Prioritising for a CIO in the current industry climate and at the speed of technology innovation is probably the hardest task for a modern CIO. Every new initiative and trend warrants some prioritisation, and there will be a champion for each new concept somewhere in your business that feels their choice should be your number one priority.
The capability to prioritise is as much about stakeholder management as it is about managing delivery. Expectations of IT delivery and its capability to provide innovation and disruption remain high in any business, with that in mind a CIO needs to be as transparent as possible in handling the setting of priorities to ensure that expectations on delivery are set at the correct level.
In our business the ability to be involved in the prioritisation of Information Systems delivery has been made part of corporate governance. If the Design Authority has approved the delivery of a project or the adoption of an initiative then the next stage is for this to be passed into a service management concept that we call the Pipeline Planning Group (PPG). The PPG meets regularly and reviews all delivery against a set of criteria including the requirement from the organisations board. This allows the whole business to impact upon Information Systems delivery in two ways; first it is now involved in the decisions to take forward new innovations, and at a business change level, can move forward early and quickly in ensuring that the adoption of systems delivers defined business benefits. Secondly it also enables the business to clearly understand the demands on a limited Information Systems capability from all parts of the organisation.
Implementing this wasn't comfortable for me as the CIO, I have a strategy I want to implement and priorities that I have set, and now I have allow the PPG to change the order I have created. However once I got over this I have enabled this stakeholder group to truly have influence over direction which in turn has made the journey to implementation easier. The PPG has a role in accepting the Information Strategy as well, in fact not just accepting it but helping shape it and ensure that it delivers for business priorities that are current as well as setting the horizon for innovation.
Avoiding management by committee was also considered in the creation of the PPG. What is the make-up of such a group that allows it to work without it becoming a 'talking-shop'? Getting the business leadership to buy into the concept was essential, and to do this did require the Information Systems professionals to relinquish some 'power'. Business leadership needs to do as the description says and provide leadership to the business, and that needs to include the delivery of Information Systems and related innovation and disruption. With these two elements in mind the creation of a term of reference for the group was easier to bring to the fore. Being part of this group for the business leadership had to provide them with further opportunity to lead the business, as long as this was the case and the PPG was where the decision-making power sat then the group become a truly functional part of the information systems governance.
Putting the PPG in place and making it part of the corporate governance of Information Systems in a public sector influenced organisation has been a great win, in a world where priority can be set by initiative titles, 'Digital First', 'Mobile First' and 'Cloud First' to name but three, the PPG allows the business-based decision making to have at least equal standing in setting the operational and strategic agenda. The creation of this has at last brought balance to delivery priority and has ensured that everyone is on the delivery journey together from the beginning.
Richard Corbridge is CIO of the National Institute of Health's Clinical Research Network, and was placed at number 15 in the 2014 edition of the CIO 100.