DAILY INSIGHT: How IT governance can transform your district, Part 1

By Rich Valerga, CIO Advisor

If school districts made money, I could tell you how to raise your profits 20%.Since money isn’t the motivator and shrinking budgets may be, how about if I tell you a way to get a 40% higher return on all of your IT investments?

Here’s the big secret: IT Governance.

So why are so few school districts implementing IT governance?

Because it’s not easy to implement and there is no holistic framework.

If that doesn’t scare you away, your job just got easier.

Because IT governance is the single most important predictor of the value an organization generates from IT. According to the book IT Governance, by Weill and Ross, IT governance can be defined as “specifying the decision rights and accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the use of IT.”

Dr. Barry Brunsman, managing director of Alvarez & Marsal, explains it this way: “IT governance clarifies the role of IT in achieving the district’s purpose. It measures and manages the amount spent on and the value received from IT and assigns accountability for the organizational changes required to benefit from new IT capabilities.”

The first steps in establishing IT Governance involve educating your Superintendent and his or her executive cabinet about IT governance and setting up an IT governance counsel. The counsel should include staff from district administration such as the heads of finance, procurement, operations, academics, and the CIO.

As I’ve discussed in previous articles, Memphis City Schools will merge with Shelby County Schools in 2013. MCS is now forming a combined IT governance counsel with SCS. This partnership will position both districts to make better strategic decisions related to IT investments, streamline decision making and create greater accountability around Information Technology.

Once the members of the IT governance counsel are in place, they will need to have a series of meetings to determine the following:

  • What decisions must be made to ensure effective management and use of IT? How much should we spend? What are our standards? Who are our key vendors? How should we allocate capital?
  • Who should make these decisions?
  • How will these decisions be made and monitored?

According to Ivar Nelson, director of information technology for Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota, IT governance has already made a significant difference in his district in the 10 months since its implementation there.

“We’ve been preparing for it much longer than that. The process of educating staff about the new process, implementing the new process for directing the resources of our department, it’s been an incremental rollout so to speak. We are taking advantage of more of the aspects of IT governance all the time, including now bringing it into data governance and hopefully this will lead toward more of an understanding of organizational governance.”

Nelson adds that IT governance creates transparency of process that customers can compare to other experiences.
“When I explain what we’re doing, I use the analogy that we’re a service organization just like they would expect a restaurant to run. Everybody understands how restaurants operate: You come in through the front door, you see a host or hostess and you tell them your requirements. Sometimes you’re told you have to wait a number of minutes or sometimes you can get seated right away; it depends on the capacity of the organization and their current load.

“When you are seated, you’re handed a menu. For us, that’s our service catalog, here are the offerings (here’s what we do for you). We publish our service catalog so our customers can know what they can expect IT to do for them. We ask our customers to order off the menu. They are greeted, they then communicate their request to a member of our organization who relays their request to the ‘people in the back,’ who are our chefs, so that they can then prepare for our customer what it is they want and bring it out when it is ready.

“That is exactly how anybody would expect a restaurant to run and that’s kind of how we want our organization to run. We’re asking the people to come in through the front door, to perhaps wait once in a while when our capacity doesn’t allow for us to serve them immediately, order off our menu and then, we’ll take care of it.

“What has happened in the past is those people were coming in the back door of our restaurant, walking right up to our cooks and telling them that they were the most important customers and that they needed their things done immediately, not ordering off the menu, and it just created chaos. We just could not manage that type of environment. It was extremely inefficient, we had people responding to not the priorities of the organization but to individual priorities, squeaky wheels got taken care of ahead of people, and we had to come up with a new model and IT governance is our new model.”

“ An added benefit of IT governance is district collaboration, according to Nelson. “I think we are better for implementing IT governance because in the past, different parts of the organization were working somewhat independently of each other. This has really brought the whole organization together to really think about what is best for the district and which way does this department need to proceed to best serve the district and I think that has really developed a real sense of collaboration and trust across departmentally.”

Rich Valerga is CIO for Memphis City Schools.

Next month, Valerga will blog about how you can implement IT governance in your school district.