James Governor's Monkchips

Time To Set Up An “IT Boardroom”

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I have been giving alignment a lot of thought recently, that is, alignment between IT and the business. 

HP doesn’t think alignment captures the idea sufficiently so it talks to IT Business “synchronization”

Maybe convergence is even more appropriate, with an end state where business is IT and IT is the business. Even if you are in the materials handling business, flows of information can be just as important, perhaps more so, than flows of goods. Just ask an aggressive zSeries reference, Univar Canada, characterized by its effective use of available resources.

Two of the buzzwords du jours are IT Governance, and IT Service Management. Oh yeah, ERP for IT makes three.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It is also one way to win approval from our peers. Imitiation can transform from subalterns to peers. Consider how differently people see you when you put on a suit and tie. 

“We like you because you are like us”

We are all corporate governance experts now, post Sarbanes-Oxley.

So my question is: why don’t we have IT Boardrooms, which mimic the governance structures and best practices of businesses?

This post isn’t so much intended as a question as a recommendation. You want to be taken seriously by the business? You want to implement some more effective decision-making approaches around IT?

Set up an “IT Boardroom” 

Why not use the boardroom metaphor, with its mix of executive and non-executive directors for your own processes.

Insiders would be the network, security, Windows and Unix managers, dev and ops. Some “outsiders” should also be included, playing the role of non-execs- “have a line of business person on the IT board? But they don’t know IT.”

That’s exactly why their input can be so valuable. Imagine an IT Boardroom with company representatives from the logistics and purchasing departments, bringing in some valuable outside expertise. Perhaps even someone from a supplier (potential conflicts of interest notwithstanding). Certainly contract negotiation with suppliers would improve with such a structure in place.

One significant question for this model might be how to engender a split between the “CEO” and the “Chairman”. I tend to think the CIO should play CEO, perhaps with a non-executive chairman from a different company?

You could even have a mini Sarbox for IT – that is, penalties associated with not accurately reporting on the performance of the particular IT department. This approach would certainly clarify the mind around IT and business instrumentation and reporting. Not sure how to replicate the jail experience but perhaps the “guilty” party would have to wear orange overalls to the next few meetings?

Assuming IT governance, management, planning, and so on were carried out with a boardroom metaphor, even if did not dramatically improve IT Governance, it would certainly win the attention and likely approval of business leaders, which may even be more important, if career is your primary satisfaction.

“Ah those IT guys are actually working through the problems. They are really getting to grips with this compliance thing. We should take them more seriously now.”

RedMonk has an open model for dealing with compliance issues, breaking down silos, called the Compliance Oriented Architecture. But driving COA into the organization will require top down and bottom up approaches. The IT Boardroom is a good place to start thinking about how to coordinate that.

Another reason the IT Boardroom might flounder would be meeting-itis. Most folks hate meetings. On the other hand, I know of few people that don’t like to be listened to. So why not give voices to your IT leaders?

So if you want to get serious about IT Governance why not establish an IT Boardroom to help with management and resource allocation.

If you want to be taken seriously by the board-do what they do. Get a long table, seperate responsibilities and drive strategy accordingly. Get it right and you might just end up on the real board. And that’s another good reason to practice. If you are used to the boardroom model you’ll likely be a more effective executive when you get there.



  1. Wonderful notion.

    We have been working to match external IT advisors with Boards, as part of a Business Governance initiative incorporating IT risks and best practices awareness into board discussions. IT Governance with an IT Board is the missing piece of the framework.

    Thank you!


  2. I’m intrigued at the concept but also concerned at the thought of perpetuating the “them and us” situation between IT and The Business. I’ve been working to span the divide for years. Your suggestion seems to deepen it.

    It seems to me IT is just another corporate service function like HR – no more and no less important, and with similar tendrils throughout The Business. Therefore, the exec Board should be directing IT and HR and Marketing and Operations and Finance and Whatever from their strategic vantage point, and leaving the detailed day-to-day/week-to-week/month-to-month management stuff to the experts in their employ. Most importantly of all, they should be providing the infrastructure and supportive environment to let those experts go about their business – don’t forget it’s the Worker bees who feed the Queen.

    That said, I’m still in favour of a Governance Director or Chief Governance Officer to act as a guiding light for governance things throughout the organization: http://www.isect.com/Proposing_the_role_of_CGO_Jan_2005.pdf

    Thanks for your creative idea. Interesting. 🙂


  3. thanks gary. i have been working for a long time to break down some of those barriers. but they remain in place. its like the organizations within IT – which still love to point the finger. its not ideal, but its realistic.

    one the other hand, i would like to think that the approach i advocate is actually one thayt would bring it and the business together. in others, convergence.

    i actually believe IT is the business in many many cases.

  4. I totally agree with your central point. IT’s role is to provide valuable services to the business it supports. The best means to work on the proper alignment of IT to the business is through the establishment of a body such as the IT Board of Directors which in my view is primarily comprised of key executive stakeholders from the business. As such, the business is giving regular feedback as to the priorities of the moment while being able to look at the operational issues of running IT within an enterprise.

    In my consulting days I actually helped a CIO at a major defense supplier create the boardroom complete with major process flows, organizational charts and key project status boards. The room became the place where decisons were made, and the decisons were made (more often than not) based upon fact as opposed the beauty contest approch often used.

    Now that I sit on the other side of the desk, I have spent the last year getting a similar process to work within a finacial services company which is comprised of a number of semi-independent member companies. The first step to corporate synergy in such a model is to look for the areas of IT which can be leveraged due to scale. The key is to show the value of such moves in terms of real value to the bottom line. As such, the distinction of IT Governance vs. Corporate Governance begins to blur.

    The key to success of such a body is making sure that they are given access to the necessary information to make good decisons. Additionally, I have found that making sure that the overall process is tied to the size of the decison being made tends to work out the notion that ‘big brother’ is watching. In this manner, smaller activities and projects are given automatic green lights subject to staying within tolerances, but bigger activities and/or projects undergo considerable analysis trough their entire life cycle.

    Hope this helps



  5. This is a very interesting concept. The purpose of a typical corporate board is to provide balance between a small number of managers (that control) and a larger number of shareholders (that are owners).

    Although I’m not exactly sure which parallel to draw upon, the business units could be considered the constituents/owners (along with senior execs). The information technology organization are often viewed as controllers (when it comes to IT). A forum for balance seems desirable.

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