “fool’s errand” bit.)

While the book covers a broad range of topics, what reading it really reinforced in my mind is the fundamental importance of having a complete, comprehensive and credible business case – one that:

  • operates at the program level – including not just the technology but all the business, process, people,organizational and other changes  required to achieve the desired business outcomes;
  • is supported by a benefits mapping process (be it Fujitsu’s Results Chain, Cranfield’s Benefits Dependency Modelling, or some other) to “connect the dots” and facilitate understanding and “buy in” of the those who will ultimately receive the benefits;
  • contains clear and relevant benefits metrics, both lead metrics for intermediate benefits and lag benefits for end or business benefits/value;
  • includes consequences by tying performance against metrics to the incentive/reward system;
  • is not a one time “grab the money and run” document but a living, operational document – updated and used throughout  the full life cycle of the investment decision; and
  • is regularly reviewed for completeness, credibility and comparability by an independent body, such as a Value Management Office (VMO), who can challenge assumptions, assure the quality of individual business cases, and ensure consistency between business cases.

As I have said before, it is the business case that lays the foundation for success or failure. A well developed business case, intelligently used and updated throughout the full life cycle of an investment decision, has an enormous impact on whether value is created, sustained, eroded or destroyed. The current view of business cases as a”bureaucratic hurdle” that has to be got through in order to get required financial and other resources, after which it can be ignored, other than possibly at the post-implementation review – often more akin to an autopsy than a health check –  pretty well guarantees significant challenges, if not outright failure. As long as this view prevails, we will continue to have trouble getting out of the starting gate when it comes to realizing the full potential of IT-enabled change.

As Donald Marchand concluded in his testimonial to the book: “The big question is will public sector managers and executives have the “will” to put the book’s prescriptions and methods into everyday practice with ICT projects?” History would suggest that we still have much work to do before this happens – and not just in the public sector. Much of what I and others have been espousing over the last 10 – 20 years, and what Stephen presents in his book, is common sense – unfortunately, common sense is still far from being common practice!

The Challenge of Business Engagement

When I ask individuals or groups around the world what their greatest challenge is related to implementing effective enterprise governance of IT,  the answer is consistently “getting the business appropriately engaged”. Conversely, where they have made progress, the “tipping point” has also consistently been when the business accepted ownership of, and accountability for the use of IT to create and sustain business value. We will continue to come nowhere near to realizing the potential value of IT-enabled investments until we address the challenge of business engagement and ownership.

A number of years ago, my wife and I built a house – or, more accurately, signed a lot of cheques to get the house built. We spend an enormous amount of time up front – first with our architects, then with Mike, our builder and the architects – and once actual construction started, were on-site almost every day – often more than once. Despite all the time we had spent up front, there were many decisions to be made – decisions that often cost little or nothing, even saved money,  but – if they had not been made – would have resulted in livability issues and/or increased costs down the road. We were, and still are very pleased with our house.

Now, if we had built our house the way most organizations acquire/develop IT systems, what would we have done. We would have spent some time sketching out what we thought we wanted, probably bypassed the architects because we didn’t need them, and then told Mike what we wanted, what we wanted to spend and left it at that. After all,we weren’t in the house building business – we had other more important things to do. When Mike would have called to tell us the house was ready, we wouldn’t have liked it – we might even have hated it! We would have fired Mike – if we lived south of the 49th parallel probably sued him. We would then have hired someone else to “fix it” and/or sold it and started again. Sound familiar? While it was certainly true that we weren’t in the house building business – we were in the house living business, and  – as the owners – the house was being built with our money. What we would have done was abdicate our responsibility as owners – the ones who would have to live in that house for the next 10 – 15 or more years – to Mike. It wouldn’t have been Mike’s fault – it would clearly have been ours!

As long as the business continues to see anything to do with IT as an IT problem (“we’re not in the IT business”) and abdicates their responsibility as the owners and ultimate users of the technology to the IT function, we will continue to have significant challenges around realizing value from IT. Putting it in the governance context, only when IT is seen as an integral part of enterprise governance will the issues around realizing value from IT investments be addressed. A 2007 report from the BTM Institute[1] confirms that enterprises focused on converging their business and technology disciplines exhibited superior revenue growth and net margins relative to their industry groups and exhibited consistently greater rates of return than those of their competitors.

Boards and executives need to understand that they can no longer treat IT as a “black box” – something distinct and separate from their core business.Today, the box is empty; its contents distributed and embedded throughout the enterprise as electronic bits of business processes that run up, down, across and among enterprises and their customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. In The IT Value Stack, Ade McCormack says “Information technology isn’t an optional extra, it is a condition of entry to most markets. It is the enabler of business sustainability. The CEOs who don’t get that are either in the wrong job or have done some calculations in respect of their retirement date and this reality dawning on the shareholders.”

The need for dialogue

A number of years ago, a senior Australian public sector executive said to me “I need to get the right people in a room having the right discussion.” His statement captures the essence of the problem. We need to break down the current siloed view of IT and the business – the “two solitudes” as I often describe them. We need to create and sustain an on-going dialogue between the business and IT leaders. Whilst an important part of this will be informal, this is necessary but not sufficient. We need a formal governance framework which promotes and supports such a dialogue.

Depending on the current maturity of an enterprise, this dialogue needs to include a number of key elements:

  1. Understanding the role of IT in an enterprise – a role that has evolved over the last few decades from automating transactions to fundamentally transforming the nature of the enterprise;
  2. Understanding what constitutes value for the enterprise, how value is created and sustained, and how IT contributes, or can contribute to creating and sustaining value. We need to get away from trying to measure IT’s precise value which is a meaningless exercise guaranteed to keep ranks of MBA toting consultants busy, to understanding how IT contributes to value;
  3. Understanding the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of the board, executive management, business unit and IT function management in maximizing the contribution of IT to business value;
  4. Developing a comprehensive program of change to implement or improve governance processes and practices around value management, focused initially on key “pain points” where early results can be achieved;
  5. Managing the journey – learning by doing, leveraging successes and continually improving the processes and practices.

Enterprises do not have to start from scratch when undertaking such a program. There is a growing body of knowledge in this space. Since The Information Paradox was first published some 10 years ago in 1998, many more books and articles have been written on this subject and many organisations such as the IT Governance Institute (ITGI), the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and the Project Management Institute (PMI), as well as academic institutions such as Cranfield and UAMS, and vendors such as Fujitsu have developed frameworks and methodologies to assist enterprises on this journey.

The need for effective enterprise governance of IT is real – the on-going cost of not doing so is huge – the resources are available to make it happen – it is time to act!


[1] Business Technology Convergence Index, The Role of Business Technology Convergence in Innovation and Adaptability and its Effect on Financial Performance, BTM Institute, June 2007

IT Governance is not a panacea

While there are already proven approaches available to address the challenge of realizing business value from IT investments, adoption of these approaches continues to be limited.  IT governance is increasingly seen as a panacea, but this is today a false hope. The focus of IT governance continues to be on the more operational IT issues with little appetite for tackling the business aspects of planning and managing how the business uses IT to create and sustain value. Research undertaken by Cranfield University’s School of Management over the last ten years has indicated that very few organisations have a structured approach to realising benefits from their investments in IT and so many boards are left uncertain of the value IT is adding to their enterprises. In a 2006 study , they found that less than 30 percent of the largest UK companies actually have a formal benefits management process. Anecdotal evidence suggests that similar figures are to be found among European and US companies as well. My own experience would certainly support this and suggest that this would also be the case on a global basis. The reality is that accountability for business value does not lie with the IT function, but with  the business, including the board and executive management. Yet, while much is said on this topic,  there is limited or no understanding of the problem, and even less appetite to do anything about it. As Geoff Codd suggests in The Drowning Director, the way forward includes “The introduction of an IT management and governance framework that explicitly stimulates and facilitates collaboration and knowledge exchange across the business/IT divide from the Board downwards.

So, why aren’t we moving forward, or if we are doing so, why are we doing so at a “snails pace”? Whilst governance is not seen as an exciting topic (I was once asked to talk about it but call it something else!) – it is not easy to change governance in an organisation. Governance is about what decisions need to be made, who gets to make them, how they are made and the supporting processes, structures, information and tools – governance is essentially about the power structure of an organisation. As such, improving governance in an enterprise is usually itself a major change program – one that will take time to plan and implement, and even longer in many cases for the benefits to be achieved. This does not play well in today’s environment of short term thinking, driven by “analyst” expectations in the public sector and by political realities in both the private and public sectors. Often, the benefits will not be realized, or generally visible, during the average tenure of the responsible/accountable executive which raises the question “What’s in it for me?”. Such a program can certainly be seen as “all pain and no gain!”

A further complication is that implementing changes to governance is not simply a case of the board and executives directing others in the enterprise to change – it certainly involves doing so but is also about the board and executives themselves changing how they think and act. Many executives have got where they are by understanding and working within the current governance system – they know how to “play the game” and often, as a result, have a strong vested interest in the status quo.

If we are indeed to move beyond words, we must place an emphasis on action—on engagement and involvement at every level of the enterprise. In their book, The Knowing-Doing  Gap, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton argue thatknowledge is much more likely to be acquired from ‘learning by doing’ than from ‘learning by reading’ or ‘learning by listening’. This strongly suggests that an iterative step journey toward value management will yield, for each individual, a discrete set of opportunities for learning that, taken together across an organisation of people, form the stepping stones toward cultural transformation and the achievement of real and sustainable change”.

As Sun Tzu says in The Art of War, “Every journey starts with the first step.” I urge you to move beyond words and take that first step – I can’t promise that the journey will be easy, but without it, value from IT investments will remain elusive, and we will all be the losers.

Lies, Damn Lies and Business Cases

A 2006 Cranfield University School of Management study[1] found that while 96 percent of respondents developed business cases for most investments involving IT, 69 percent were not satisfied with the effectiveness of the practice. Specifically, they found that while 96% of respondents indicated that a business case was required for IT enabled investments:

  • 69% were not satisfied with the business case development process;
  • 68% were not satisfied with the identification and structuring of benefits;
  • 81% were not satisfied with the evaluation and review of results; and
  • 38% admitted that benefits claims were exaggerated to get the business

Stephen Jenner, described by John Suffolk, the UK Gov’t CIO as the “rotweiller of benefits management”, is quoted in the June edition of CIPFA‘s Pinpoint asking “Why is it that, if the rationale for projects and programmes is to realize benefits, they are so poorly articulated in business cases, and so few projects are able to demonstrate those benefits in practice?” His answer – “…that it’s not perceived in anyone’s interest.” Unfortunately, this is sad but true! Supporting the Cranfield research above, Stephen goes on to quote Bent Flyvbjerg – now BT Professor and Chair of Major Programme Management at Said Business School, who argues that the result is “the planned, systematic, deliberate misstatement of costs and benefits to get projects approved.” Now, when I was at school, this was called lying! Given the dismal track record of IT projects, specifically their failure to create or sustain value while incurring huge costs, we as taxpayers and/or shareholders should be demanding action. Why aren’t we? Because we assume, or have been conditioned to believe that this is “just the way it is”. It doesn’t have to be so! One key to fixing this malaise is an effective business case process.

Unfortunately, in most enterprises today, the business case is generally seen as a necessary evil, or a bureaucratic “hurdle” that has to be got through in order to get required financial and other resources. The focus is on the technology project, and the costs of the technology, with only a cursory discussion of benefits, or of the other changes that the business might have to make – as part of an overall business change programme – to actually create or sustain value from the use of the technology – changes that could impact the business model, processes, people’s competencies, technology, organizational structure etc. Business cases are also all too often treated as ‘one-off’ documents that are rarely looked at again once the required resources have been obtained other than, possibly, at a “post-implementation review”. I worked with one organization who were undertaking a $USM350+ implementation of an ERP. The business case was nine Powerpoint slides – not one statement in which was correct soon into the project. It was never reviewed or revisited. The results – well, you can guess! And, no, there was not even a post implementation review!

This current approach to business cases pretty well guarantees failure. A well developed and intelligently used business case  is actually one of the most valuable tools available to management – the quality of the business case and the processes involved in its creation and use throughout the economic life cycle of an investment has an enormous impact on creating and sustaining value. It describes a proposed journey from initial ideas through to maximising expected outcomes for beneficiaries (i.e. those whose money is being invested and for whom the return should be secured) and other affected stakeholders.

In the case of IT investments – or, more accurately, investments in IT-enabled change  – the responsibility for business cases, and the accountability for the promised return, cannot be abdicated to the CIO and the IT function. Boards, Executive and Business Management have to “step up to the plate” and take ownership. After all, it’s not technology itself that delivers value, it’s how the business – directed by the Board, Executive and Business Management – uses the technology that delivers value and they must be held accountable. I’m certainly not letting the IT function off the hook here – they must also be held accountable for delivering the required technology services reliably, securely and cost-effectively but they cannot be held accountable for how they are used or the results of their use/misuse.

The failure of enterprises to step up to this challenge is disturbing. The consequences are often catastrophic, with the costs being borne by taxpayers and shareholders, and the opportunity cost – the value not being delivered – having huge economic and social impacts on all of us. Again, it doesn’t have to be way – fixing the business case process would be a good start  – it’s time we made our voices heard!


[1] Ward, John; ‘Delivering Value From Information Systems and Technology Investments:  Learning From Success’, Forum (the monthly newsletter of Cranfield School of Management), August 2006