Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Corporate IT Governance and "Web 2.0" Applications


Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. 

Last week I participated in a recorded roundtable that focused on the implications for corporate IT governance of technologies such as podcasting and blogging. Martin McKeay, Dan Sweet, and I met online via the Gizmo system. Martin recorded and posted the conversation on his site as an MP3; go here to Martin's blog, scroll down to December 11's "Podcast Roundtable #1," read about it, and give it a listen. To download the MP3 from Martin's site, click here.

The idea for the podcast originated in the Linkedin Bloggers group on Yahoo! where I'm a moderator. We discussed the fact that, now that technology-enabled services such as blogging and podcasting are so easy for anyone to purchase and do, there may - or may not - be any need to involve corporate IT.

While the three of us certainly didn't reach any definitive conclusions, we did touch on some key issues, such as:

  • If corporate IT is too busy -- or clueless -- regarding these technologies, what's wrong with an individual user going ahead and using them?
  • What are the corporate security and branding issues raised by these "web 2.0" tools" being managed outside IT's control?
  • How can the corporation present a common face or message to its customers if "anyone" can start a blog?
  • What happens when a corporate emergency arises (e.g., P.R. crisis, natural disaster, etc.) and ALL communication with customers/users/the public need to be coordinated?
  • Isn't the fact that "anyone can do it" just evidence of the continued evolution of technology into a normal component of everyone's job?

That discussion got me thinking about IT governance issues. A big one is the issue of ownership. For a given technology-based application, system, or service, it's critical for a company to define who owns and is responsible for developing, managing, and running it. Failure to do so can result in "orphan" applications and systems that sit uncomfortably between business and IT, all the while consuming resources (storage space, updates, maintenance, communication costs, infrastructure costs, governance costs, etc.). Even blogs and podcasts can turn into "orphan applications" if we're not careful.

Via one of my RSS feeds I ran across an interesting article by Paul Chin related to this topic in Intranet Journal titled, Lil' Orphan Intranet: Adopting an Ownerless System. Chin's discussion about what to do about "orphaned systems" touches on many of the same issues, even though Chin approaches his topic from the viewpoint of what to do when "renegade developers" leave and drop the "orphaned system" into IT's lap:

IT is sometimes put into the unfortunate position of having to clean up other people's messes, forced to adopt orphaned systems by necessity rather than by choice. Non-IT developers decide to build production applications for their immediate users completely without any IT involvement because they believe they have enough knowledge to pull it off themselves and see IT as an unnecessary hindrance. But when they're no longer able to provide support for it — they're transferred to another department, take an extended leave of absence, or leave the company entirely — they hand the reins over to IT and expect them to take it over even though they had nothing to do with the application. In some cases IT might not even know it existed.
Related to this, not too long ago I managed a consulting project where the focus was on developing a large company's keep/replace/consolidate/upgrade strategy for each of several hundred business applications. Many applications were customer or business unit facing. The questions there about some applications were not who should own it but rather, who on the business side DID own it. Without that information it was difficult to understand the business value of the processes supported by the application.

My own experience is usually that, in more mature organizations, the distinctions between business and IT ownership tends to be less of an issue. IT doesn't want to own the "content" and business doesn't  want to own the "plumbing." Some squabbles around governance tend to happen when new technologies and applications emerge rapidly where neither business nor IT has figured out the strategy jointly. Ideally, this situation should force them to work together to develop a unified strategy, rather than stimulate a "go it alone" strategy that eventually results in an "orphan application."



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