Whether your institution’s IT governance program is well established or relatively new, it is essential to maintain a focus on the program’s vitality to ensure its relevance and effectiveness. This is especially true as organizations begin to emerge from pandemic response priorities and operations and re-engage with strategy with a critical lens on the future.
IT governance programs will necessarily evolve as they mature. Ensuring that the evolution is intentional, aligned with the broader institutional mission, and enables a holistic approach is no small task. Here, we outline questions to pose to yourself, your team, and your governance groups that will help explore current processes, identify opportunities for improvement, and implement meaningful change to advance your campus-wide IT governance program.
If you are in the early stages of developing IT governance at your institution, or if you are rebuilding your program, these resources will be helpful:
- EDUCAUSE IT Governance Toolkit
- Why is IT Governance Critical for Higher Education? (Part 1)
- How Should IT Governance for Higher Education Be Organized? (Part 2)
- Give Focus and Meaningful Work to Your IT Governance Groups (Part 3)
- Developing and Implementing IT Governance for Higher Education (Part 4)
- IT Governance Work Plan for Higher Education (Use this two-page checklist of IT governance questions and needs statements as the starting point for analyzing your institution’s IT governance needs.)
Be Intentional About Collaboration and Engagement
A successful IT governance program requires buy-in from campus leaders and stakeholders. While an existing program should ideally already have support and participation across the institution, IT governance committee meetings may have become a lower priority over the past two years as COVID-response agility has been prioritized over long-term governance discussions. You might be facing committee meetings with fewer attendees, or perhaps participants are less engaged as they focus on other priorities. If you are struggling to keep the campus involved, consider what changes in committees will help re-energize current IT governance activities.
The IT Steering Committee and any existing subcommittees should be involved in re-evaluating your IT governance program and approach. Take the time to work with these and other stakeholders and also identify any voices that are not included in the program but should be. You and/or your stakeholders may have noticed a lack of representation from certain groups, particularly during the pandemic; this may include campus leaders, faculty, students, or folks from around campus who are essential to change management efforts. Use this period of listening and discovery as an opportunity to underscore your goals for IT governance, including its reliance on collaboration.
As technology has emerged from our collective pandemic experience as an enabler of institutional mission-driven work, including its importance to both academic and business continuity, you may find that your audience of interested, engaged, and service-oriented technology stakeholders has expanded, both within and across functions. As stakeholders continue to gain an appreciation for the many ways that IT solutions, services, policies, and projects impact their lives, some will seek opportunities to participate in governance.
Questions to Explore
- Where has participation lagged? What are the causes, and how can you re-engage participants?
- What new topics and issues have emerged from the pandemic that may need specific attention within IT governance? Can your current structure adequately cover new issues with revised committee responsibilities, or should you consider adding additional components to the program?
- What feedback have you already received – or do you receive, when you engage in this process – from stakeholders that might advance the program? Whose perspectives aren’t well represented, and how can you incorporate them?
- Are your IT governance program and committee charters posted where stakeholders can find them? Do you have transparent and easily locatable resources documenting committee structure, organization, and service opportunities for stakeholders across professional roles, including students?
Align with Institutional Priorities
As institutions and organizations define their “next normal,” many are re-engaging with existing strategic plans to incorporate lessons learned, adjust priorities, and/or reaffirm existing plans. Assess how your existing IT governance program aligns with shifting and emerging priorities of the institution as well as its academic and business units, and consider how you can leverage your institution’s forward momentum.
Strategic priorities such as digital transformation may become more prevalent as institutions continue to acknowledge the fundamental role of IT. Priorities like this, which cross-cut traditional functional areas, also provide new opportunities for coordination and may require creative approaches to IT governance program development. For instance, in Redesigning IT Governance for Digital Transformation at NCSU (2019), Debbie Carraway and Marc Hoit summarize North Carolina State University’s approach to redesigning their IT governance model to better align with the university’s academic and research mission; this positioned IT to better understand campus needs related to digital transformation and other university-wide strategic priorities (for more, also see their 2018 Appendix 5 in the NC State IT Governance Redesign v2.1).
An evaluation of your existing IT governance program also provides you with an opportunity to ensure that your program integrates diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into your IT governance charter’s principles. Many college and university strategic plans now include DEI as a fundamental value or pillar of the institution’s mission. Ask your committee to revisit the IT governance program charter and think about developing a principle statement that will encourage the ethical and equitable use of technology solutions, tools, and services. If your institution has defined a DEI vision, how can IT governance bolster the university’s actions and outcomes?
Questions to Explore
- Has your institution or organization updated its strategic plan, or any components of its plan? New strategic plans can be an important milestone and reference for IT governance programs and committees. This may be an opportunity to refresh or remodel your IT governance program in support of revised institutional plans.
- Does a new institutional strategic plan identify any goals or priorities not currently prioritized in the IT governance program or committee charters?
- Does a new institutional strategic plan indicate a shift in institutional priorities? For instance, is there an increased focus on research, digital transformation, or a hybrid workforce?
- Are academic and/or business units at your institution updating their strategic plans? How will changes to those plans affect stakeholders, other units, and the broader institution? Does your current IT governance program adequately include any new or shifting priorities?
- How does your IT governance program align with your institution’s DEI goals and aspirations? Are these intersections and opportunities articulated explicitly, and if not, should they be? Do participants and stakeholders understand how IT governance supports the institution’s efforts around DEI? Does your IT governance stakeholder engagement model inclusive practice?
Implement a Holistic and Sustainable Approach
IT governance program evaluation and modifications allow stakeholders and campus leaders to examine how the work of IT governance is accomplished. This reflective exercise provides opportunities to implement models, processes, and structures that ensure a comprehensive, holistic approach. As the pandemic continues to affect levels of individual and organizational capacity, stress, and exhaustion, designing IT governance structures and engagement processes that make best use of valuable stakeholder time and energy is paramount. Now that some campuses are embracing a hybrid workforce approach, new strategies, systems, and cadences of work should be considered for IT governance committees.
Establishing a holistic approach is particularly important in enabling IT organizations to be responsive to campus needs, identifying shared priorities and allocating resources accordingly. If this is an area where your IT governance program might advance, consider how some peers have found success in this area, such as the Lake Michigan College IT Governance Project Proposal and Prioritization Procedure (2019), which “is intended to ensure technology efforts are strategically aligned, supported by resources, and meeting the needs of stakeholders” and includes a sample scoring matrix. An older but still relevant and useful example is Andy Miller’s A Model for Project Prioritization in Higher Education Information Technology (2014), outlining strategies to maximize IT investments and improve alignment between IT and the broader organization while managing resources efficiently and minimizing risk.
Any changes to your IT governance program, even when conducted collaboratively with stakeholders, still merit formal presentation to and approval from senior leadership, along with a communication campaign across stakeholder groups and to the broader campus community. Strong communication and transparency will reinforce the role of IT as a collaborative and strategic partner, increase trust and appreciation for IT, and support stakeholder engagement.
Questions to Explore
- What changes to the existing IT governance program might make it more efficient? Where are stakeholders providing service across committees? Might committee responsibilities and representation of stakeholders be reimagined to improve coordination while gaining efficiencies?
- How frequently do IT governance committees engage currently? Is all of their work synchronous and in-person? Do new approaches to work at your institution merit envisioning how these committees engage internally and with the broader campus?
- Do you have existing resources for broad communications to stakeholders about changes to your IT governance program or any of its components? If not, can you partner with any stakeholders for that communication, which may also underscore the collaborative nature of the program and your invitation to engage?
Plan for Iterative Evolution
Evolving your IT governance program is ongoing, and the cycle of evaluation, stakeholder engagement, and revision should continue iteratively. Ideally, IT organizations should define a cadence for regular evaluation of any governance program, along with responsibility and standards for program evaluation. Modeling this iterative process of continuous improvement provides opportunities to critically evaluate our own efforts, both internally and from the point of view of our stakeholders, while allowing us to build capacity and our identity as engaged, collaborative leaders.
Don’t forget to talk with your peers, and use the resources that your higher education community members have produced to help with this work, including the IT Governance Toolkit and Higher Ed IT Governance Checklist.
This post was authored by Vantage Strategic Consultants, Shannon Dunn, who advises clients on governance, strategy, and educational technology initiatives, and Valerie Vogel, who advises clients on governance and information security program education and awareness initiatives. Connect with Shannon and Valerie to discuss these and other higher education IT topics.