Plain language about Digital Leadership and Governance of Information Technology for Executives and Directors  

November/December 2010 Edition: Staying Alive, Getting Smart

Welcome to the final Infonomics Letter for 2010. Yes, this is the catch-up, where publication reverts to the early part of the month, beginning in January 2011.

An April 11, 2008 announcement by British Airways chief, Willie Walsh perhaps highlighted an uncomfortable new role for Chief Executive Officers – that of apologising for business service failures that have been substantially due to problems with IT.

Perhaps it’s time to set up a “hall of fame” for CEOs who have had to endure this painful experience.  As regular readers of The Infonomics Letter are well aware, Virgin Blue chief John Borghetti would be one of the more recent members.

But already the 24 hours of disruption to Virgin Blue’s customers has been transcended, at least in volume of press and public commentary, by a breakdown in the overnight transaction processing at National Australia Bank – one of Australia’s four majors.  On November 29, NAB’s CEO, Cameron Clyne secured his lifetime pass into the gallery by way of full page apologies published in daily newspapers. 

As I said last month, there is rarely any shortage of case examples to provide the grist for this journal and the temptation to explore the possible lessons from NAB’s experience is too great – so we lead with a discussion in “Red-faced Bank”.

NAB’s experience highlights the importance of proper response to failure.  To illustrate how this might work, “Learning Lessons – the Qantas File” takes a brief look at a recent aviation incident – the engine explosion in a Qantas A380 – and proposes parallel questions to be asked about IT failures.

Long-time friends of The Infonomics Letter will recall my enthusiastic response to the landmark report into the Australian Government’s use of IT, delivered by British expert Sir Peter Gershon.  Those who saw my comments in August 2010 however will know that I have not been impressed with the implementation of Gershon’s recommendations.  Now another independent expert, Dr Ian Reinecke has delivered his formal report on how the Gershon recommendations have been addressed.  “Reinecke echoes Gershon” explains why the new report hasn’t made me feel any better, other than by confirming that there is still significant opportunity in front of us.

We’ve completed a summary of the October 22nd  Monash/Deakin “Seminar on Governance” of IT.

My home state of Victoria has a new government, and a “New Opportunity to Improve” its own governance of IT.  It needs to do so promptly!

October 2010 Edition:

Welcome to The Infonomics Letter for October 2010.

These days, there is no shortage of raw material on which to base discussion of how organisations might better govern their use of IT.  One merely needs to lightly monitor the press for ongoing stimulation around the topic of failure.

When discussing governance of IT, I tend to frame the drivers for better governance around the failures that occur – pointing out as should be obvious, that better direction and control should have averted the various cases.  Sometimes, I am challenged on those points, with a request for positive case studies.

Well, I’d love to be able to present them.  But there’s a real challenge in that regard: how does one find positive case studies where the subject organisations are prepared to share their secrets?  The chairman of one bank told me some time ago that their highly effective system for governance of IT gives them a significant competitive advantage, and that they simply would not give away their hard-won advantage by talking openly about how they do it.  I know how they operate, and it’s very good – but I can’t tell anybody about their model either!

So while I would love to have opportunities to understand and explain case examples of very effective governance of IT, the reality is that we will probably have to continue learning from failure for some time to come.  Perhaps when good governance becomes more pervasive, with far more projects delivering intended outcomes and far fewer organisations suffering loss as a result of avoidable operational breakdowns, then we will be able to shift emphasis and explain empirically measured good practice in governance of IT.

Thus we look further at the experience of Virgin Blue, which was front of mind for the September edition.  In “Oops – Sorry! a Virgin Update”, we discuss recent information about the consequences of the failure, including significant impact on profit and share price.  We draw a parallel between the aviation industry’s remarkable ability to dispassionately analyse and learn from failure, and wonder whether we might ever see an “Institute for Transparent Analysis of Information Technology Failures”.

Then in “Service Failure” we build a more general discussion of how ISO 38500 might be used to guide better approaches to outsourcing decisions.

Finally, we take a brief look at “Culling obsolete IT”.

September 2010 Edition:

Welcome to The Infonomics Letter for September 2010.  Yes, it’s a couple of days late again – clearly I need to skip a month and aim to publish early in the month.  I think that will happen as we traverse the Christmas-New Year holiday break.

It’s again been a huge month with substantial travel – first to Sydney to deliver the second of the Australian Industry Group’s introductory seminars on governance of IT.  A week later I was winging to Johannesburg for a standards meeting.  Then with a scant two days for recovery, it was northward bound to Brisbane, for the World Computer Congress, a masterclass and several client meetings. 

The WCC provided a great opportunity to engage with some leading minds in the debate about future use of information technology, and specifically to focus on the vitally important role of business and government leaders in this space.  In “Who is responsible” this month, I explore the statements that I made to Senator Kate Lundy regarding the need for a massive education program to build the necessary understanding and business leadership for effective use of IT across the entire economy.  My assertion that leading IT industry and business organisations don’t get that need was somewhat of a surprise to the chair of the Australian Information Industry Association and is likely to lead to further, and I hope very positive, debate. 

Did you notice the small change to the subtitle of this journal?  It will filter into the Infonomics patina over coming months.  It reflects two key elements of how my thinking is evolving – first that governance of IT cannot be rationally segmented into types – and second that a fundamental part of governance is leadership.  What do you think?  Let’s debate!

Governance of course also includes oversight, and involves asking of questions to test management and confirm that, among other things, the organisation is operating on a stable footing.  In “Oops, Sorry!” we explore the very recent trouble at Virgin Blue, when the airline was effectively grounded for 21 hours because the outsourced reservations system failed.  We use a very rough thumbnail calculator to estimate the financial impact of the event, and then we pose a series of eight questions that business leaders should ask about how well their organisations are prepared for similar events.  How would your organisation rate on them? 

Waltzing with the Elephant has chalked up another milestone – see “New Elephants” for the detail.

I’ll be back in your email box in a month.

August 2010 Edition:

This edition marks ten years of my focus on governance of IT - see “Milestones in My Life’s Quest”.

“Why can’t you solve my problem” – looks at how organisations are killing customer service and innovation by locking their entire business model into the rigidity of computer software.

Audit is an essential tool for ensuring that the work is done properly and that rules are being followed.  Dan Swansons new book, “Raising the Bar” is recommended reading for all who want to be sure that their organisations are running well.

“Guidance for Directors” introduces a number of highly regarded friends of Infonomics, who do provide relevant quality insight.  It also briefly summarises the literature available from Infonomics.

September’s “Education Schedule” is substantial, with opportunities in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Infonomics and University of Southern Queensland are collaborating to run an ISO 38500 Corporate Governance of IT Masterclass on September 24th, in conjunction with the World Computing Congress at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

July 2010 Edition:

Uses the current debate on Australia's proposed National Broadband network to explain how ISO 38500 can guide government in setting and implementing strategy for use of IT as an enabler of the nation’s future.

The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind has converted “Waltzing with the Elephant” to Braille for use by its visually impaired leaders as it develops its future strategy. 

Infonomics is working with Attaché Software to develop important guidance to help small and medium enterprise leaders gain real business value from effective use of IT.

A new review of Waltzing with the Elephant.

June 2010 Edition:

Looks at Queensland Department of Health payroll system.

May 2010 Edition:

Developing the Board extends the discussion on the international survey into governance and management of IT and how to resolve the problem of building board skills on governing IT .

AS/NZS 8016 – Oversight of Projects introduces a new standard to complement ISO 38500.

Fat Fingers or Fatal Flaws we explore how some organisations seem to build computer systems expecting that their human operators are infallible.

April 2010 Edition:

Reports findings of the Infonomics international survey on governance and management of information technology, looking at how well organizations govern their use of information technology and hat resources are needed to improve the effectiveness of that governance? 

March 2010 Edition:

Explore how to apply the principles for governance of IT in a domestic situation.

Keep my secrets secret, please reviews bad habits of web systems when we register as users.

February 2010 Edition:

ISO 38500 regards IT as a resource - a tool of business, and the standard provides guidance on how the tool should be used. Most other guidance on controlling IT is focused on development and maintenance of the tool – the supply side. 

ISO 38500 can be overlaid on established frameworks to provide additional insight and control to the supply activities.  But using ISO 38500 to guide the demand side drives the major benefit. 

January 2010 Edition:

Many organisations should “Test the Future” regularly.

“How does it work again” looks at the need to retain essential corporate knowledge.

A landmark court case in Britain sets new precedents in relation to failed IT projects..