Reprinted with permission from the Feb 2005 issue of Public CIO.

These are not good days for technology geeks, whether they work in government or the private sector. The bold era when problems were solved with the latest, most innovative technology -- damn the cost -- is over. Today, it's all about better processes and governance.

Just check out what's happening beyond our borders. In the United Kingdom, the British government created and implemented the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). And just as its title claims, it has little to do with hardware or software, and lots to do with books -- seven books that are essentially a bible to everything you need to know about running an IT department, including best practices and standards for core operational processes.

North of the border, the Ontario government adopted the ITIL governance model -- or IT Service Management (ITSM) as it's increasingly called -- to improve across-the-board help desk management. The expected benefit will be vastly superior service delivery at much lower cost.

Already, Ontario's Ministry of Transportation used ITIL to integrate people, technology and processes. As a result, help desk incidents were resolved 98 percent of the time, up from 85 percent. Patti Kishimoto, head of ITSM Strategies and Change Management in Ontario's Office of the Corporate Chief Technology Officer, said the government views the newly adopted IT governance framework as an enabling strategy that will reduce the unit cost of IT.

In the United States, private-sector corporations are holding their IT organizations more accountable while reducing their budgets. To deal with this new reality, IT departments are adopting highly defined governance structures, such as the Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT), which is heavily promoted by the IT Governance Institute.

Organizations also use a variety of IT governance models that connect IT strategies with business needs while aligning processes at the enterprise level. They go by various names, including the Capability Maturity Model, ISO7799 and the Balanced Score Card.

There are numerous reasons for this surge of interest in IT governance. In the private sector, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act forced corporations to set up internal controls to ensure financial accountability, which affects IT as well as other aspects of business. Mergers and outsourcing also placed pressure on IT organizations to ensure everybody is speaking the same language. Finally, CEOs in both the public and private sectors are demanding to see some ROI from IT investments. That can only happen when technology delivers what business units need across the enterprise.

Until recently, few understood how to make that happen. "The question everybody keeps asking is, 'If IT is a business within a business, what is it they deliver?'" said Kenneth Wendle, ITSM Solutions lead for HP and immediate past president of the ITSM Forum USA, for which he is still an adviser. "The problem is that IT organizations are like restaurants without a menu."

Governing Complexity

The menu most organizations have is a mishmash of services and infrastructures run by separate operations. The way to get everybody reading off the same card and processing the same operation evenly throughout an organization is to apply IT governance. Such governance allows CIOs to cut through the complexity of IT, and ties together IT strategies and business strategies, writes Marianne Broadbent and Ellen S. Kitzis in their book, The New CIO Leader.

What Broadbent, Kitzis, the IT Governance Institute and others are advocating is catching on. Nearly 80 percent of CIOs recognize governance is needed to address the structural and operational problems that plague IT operations today, according to a 2003 survey conducted by the IT Governance Institute. Few organizations, however, practice IT governance -- less than 5 percent among large

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.