It’s no argument whether or not a strong focus on IT governance is beneficial to an organization. Organizations that have effective IT governance in place experience increased market share, financial improvement, increased innovation, and increased organizational reputation. 1
ISACA, the association responsible for the creation of COBIT, defines IT governance as the responsibility of “the board of directors and executive management… and consists of the leadership[,] organizational structures and processes that ensure that the organization’s IT sustains and extends the organization’s strategies and objectives.” 2
According to this definition, IT governance is not just about the day-to-day operations of IT resources. It’s about aligning IT with business objectives to bring value to the organization.
If IT governance is so beneficial and involves more than one executive, then why do only 38 percent of senior managers know how IT is governed? 3
An article was published in this month’s Communications of the ACM that said, “Some IT specialists mistakenly think business leaders cannot govern IT, since they lack technology skills.” The article emphasizes that the reality is that no technology knowledge is actually required. “Understanding the capability IT brings or planning new, improved business capability enabled by smarter, more effective use of IT does not require specific knowledge of how to design, build, or operate IT systems.” 4
To further prove their point, the two authors of the article compared this concept to an automobile:
If someone wants to operate a taxi service, they need to understand the capabilities and requirements for the vehicles used to operate the service, NOT how to design and manufacture cars.
Therefore, effectively leading IT governance does not require IT skills.
Going back to the taxi service analogy – although one does not need to understand the design and manufacture of cars, there are some things that they need to fully understand in order to drive. More importantly, there are some things they need to understand to operate efficiently and remain competitive, such as:
- Resource allocation
- How to manage risks associated with the service
- How to make sound business decisions
According to Dr. Gad J. Selig, Associate Dean and Director of the Technology Management Department at the University of Bridgeport, “The Success of IT Governance is more often determined by Leadership, People Skills and Managing Cultural Transformation well than by Policies, Procedures, Processes and Technologies.” 5
Hard skills were reported in his work to take up only 40 percent of the necessary skills required for IT governance. These are more easily learned skills such as:
- Project Management
- Risk Management
- Status Reports
The other 60 percent were leadership, people, and other soft skills. Some are innate, and some are more often learned through experience, such as:
- Effective Communications
- Team Building
- Change Management
IT Governance is more about leadership, decision-making, and accountability as opposed to the specific skills required for building sophisticated IT systems.
Bottom line? Business executives who do not have hard IT skills can still succeed in IT governance for their organizations. They should never feel intimidated and excuse themselves. Business leaders simply need to possess skills generally required for strong leadership and share a vision and appreciation for effective IT governance models to drive the business forward.
Do you agree? Is it really possible for business leaders to effectively establish and oversee IT governance without having IT skills?
3Weill, P. and Ross, J. How Top Performers Manage IT Decision Rights for Superior Results, Harvard Business School Press, 2004
4JUIZ, C., & TOOMEY, M. (2015). To Govern IT, or Not to Govern IT?. Communications Of The ACM