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CIO Unplugged 3/11/15

March 11, 2015 Ed Marx 8 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Why IT Governance is Impotent

Every CIO I speak with struggles with IT governance. Despite everything written, numerous conference sessions, and creative processes, IT governance is a quagmire. 

I  wrestle with the “why.” I write extensively about it, give sessions, and publish creative models, but have not yet hit the mark. The literature is full of theory and process flows, but none seem to pass the test of time and stress. IT Governance remains a struggle for the majority of organizations across industries.

This riddle won’t be answered with new models. Innovation and creative models will inevitably fail unless we address three key factors. If accounted for, these influences will help ensure It Governance success: culture, leadership, and identified outcomes.


It does not matter who sits on the IT Governance committee or what model you use. When I switched organizations a few years ago, I transferred in what was a reasonable model. But what works in the North may not work in the South. It is a mistake to believe that models are portable, yet that is our focus. We keep thinking the answer is in the model.

You can leverage any model to achieve effective governance. Let’s stop copying other organizations models and start homing in on and adopting the principles that run through the few working models out there. Build these values in your IT Governance fabric and you will find success.


CIOs forsake our IT Governance leadership responsibility. Consensus is the enemy of collaboration. In an effort to appease key stakeholders, we no longer walk in our authority and thus the entire process has become deluded, rendering us impotent.

If you are not making people mad, you are not leading well. Stirring up contention is not the point. But when you lead with authority, not everyone will like your decisions. If our goal is to not upset the apple cart, our produce will eventually spoil and nobody will be happy.

So make the tough calls. That’s what you are paid to do. Don’t give it away and shortchange your organization. You, not a committee, are responsible for IT.

When will you know IT governance is successful?

The answer to this question will drive your model and principles. Collaborate with organizational leaders to establish desired outcomes.

If a focus is leveraging IT resources to do more strategic initiatives, then adjust your model accordingly. Set targets and then measure and report on them. Use these to prioritize requests. What percentage of your resources should be spent on strategic versus tactical? Know this answer and lead accordingly. Make adjustments to hit the outcome.

An outcome might be financial, related to establishing and defending budgets. I always have clinicians and executives as co-chairs in my models. Practically, I gain three times the influence, as they are surrogate CIOs when it comes time to acquire or defend resources. Adoption and usability are no longer on my shoulders, but rather the responsibility of all stakeholders. I retain authority by sharing it. Yet I remain accountable.

Strategic alignment is a valuable outcome. Ensure that everything you do is aligned with organizational objectives. You can build this into your process. Establishing alignment as a measurable outcome is one of the most effective ways to ensure the continued allocation of scarce resources. Moreover, you are demonstrating that your focus is not IT, but the greater good of helping your organization fulfill its mission and vision.

Focus less on the model and more on culture, leadership, and desired outcomes and the odds for effective IT governance increase exponentially.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. I love it– thank you so much for writing this. I think a sickness that many orgs have is that there is an unspoken ‘strategic goal’ of not upsetting any apple cart, and that goal quietly trumps all others. Meanwhile, to complete your analogy, some are zealously guarding a cart of rotten fruit.

  2. Interesting read and one that is relevant as our IT Leadership Team is currently at a retreat to update our roadmap.

    The last paragraph should exist as the constant as models vary in size and configuration. When a commitment to building a culture of trust and respect exists, progress and outcomes co-exist.

  3. Could not agree more, Ed, which is so inline with my HIMSS presentation!! (which I won’t shameless plug here 😉 )

  4. “If you are not making people mad, you are not leading well. Stirring up contention is not the point. But when you lead with authority, not everyone will like your decisions. If our goal is to not upset the apple cart, our produce will eventually spoil and nobody will be happy.”

    Unfortunately this is often the antithisist of superior customer support which frequently is the #1 priority of IT Departments.

  5. This is an important post and I liked it. I even agree with it.

    One thing I struggle with, being of a scientific bent. How do you know that the angry people are wrong, and the decision makers are right? I’m talking about a completely unbiased, factually based evaluation approach.

    In my experience there is no such approach, or if there is, it’s so slow that it cannot realistically be implemented. What happens instead is a mix of experience, personal preferences (both positive and negative), and a spit test of the political and cultural environment. All neutral tools brought to bear are influenced from the beginning by the prior listed factors. So for instance a hypothetical “conclusive weighted scorecard” is biased by only comparing the scenarios you want to compare. Or the weighting factors are jiggered to favour a particular outcome. Or something else foundational is biased.

    I’ve been through the process enough times to have some scars. I too use the “it makes sense to me” standard for decision making. However we all have our points of view and frankly, you can always dig up someone to support nearly any point of view. Often what “makes sense” depends upon what your priorities are, or whether you have particular positive experiences in the past, or negative ones. Also your conceptual understanding of potential solutions often limits what you consider in the range of possible solutions.

    Let me know if this sounds familiar. The last system you proposed, what point of view did you adopt when you recommended it? Did you perform an analysis you were comfortable was 100% comprehensive and neutral? Or did you propose what your senior leadership wanted, so as to be politically aligned with them? Included in this latter category are all solutions that:

    A). Did not violate some political taboo you perceive in your boss;
    B). Implemented some idea, technology or priority that you know the boss loves and virtually guarantees approval.

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