Who owns the information and systems in your organization?
Does IT in your organization own data and systems? Do the business units own data and systems? Does anyone own them?
Is the ownership of systems and data related to organizational structure? The answer is yes. First comes function, then form.
How should organizations structure their IT resources? Should resources be located centrally or departmentally or a combination of both? Some say it depends on your business cycle, or where the pendulum was during its last "swing."
Sometimes it depends on the leader: a CEO who expects corporate services to operate centrally, or a CEO who pushes services out to the departments to enable service delivery. At the end of the day, it's not about centralized or decentralized models. It's about service delivery and ownership.
IT departments or divisions have a responsibility to provide services to the businesses they serve. IT leaders need to clearly articulate their service offerings, when they are available and, if appropriate, at what cost.
Clearly described service offerings need to be in place in order for the business units within an organization to support their business plans. This requirement is not only true of IT, but also other internal service providers like finance, human resources, legal and communications.
Along with this service delivery clarity, IT departments in partnership with their business units, usually guided by a corporate IT committee, ensure there is clarity regarding the ownership of systems and data.
Just because you create a record on a financial system does not mean you own that information. The financial system and data are owned by the finance department and everyone needs to know Finance oversees this system and its data.
The same is true for every system in your organization. The challenge comes when system ownership is not clear because more than one department in the organization uses the system and its data.
Your organization needs to agree on an ownership model. Some suggest that the CEO or CAO owns these systems and data, as they are the single management role that oversees all the departments using the system. Typically, in this situation, the responsibilities are delegated to one of the direct reports of the CEO, for practical purposes.
When you're going through the ownership assignment exercise, make sure you completely engage everyone in the process. You want to know you've accounted for all the systems in your review. Besides, this is a great time to update your data and business systems architecture documentation: you never know when a new system is going to emerge.
As you go through the ownership assignment exercise, this is also a great time to educate everyone on the expectations in place regarding management of information and systems. IT departments are always in a challenging position: they want to help provide solutions, but they're also called on to create standards that users must adhere to.
Be careful not to put yourself in the position of "COP," as I've heard it referred to by a business leader. The role of COP and the role of service provider need to be divided organizationally; this will look different in each organization. To CIOs and IT leaders, be very careful if you are called on to be the COP!
It's best to communicate expectation, educate on processes and procedures, and leave the oversight to the supervisor of the person in the role.
Organizations need to address information and systems ownership to ensure there is clarity regarding everyone's role and responsibility.
The size of your organization dictates whether or not this is a priority or an urgent "must have." Smaller organizations shouldn't spend much time with this; it's the larger organizations that need to carefully consider the impacts of not having this level of clarity in place.
If your organization has implemented an ownership program for information and systems, please click on the "add your comment" button below and tell us about it. Or if you have any thoughts or ideas on this topic, feel free to share them here.
- Chris Moore is CIO for the City of Brampton, Ont., and resident blogger at www.intergovworld.com
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.