[CSG Winter 2011] IT Alignment, efficiency, strategy and governance, part 1

Jim Phelps is setting the stage – what does it mean to be a mature enterprise? 5 stages – Ad Hoc, Basic, Standardized, Managed, Adaptive – lower levels driven by technologies, upper levels driven by business strategiies. Adaptive is designed to pursue change and adapt quickly. Higher Ed governance structures are designed to resist change – to keep processes going through turmoil.

Why change? Not just because it’s fashionable – a lot of compelling drivers, like cost differential between cloud and on-premises services. Huge shift in how business is being conducted globally – See the article in Atlantic on The Rise of the New Global Elite, and the article in the Chronicle on European university mergers. Higher Ed has a terrible time making decisions.

Bernie takes over – asking Why Alignment so Important? Typically only about 1/3 of the total institutional IT spending is in the central IT organization. As we move into challenging days, the reaction may be to lower central administrative spending, but that may not help with IT. We need to help our institutions understand how IT works in the institution and how to rationalize.

Role of Governance – to understand leadership role in facilitation of conversations. Understand what customers are looking for, and to help lead and socialize directions. Strategically choosing governance groups is critical. Choose who will be part of which groups and what the roles are in continuous technology conversations. Often groups like to think they get to tell the central IT shop what to do, but we need to help them understand their role within the governance continuum. Looking for a shared set of strategies to move forward.

IT Strategic Planning Goal – “Identify and invest in technology projects that are transformative and provide competitive advantage…” Terry asks who is the competition? Competing with other institutions, as measured by rankings, research dollars, – but what happens when everyone’s strategy is to be in the top 3? Tracy notes that the differences are how we translate the goals into our culture and practices. Some of us are focusing on international programs, some on bridges with K-20, etc. Mike Pickett says that while the rhetoric may be the same about seeking competitive advantage, we want to make sure that IT is not perceived as a competitive disadvantage.

UMN has rolling 6 and 2 year plans, and then work on quarterly work plans, where they try to focus on the planned vs. unplanned activities. Trying to manage an IT investment portfolio and bring everybody into the conversation. Project selection criteria include the kind of project, what value it brings to the institution, and how its financed. Focused on strategic and operational priorities.

What criteria do you need to have in place to make a decision? definition, functional owndership, business case, and finance plan. Some projects are in planning and development phase where these things are not yet clearly understood. How do those get decided and resourced? Iowa says those that have strong champions get resourced. At Brown they have a committee chaired by the CFO – everything that’s over $50k or is a new service is supposed to come through that group.

Looking at Risk – Org and Tech readiness, architecture fit, definition is well understood, infrastructure compatibility. Looking for Value on Investment – look at over 5 year term. Looking to figure out how to shrink effort on non-strategic work and increase resources available for strategic initiatives. It’s an art form with a political calculus.

Joel says this is less about the org chart and more about the real relationships with people so everyone really understands their role. John from Duke notes that lemmings are perfectly aligned – sometimes you want to see a diversity of approaches, like with learning management systems where all the current answers are crummy. Sometimes you need to embrace chaos. Terry agrees that we need to consider alignment and efficiency vs. effectiveness. We don’t have that many arrows in our quiver to gain efficiencies – automation, de-duplication of services, and standardization. How do we try to live in a mode of pushing efficiencies while meeting the ever more disparate needs of our audience? Tracy says that part of the CIO’s role is to balance the gaining of efficiencies with the fact that two years from now people may have money again and will be driving towards flexibility.

Elazar – created new governance structure at UCSF – IT Steering Committee chaired by a faculty member – 5 groups under it. Everything that is substantial in university (including medical center) goes through this group.


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