Managing Chaos Through Digital Governance

Chaos has a way of slipping into an organization and creating problems that grow exponentially over time. With so much innovation, collaboration and bottom-line focused initiatives involving digital assets, there is a very real need to provide a framework to manage this change. Digital governance helps with this process, and author and authority on digital governance Lisa Welchman opened up to CIO Insight on what it means to manage chaos in the enterprise, and how digital governance provides the vision and guidance leaders need to spark positive change.

CIO Insight: What is the biggest challenge of implementing a digital governance strategy in a large organization?

Lisa Welchman: People have to change the way they work. People don’t like to change, and the higher up and the more authority you have in an organization, the less likely you are to want to make substantive change. People derive power from position and the thrust of digital can be the cause of a lot of change. So, people wait as long as they can to do the heavy lifting. At its core, digital governance is a change management concern, so you have to manage the human factors well in order for it to work.

The other big thing is that even if you do brave the change, it takes a while to see the results. It’s probably natural to want to see the impact of a large effort. That’s why when organizations realize they have an online quality problem, one of their first reactions is to redesign the site—you can see that. Of course, those of us on the making side of digital know that a redesign lasts at most six months before it starts going south, as a lack of real governance means people just start doing their own thing again. If organizations put governance in place before they execute on redesigns (or technology re-platforms), then the sometimes-large investment in those endeavors is likely to provide a lasting result.

CIO Insight: What would you consider the opposite of digital governance?

Welchman: The opposite of digital governance is making it up and funding it as you go along—maintaining a project instead of operational view when it comes to digital. Digital has been around for 20 years in most organizations, and digital teams often have to scrap for every bit of budget just to maintain the online presence. I’ve seen this happen in organizations where the bulk of their sales funnel has shifted to online—meanwhile, the legacy sales team has rich and deep funding to support legacy processes that just don’t work any more.

At a more tactical level, without governance, digital teams circle over the same territory repeatedly, asking, “Who is supposed to pick technologies? Who is supposed to design the homepage? Is it OK to use the personal information of our customers to sell them more products and services?” These are important questions, and without a governing framework, these questions get asked over and over and answered in different ways all over your organization. It’s inefficient, but more importantly, it’s risky corporate behavior.

CIO Insight: Your book, “Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design,” features a bold and very fitting title. “Managing chaos” is a term that can apply to so many tasks at work and in our lives in general. Why is it important to reign in this chaos in the enterprise?

Welchman: Risk. Digital is still relatively new in the enterprise. A lot of organizations don’t even know what they have online. They can’t articulate where their Websites are and who hosts them, they don’t know who is moderating social channels. Of course, organizations take calculated risks, but that’s different from a risk through negligence.

CIO Insight: What would an organization look like five or 10 years from now without a digital governance plan in place?

Welchman: A top-level corporate Website that looks pretty good might fall apart after a few clicks, as different business divisions, regions and countries assert their authority to do what they want online via different  designs and technology stacks. It will make for a bad user experience for customers who want to interact across multiple silos of the business. Social channels might have inappropriate moderation. There could be multiple mobile applications that functionally do the same thing coming from different parts of the business.

But that’s just the user’s experience. From an organizational perspective, there will be continued waste as organizations stand up multiple technology stacks that should be integrated. All this opportunity of being able to leverage big data will be lost because organizations will not be able to get the full picture of their organization’s online interactions with customers from a data perspective.

All this can lead to brand degradation and increased online operational risk, and most importantly, it can hit the bottom line, particularly if competitors are better able to innovate through digital.

CIO Insight: Where do CIOs fit into the scheme of digital governance?

Welchman: The CIO should be leading the charge with CMOs and a chief digital officer, if there is one. This can represent a real change for CIOs. IT groups often have a sitting back, “give me the requirements and I’ll build it” service mentality that doesn’t work well here. Digital is this interesting integration of technology, transactions and communications. It needs to be informed by technology domain experts who aren’t just building what they are told to build but are helping the organization understand what is possible and feasible. This, in my experience, can be a challenge for CIOs and the team. The organization needs not a mandate to follow old-school rules but a real collaboration, where the CIO is in dialogue with other executives helping to shape what is safe, possible and valuable to do online.

CIO Insight: Who should initiate a digital strategy in an organization?

Welchman: Executives and digital leadership. The problem with most digital strategies is that they are not informed by business goals. At the end of the day, the online presence should get work done for the organization, and that work must be in alignment with business objectives. Too often, I see digital strategies that rise up from the bottom of the organization that are built only on a foundation of digital best practices. That’s good but not good enough. Likewise, a big visionary statement emanating from executives is of no value if they don’t understand clearly the fiscal and human resources required to bring that vision to life. That’s why you need both in the room. Either the executive or the digital leader can initiate the process; just make sure both are involved before the process concludes.

CIO Insight: What’s the best way to avoid in-fighting among departments when integrating digital in a business?

Welchman: Realize that decisions should be made by folks with domain expertise. One of the problems with digital is that there is a sense that it’s easy to make a Website. That might be functionally true: It’s easy to stand up a Web server, make some Web pages and get them online. But, making a good Website, or moderating social channels well or making that killer mobile app takes expertise. So, to stop the fighting, organizations need to make sure that digital domain experts make decisions about digital standards. BUT those decisions should always be made after getting input from key stakeholders—they are the domain experts in the business and know what real work those Websites and apps are supposed to get done. It’s a collaboration with clear roles.

CIO Insight: Is there ever a time or place where allowing chaos to unfold is acceptable? Is chaos ever a good thing?

Welchman: Chaos is often a good thing. When innovating, over-governing can be a mistake. You can’t make rules for things before you even know what you are making or how you are planning to use a new technology (or inventing a new technology).  The golden rule is if you know what you are making, how you are making it and who is supposed to be making it, then you ought to be governing firmly—particularly if you are trying to bring something to scale. On the other hand, if you are just exploring, then some chaos can be good. That’s why I often recommend that digital teams maintain a research and development component that gets to explore the chaos.

Patrick K. Burke is senior editor at CIO Insight.

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