ISACA vice president: IT is an enabler of change, not a cost to business

IT is a ship that needs careful steering to get an organization through potentially troubled waters, according to Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) vice president, Howard Nicholson.

No longer should IT be seen as an adjunct to business and as a cost, but as a means to enable change and maximize the potential of the organization, according to Nicholson, who will be speaking on this topic at SEARCC 05 which begins today.

Nicholson said that ISACA's research with the IT Governance Institute (ITGI) has found that a lot of organizations struggle with IT governance.

"IT governance needs to be a sub-component of enterprise governance and should be addressed at the highest level within an organization. It should occupy the minds of the boards of directors and the senior-level executives."

Nicholson believes many senior executives have come through their careers seeing IT as an expense to the business and as a necessary evil.

"Now we're saying that has to be turned on its head and executives should be asking how they can get IT to enable the organization to gain or retain market leadership, to leverage its position in the market, and to create the value which will increase the stakeholders and shareholders."

The key to the problem, Nicholson said, is that as IT and business become increasingly merged, it becomes harder to measure outcomes.

As IT becomes an enabler of change across an organization, IT projects become more difficult to measure.

"It is very difficult to measure things such as staff empowerment, greater flexibility, or increased customer focus," he said.

"But that is what we need to do, in order for IT to work well within a business."

Nicholson will speak at SEARCC 05 about the problems organizations face when they don't understand that IT governance is a sub-component of enterprise governance, and that it has to be fully managed and costed like any other process.

"[Organizations need] to understand when the ROI is coming and when you are likely to reap the benefits, who's responsible for managing that and ultimately who will take responsibility for that value delivery," he said.

"In our research we've found that even when there is a well thought out initial business case for a project, it will fail when there is no follow through, when it has not been managed as part of a wider portfolio within the organization, and nobody is held accountable for the delivery or non-delivery of value."

Nicholson will cite specific examples during the conference of projects that have gone off the rails, run over budget and run over time and some of them ultimately cancelled, with huge impacts on the bottom line because they were either ill-conceived or ill-managed.

"With a shift in attitude and organizational structure though, IT projects can be successful and avoid the type of budget blowouts that make it into the popular press," he said.

IDG is the official organizer and media sponsor of the SEARCC conference.

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