In Search of
Sorting out the complex issues of
IT governance in higher education.
SINCE HIS RETIREMENT in 2005, UCBerkeley's
Associate Vice Chancellor and CIO
Emeritus and current ECAR fellow John (Jack)
McCredie has devoted much of his professional
energy to studying and writing/speaking
about IT governance and leadership in higher ed.
In his role at UC-Berkeley, he was responsible
for leading central IT support for academic,
administrative, and outreach programs, including
the campus data and voice networks for the
university. CT asked McCredie for his perspectives
on IT governance issues.
Why is the study of IT governance so critical? Large
universities (and many smaller colleges) usually are highly
decentralized organizations, in which departments and
individual faculty members have a great deal of autonomy.
Because of the highly decentralized structure at UCBerkeley,
for instance, often it was difficult to develop
and implement important IT policies and practices that
would apply across the board—to every staff and faculty
member and to all students. I noticed the same situation
on several campuses where I had the privilege of
serving as an outside consultant.
At Berkeley, we decided to conduct a thorough review
of the way we govern the IT enterprise, and to develop a
new model that would fit our current situation better than
the one that had evolved over the past couple of decades.
Is there a difference between governance and management
or administration? Management differs from
governance in that its primary focus is on the implementation of decisions made through the governance process.
When I speak of IT governance, I mean the process that
clarifies strategic directions, identifies priorities, and exerts
sufficient control to manage outcomes. More informally,
governance describes who makes which decisions, who
provides input and analyzes the issues, who sets priorities,
who implements the results of the decisions, and who
settles disputes when there is no clear consensus. Good
governance processes will foster timely decisions, responsible
actions, and the alignment of an organization's IT
strategy with its overall mission and goals.
"Good governance processes will foster timely decisions,
responsible actions, and the alignment of an
organization's IT strategy with its overall mission."
Over the past few years, how have IT organizations
changed in terms of governance? Many colleges and universities are currently examining their IT governance
structures. My hypothesis is that many organizations have
simply evolved to their current governance structure. They
have never taken a disciplined look at how they should
govern information technology with all the technological,
economic, and political changes that have occurred over
the past 40-50 years. Security, privacy, increased importance
of IT in all disciplines, increased governmental
reporting requirements, and more attention to IT budgets—
these are all topics that signal it's time for a fresh look at
how the 21st century college or university governs its information
The most common question that I hear about governance
from different campuses is, "What should be centralized
and what should be decentralized?" There is no
theoretically correct answer to this question. The answer
will be different for different organizational cultures, for different
IT missions and goals, and for different overall governance
structures on each campus. The most significant
change I have observed recently is that many chancellors,
presidents, and faculty leaders now are asking IT governance
What factors have precipitated this focus on governance? Certainly, technology itself plays an important role.
For example, the emergence of departmental minicomputers,
and then very powerful individual desktop systems,
caused major shifts away from central systems to decentralized
departmental and individual computing environments.
Governance processes that worked for the
mainframe environment quickly became obsolete when
departments and individuals purchased their own systems.
The importance of networking, both wired and wireless, led
to requirements for campuswide, systemwide, statewide,
and even national standards. Enterprise-level financial and
human resources systems introduced another set of
issues. Security and privacy concerns and copyright protection
issues led to a different set of needs for campuswide
policies and procedures. And now virtualization
technologies have once again shifted the optimum balance
between centralized and decentralized investments. Another
major impetus for governance review is the change of a
CIO, provost, president, or chancellor.
Given all those changes, are IT organizations keeping
up and adjusting quickly enough? Often, these significant
changes in our campus IT environments have not
been accompanied by corresponding changes in our governance
structures. However, I see evidence that many
campuses are now examining their IT governance structures
to determine if current needs are being met.
What are the impacts on IT leadership development? One of the most important factors affecting the overall performance
of an IT organization, as well as the IT governance
process, is the competence of the campus IT leadership team and its ability to work well within the overall
culture and governance structure of the campus. A
great leadership team can do wonders even when the formal
governance structure is ill-defined or nonexistent. Conversely,
a poorly functioning senior IT team probably will
not do well, even with an excellent governance structure.
However, such a team will not last too long, because an
excellent governance structure embraces accountability
and transparency features that should lead to changes in
a poorly functioning senior team.
Will you continue your research into IT governance?
Would you change your approach to the research in any
way, in the future? Yes, I would like to continue to learn
more about which IT governance structures work well in
which environments. As I mentioned earlier, I do not think
there is a theoretical "best" structure. There are several
good models, and the best one for a particular campus
depends on a host of factors: the culture of that campus;
the senior campus leadership and its relationship to the
information technology function; the role of the campus in
a larger system or peer group; the role of trustees in IT
governance; the level of decentralization of other important
functions such as the library; and others. I would very much
like to help develop several case studies of campuses that
have well-functioning—but different—IT governance structures,
and learn more about the features that make each of
those models effective.
JACK McCREDIE will give the opening keynote at Campus
Technology Winter 2007. Join us for two-and-a-half days
of fast-track, all-day immersive workshops in eight key
technology leadership areas, Dec. 10-12 in San Francisco,
Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.