IT governance is a routine conversation in the corporate world, but there are many local governments that still have little to no oversight on how technology decisions are made. And Lexington, Ky., is one of them.

In the past, decisions in the city regarding IT have been made without any thought for the entire enterprise or with any sort of coordination, said Aldona Valicenti, who became Lexington's CIO in September. There was an attempt several years ago to launch an IT governance committee, but without a CIO, the city failed to make the idea happen. But Valicenti is bringing governance with her to make a change.

On Feb. 3, the city  had its first meeting with all city commissioners and directors to launch IT governance and educate everyone on how it will work, what it means and why it’s important. By the end of March, Valicenti said, all officials should  be appointed to the committee.

“The intent is not to have IT people on it,” she said. “IT people can certainly participate and listen and can explain, but it is really an opportunity for the commissioner to appoint someone whom they trust, whom they think can make good business decisions to sit on this committee.”

Once the committee has been formed, members will meet once per month to discuss important IT issues facing the city, and to find centralized solutions that can help the whole enterprise. Among the issues to be discussed is the creation of a new 311 system, making a social media policy, looking at new solutions for the public works department, and to upgrade the city’s only enterprise project, a PeopleSoft implementation from 2006, Valicenti said.

They're all very basic things, she said, but in the past, people would just make decisions on their own without thinking of the overall impact the decision would have. The city will also look into the possibility of shared services, she said. This will be the first time Lexington looks at IT from an investment standpoint, rather than simply looking at what the technology does on practical level.

The Importance of IT Governance

Lexington isn’t unique in government, said Doug Robinson, executive director for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), who attended Lexington’s IT governance kick-off meeting to help impart the importance of IT governance.

A lot of organizations talk about how they can barely keep the lights on, he explained, but it’s in those cases especially that IT governance should be a top priority.

“Strong IT governance is really more important than those resources that are constrained because you have a lot of competition,” he said. “That’s when you really want a strong governance. When the pie is even smaller, you have to make tougher decisions.”

There's a model that gauges the maturity of an organization’s IT governance, and at the bottom of the model is “ad hoc” governance -- organizations that just make it up as they go. As for government, it’s a mixed bag, Robinson said, but there are still a lot of organizations that have virtually no IT governance, particularly in smaller cities and at the local level.

Though NASCIO focuses on state government and large cities, where IT governance tends to be more mature, Robinson said, it’s a topic that comes up often --  the association spends a lot of time talking to CIOs about it. In fact, the state of Hawaii announced in early February that for the first time, it is establishing a strong IT governance model and the infrastructure to support that governance.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie began the announcement by admitting that the state’s IT efforts were not well orchestrated, but that the Aloha State is now prepared to compete with the technology of any state or city government agency.

Robinson agreed that Hawaii is headed in the right direction, and that governance has a lot to do with it. “I know what Hawaii looked like before, and they were definitely what I would call a low maturity of IT governance – a lot of decentralized decision-making and ad hoc decision making and no real blueprint,” he said.

An organization’s infrastructure is like the blueprint for where an organization will invest, he said, and the strategic team helps to guide those decisions in an informed and calculated way. With Hawaii’s new ERP system, the state appears ready to continue carrying out its plan in the coming years.

IT governance is one of several critical success factors in government, Robinson said, and it’s an area of focus that will only expand.

The next frontier, he said, is data governance.

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com and on Google+.