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Boards, not IT, should govern technology

Bonnie Gardiner | Aug. 12, 2015
Company boards must maintain responsibility for governing large IT projects rather than give up control to the IT department, according to IT industry veteran, Russell Yardley.

Photo by Jax Photoworks

Company boards must maintain responsibility for governing large IT projects rather than give up control to the IT department, according to IT industry veteran, Russell Yardley.

"Boards need to govern the enterprise. They need to set the goals and policies, allocate the resources to achieve these outcomes; they need to verify that achievement and they need to hold management to account. Technology is no exception," said Yardley during a keynote speech at the ISACA CACS conference in Sydney on Monday.

Yardley, who is currently a non-executive director for NICTA, Readify and Folk, said although a lack of IT skills has left today's boards with little understanding of the opportunities and threats presented by technology, boards should still govern IT executives and their decisions around risky tech deployments.

The issue is the growing need for a process to ensure the details of technology proposals can be properly examined by the board.

"Often after a presentation by technologists, the board will make a decision and the technologist will say, 'the board didn't understand,'" he said.

"But the board is a group of individuals who bring independent information to the table, and we need those team members to be able to share their unique perspective to lead to a better outcome."

Yardley's belief is that good governance is always a team effort, as opposed to leaving decisions to single experts, with research backed up by mathematician James Surowiecki in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds.

"When I look at the six boards that I'm on, when the executive and the board are really working together as a team -- and I don't mean everyone is buddies, you can have pushing and shoving - we get the best results."

"We need the executives and the boards to work together to make decisions that are evidence- and data-based, but also to remain aware of the emotional connection and response required, because in the end it is people that make things work, not technology."

Better understanding technology

Following a number of highly publicised failed IT projects- including the Victorian Myki smart card travel system or the $1 billion Queensland Health payroll system fiasco - Yardley said the cause of most failures is in how the project was instigated, shaped and approved.

This is something which should be identified by the board and executive team, he said.

Boards should be taking it upon themselves to be educated in technology matters by bringing in two or three technology experts, and not be afraid of asking questions that display their own ignorance, Yardley said.

"All directors should be fully equipped to have a meaningful conversation about technology and be able to confidently play a role in its governance.

 

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