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IT Governance - a lot more than what meets the (I) eye

Imagine the best traffic system - wide roads, well-lit signals, separate lanes for each type of vehicular movement, pedestrian and bicycle path, etc. Wouldn't it seem to be the best place to drive? And doesn't it seem to be like one of the best traffic management systems too? Well, it is true.
 
But come to think of it, even if you have the best traffic management system, how would you ensure that folks keep to their lanes or that they do not jump signals? There would be CCTVs installed to monitor the functioning of this traffic management system. 

That is Governance.

 

Not only does this show the difference between Management and Governance, but that even the best management practice needs governance in place.  For more about Governance and Management, read on...
 

Let us think about this from an IT perspective, or shall I say through the quintessence of today's corporate! It is true that IT has gained a lot of prominence in our lives and more so in the business fraternity. It is hard to pin-point a specific line of business today which works without some or other influence of IT. Yes, you need money to finance your business, you need people to work, you need ideas to be communicated to the world, you need to ensure that your business operates within the legal confines, et al; but the one stream that meanders through all these areas and waters each of these areas for a smooth day-to-day operation is IT.

 

And now that we have established the need for IT (and given it its due respects!) let us look at IT from management and governance perspectives. In the days of yore, IT meant geeky. It meant a desktop PC at a few desktops within the office. 'IT' was called to install these desktops, make sure that they are around whenever the system hanged and needed a reboot. But it definitely grew with giant leaps to having customized applications built and installed to suit each organization's needs. IT, which used to be looked at as a distant cousin, became a close friend. Moving on, IT transformed from being perceived as a product to a service. Now this was a point of inflection in the IT growth curve, wherein it moved into family - the core business family.

 

There are various regulatory norms and compliances which are required to be abided by for any business to function, based on the domain in which it operates. These could be SOX compliance for financial institutions, HIPAA for Health Insurance, BASEL norms for banks, and so on. As IT provides a service, it gets integrated with the business culture and thus indirectly and in some cases, even directly, comes under the purview of these compliance norms. While there are state of the art IT management systems being designed and put in place today, and with so many best practice frameworks and standards, getting the work done the way it is required has become a lot easier. But the key thing to be kept in mind while defining any IT Service is to build checkpoints and quality gates into it which would help the business to not only be sure that they operate in the most streamlined and cost-effective manner, but also to be assured that they are compliant to industry regulations and there are checkpoints which will sound an alarm is anything goes amiss.

 

In a recent major outage at a large bank, after careful investigation, it was understood that the whole incident could have been averted if there were better checks built into their IT systems and processes. Not calling out names of banks here, this just goes to show the need for a strong governance to be embedded within IT systems in today's organizations to the extent that analysts had pointed out that banks nowadays function as IT Organizations with a license to bank.

 

Now that we are clear about the need for IT Governance and the significant advantages and, more importantly, the key disasters which can be averted by having a robust governance practice, the next question would be - how to do it?

 

As mentioned initially, IT is on a growth path and as the focus shifts from one aspect of IT to another, there are various best practice frameworks which also emerge to help organizations in using IT effectively. When IT started functioning as a service, best practices such as ITIL gained prominence. Hence it is only imperative that as Industry regulatory compliances and business transparency checks are gaining prominence, IT Governance frameworks and processes are embedded into the core DNA of IT systems right from the drawing board itself.

 

In my next blog, I shall talk about some of the key considerations to be had in mind while implementing IT Systems and processes, from a governance perspective.

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