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CIO head-to-head: To own or not to own?

CIO head-to-head: To own or not to own?

CIOs discuss if they are accountable for IT governance

Ben Patey, CIO, CSC

Ben Patey, CIO, CSC

We ask three CIOs if they still own, or are accountable for, IT governance when line of business functions are increasing their knowledge and use of technology services.

Q: Ownership versus accountability: How much of each does the modern CIO need?

Ben Patey, CIO, CSC

I don’t view these terms as mutually exclusive; they go hand-in-hand. I also believe both these terms are of increasing importance but it is the scope of ownership and accountability that is going to be crucial and is shifting dramatically for the modern CIO ... the successful, gainfully employed ones at least.

We have typically owned, and have been equally accountable for, the internal IT environments that provide services to our customers. By and large these systems sat within our four walls. We could get our arms around the cabinets, feel the cool air of the aircon and marvel at the kilometres of cables tying our networks and boxes all together.

A serious revolution is upon us or possibly leaving us behind. The next generation of IT services that will deliver the value our businesses and customers crave are very different beasts.

Our customers/business/executive want us to do more and more with less and less, and they want us to do it more quickly than ever before. So how do we keep up with this demand for rapid, agile IT solutions and services? We know if we don’t keep up our customer will go do it themselves right? Well, if you can’t beat them join them.

We need to start thinking about how we reshape our legacy internal environments into hybrid internal/external hosted IT ecosystems that can deliver to the new normal of fast, agile and mobile but at the same time always fastidiously governing the sanctity of our key corporate information.

In essence, we need to think more about ‘outside in’ models of IT innovation, solutions, engagement and operation and less about the potentially restrictive internal hardware/software models we may use now.

Our ownership and accountability will need to change focus as a consequence to embrace these ‘outside in’ models that will deliver the competitive advantage our business/customers are demanding.

David Gee, CIO, Credit Union Australia

It is clear to me that in an emerging world of cloud orchestrated services, the whole past IT model is under considerable challenge. My view is that the CIO needs to be first and foremost focused on driving accountability within his team.

In my experience, ‘ownership’ does not necessarily equal ‘accountability’. What I’ve seen is that IT sometimes ‘owns’ a service but is not really driving true accountability. To me this occurs when a line-of-service orientation is the main focus rather than the end customer experience.

As CIO, whether I own an asset or not is not important. What is critical is that I take accountability to ensure these services are delivered effectively. Therefore, by inference, partnering with vendors is an increasingly important capability.

As services that we now use shift into the cloud, it is equally critical that accountability becomes paramount. IT is still on the hook for ensuring service standards are met, and the fact that we outsource parts of these platforms to others makes this even more important.

Recently, we had the opportunity to reshape our data council, which had been in place for about 15 months. While it was effective, there was an understanding that the next level of maturity, especially around data governance, needed a different look.

In this instance, we partnered with our chief risk officer and he is now the sponsor and chair of the data council. Having IT own or be accountable for data governance was not the right answer – the missing secret ingredient was to drive true ‘business’ data ownership.

A modern CIO has to get to grips with taking on this accountability, seemingly with less control than he has had in the past. In reality, how you manage this, either through an internal supplier or external supplier, will determine just how good the end-to-end customer experience is.

Brent Jones, CIO, The Yalumba Wine Company

The pervasiveness of technology has brought the old question of accountability versus ownership to the fore with greater relevance than ever before for IT leaders.

Accountability in operation has always been something I considered relevant to those core services that underpin much of what the company relies upon to operate. Too often, however, this has been confused with the more significant ‘ownership’ role, which by definition retains control over the change journey this service may follow in its deemed appropriate lifecycle.

In negotiations between service groups such as IT and the business functions delivering core value, this has been a political football. The all-too frequent result has been the IT function using the ‘complexity’ of legacy systems as a leverage point to retain control.

In so doing, we mitigate the risk around service levels provided to the broader business. On the one hand, while that has supported the desire to provide stability, it has in my mind had a more significant strategic impact upon our profession.

This unwavering position on retaining control and ‘ownership’ of all aspects of the IT systems has contributed to the separation between the IT function and business that now frustrates our efforts to take a strategic and influential role.

Furthermore, it has trained a generation of executives to expect this exaggerated focus on our internal operational factors as opposed to the impact that can be made on the external customer set.

The consumerisation of technology, driven in particular by the introduction of smart mobile devices, has quickly deconstructed the traditional office, and more significantly the role information plays in real-time activity.

The pace of change expected now from both our internal user base, and more materially from our external customer base, is outstripping our traditional control-oriented approaches. Our commitment to retaining ownership inside the IT function instead of passing ownership to the front-line business is at best delaying, but more often preventing, necessary value creation for our customers.

An empowered and appropriately skilled business owner is best positioned to capture this opportunity and ideally in partnership with a core IT function, deliver relevant value to the customer in a timeframe more likely to meet expectations.

Passing ownership to the business requires the business to understand the gravitas of responsibility, particularly around the increased risk of unvalidated or misdirected investment in pursuit of the opportunity it observes.

The ideal situation is a well formulated partnership which focuses on the business outcomes, sees the business operatives prioritise the customer level, and features an executive oversight to ensure consistency with the enterprise’s holistic strategy.

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Tags cscCredit Union AustraliaBen PateyDavid GeeBrent JonesThe Yalumba Wine Company

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