Why an IT Steering Committee should be Mandatory

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Yesterday, I attended the Center roundtable on Customer-Centricity and the discussion about the role of the CIO in leading the organization to be externally customer-focused prompted my thinking on the role of an IT Steering Committee in connecting the CIO with his or her executive peers to ensure IT is aligned with the business and the business priorities. On the call, I mentioned the concept of creating an IT Steering Committee, and I thought I would expand on that idea a bit in a post.

I teach in an IT course in an MBA program at a local university. At the start of each class I ask the students to go back to their companies and ask four questions:

1.Does the company have an IT steering committee to prioritize projects and who serves on it?

2.What is the % of revenue of IT spend?

3.What is the % of Capex expenditures for IT?

4.Does IT chargeout their services?

Each time that I ask, I get a broad range of responses to question one. They range from the CIO gets all the requests and decides what to do; the CIO makes all the decisions; the decisions are made by a committee run by the CIO; the CEO and the CIO make all the decisions and finally, the officers of the company meet on a regular basis and decide what should be done. There are more variations but these are the major ones.

I can see the look of dismay that crosses the students’ faces when they see the myriad of approaches that are being presented by the students. After all, most of the students are non-IT’ers who are taking the course in order to learn how to work with the IT department. They are surprised at the diversity on something as fundamental as project prioritization.

Although I am not surprised by the variation, I continue to reflect on this situation. IT should have a set of basic operating principles which should be sacrosanct and universal among all IT departments. The makeup and the functioning of the IT steering committee should be one of them. In my judgment, the IT steering committee should be composed of the officers of the company and should be chaired by the CEO. Period. The only variation that I would allow would be to replace the CEO with the COO if appropriate.

Here are my reasons:

1.The officers of the company are the only people who have a complete grasp of the strategic plan for the entire corporation. They are the only ones who have the insight and the power to add projects, exchange projects or delete projects based on resources, budget and plan. Lower level executives should not be put into that position.

2.The CIO should never be put into the position of deciding priorities. If the CIO does this, then the CIO’s position is compromised relative to all the officers. In this scenario, the CIO is required to determine that one officer’s priority is not as important as another. Although the CIO may be right, it should not be the CIO’s call. The decision should be the consensus of the entire officer group based on the strategic plan. This approach is politically very dangerous for the CIO.

3.The CIO, as a member of the steering committee, is allowed to express views as to the appropriate automation agenda just like any officer may comment on their or any others requested project. Each officer should be able to defend his or her project before the committee. The CIO should bring technical expertise to the conversation to either support or discourage the discussed project. The CIO must also be in a position to defend any large technical infrastructure projects.

4.This is the only way to assure that IT is aligned to the business. We still hear stories about IT departments not working on the projects that the company wants and needs. That cannot happen when the officers all participate in deciding what is to be done.

5.This approach avoids the “squeaky wheel” approach which allows powerful executives to dominate the automation agenda while less powerful departments are ignored even though their requirements may be more strategic.

We used this approach at my company for 25 years and it was very effective. Never once did someone come to me to ask why their projects were not getting scheduled. They knew that that decision rested, not with me, but with the IT Steering Committee. CIO Members can listen to the archived recording of the Customer Centricity roundtable mentioned in this post. You can also learn more about Customer Centricity by reading the Center’s research.

How Employee Metrics Can Improve Data Management

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As the world has plunged into 2013, changes are in store. Technology and innovation are at heights never seen before. People around the globe are creating and maintaining products and services with extreme efficiency. The transition applies to IT and data management as well, as customers and businesses expect real-time results and information. Below I describe how employee metrics can tighten up a data management team and ensure success in 2013.

Increase productivity.

Within data management specifically, sometimes it’s hard to critique employees as long as the applications and techniques are providing the business enough to succeed. Data management supervisors may often ask themselves why they would carefully analyze the situation if the data and information are being processed accurately enough to get the job done. In 2013, it is important that supervisors make a bold move with regards to evaluation of employee productivity. Metrics are one way to accomplish this. In 2013, there is increased consolidation of software, hardware and employees. What this means is that the software, hardware and employees that a specific data management team is constructed of need to be very efficient. With the evolving shadow of automation, focus needs to be priority.

There is no margin of error to have an inefficient component of the team, and metrics are a way to rate productivity of employees. Rather than simply giving an employee freedom to maintain a process, study how and how well that employee is maintaining the process. Use statistical measurement to determine how long that employee is taking to satisfy the team needs, before comparing results to those desired. Doing so will help supervisors relay constructive feedback to those employees lacking proper execution, in order to keep up with the rest of 2013.

Reorganize employee strengths.

Implementing metrics helps explain how a certain employee impacts a task. An example is if a company is having no problems with their data analysis or creation of test data, the QA Analyst may never be evaluated. Because of this, there is no way to know what the potential of that specific person is. There is a chance that the QA Analyst of this company only actually needs to be active in his or her role for half of the work day.

While this is not a problem with regards to the analyst’s current duties, it is a problem for efficiency. The manager of the team now has a problem with organization and workforce structure, as he or she is not utilizing employees in the most dynamic way per unit of time. Everything from the middleware technology to the personalities of the department needs to be organized in a proactive way. Using a metric system, the manager of this hypothetical team would be able to apply increased duties or a modified job role to the QA Analyst.

Maintain IT budget.

A department’s budget is a huge concern for any company. At the very least, the portion of money put towards an employee should be equivalent to the portion of importance that the employee holds within the team. Implementing metrics within an employee base can show leadership how accurate budget distribution is. For instance, maybe the Field Technician in the department is being paid as the second highest earning employee. While he or she is doing nothing wrong, maybe there are other employees who are being paid less while having a larger impact on the department as a whole.

A more superior job title does not always mean that a person contributes more. Metrics come in and eliminate office politics, as everyone within a chosen employee pool is held to a standardized expectation model. An IT budget can be dispersed more accurately if leadership understands where money is going and why it is going there with regards to department production. Metrics clear things up and take away any ambiguity with relation to employee production and efficiency. Implementing such a measure can help improve data management departments across the globe. Some teams have already taken action, and for those that haven’t, 2013 is the time to launch.