Emory Report
April 3, 2006
Volume 58, Number 25


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April 3, 2006
Governance structure clarifies IT management

Linda erhard is business analyst for academic and administrative information technology

IT Governance, the University’s new decision-making structure for IT (information technology) management and policy, has arrived. Under the direction of Rich Mendola, vice president for information technology and CIO, IT Governance began in February with a series of kick-off meetings among its subcommittees.

The IT Governance process is designed to align IT resources—people, services and projects—with Emory’s business needs, as well as support IT initiatives that may arise from the University’s strategic plan. Drawn from best practices and similar structures at other universities and in the published literature, IT Governance at Emory is a set of processes designed to receive, prioritize and evaluate IT work in a transparent manner. What IT Governance is not, is a source for funding individual computer acquisitions, staffing needs or other recurring obligations. Individuals and departments are encouraged to follow their department or unit‘s procurement procedures for these needs.

The IT Governance structure comprises seven subcommittees coordinated by a central steering committee. The subcommittees are: Finance; Development /University Relations; Student Affairs; Human Resources/Payroll; Research; Instructional Technology; and Technology Infrastructure and Policy. (A similar process in Emory Healthcare has been in place for some time and will remain so.)

Membership in these committees is intentionally broad-based and ranges from the hard sciences to the humanities, from development to student life, from finance to policy. Each subcommittee is empowered to approve or deny IT initiatives pertinent to its area and large enough to intersect with enterprise IT applications and services.

All subcommittees roll up to the steering committee and include non-voting IT representatives. These members serve to advise the committees, but project recommendations and reviews are based on strength of business case and value to the University—not specifically around IT objectives. Though the steering committee can overrule or modify a decision, the expectation is that subcommittee recommendations generally will be accepted. Linda Erhard serves as a bridge among all subcommittees and with central IT administration.

To date, eight projects have been submitted to IT Governance. One arrived as this article was being written, five are in the evaluation phase and two have been approved: one to facilitate web-based purchasing, and the second to support electronic submission of NIH grants.

Although it isn’t possible to extrapolate too much from this limited number of submissions, what is certain is that the committees are not planning on approving everything. After all, prioritization is at the core of the process, and rigorous evaluation and critical thinking are being encouraged. Subcommittees are asked to evaluate each proposal in terms of the greatest benefit and optimal solution for an identified problem.
So how does the process work? Think: transparent. Just go to the IT website (http://it.emory.edu) and visit the Request Work tab. The process begins by answering six questions describing the request, which then is logged into the project database. From that moment, anyone with an Emory network ID can log in and view the status of the request.

But the request is not trapped in the digital world; there is a human factor. A group of individuals evaluates each request, makes recommendations on which IT area should next review it, and contacts the requestor. The scenario is an iterative one, Mendola said, where questions and discovery lead to a better understanding of the business need and how IT might enable a solution.

At this point, the subcommitees become involved. They are empowered to approve or deny initiatives, or to ask the requestor for more information. The goal is to share information, streamline the process, understand the work at hand and make choices together. When they emerge this way, Mendola said, IT decisions best serve Emory’s future.

Said Joel Bowman, co-chair of the research subcommittee and professor and chair of chemistry, “I applaud the decision to open up the process of governance in the area of IT to faculty.

“It is early [in this new process],” Bowman continued. “I’m sure we will make adjustments as we accumulate experience to make the process more efficient and effective.”

For more information, send email to ITGovernance@emory.edu.

Linda Erhard is business analyst for Academic and Administrative Information Technology.