February 1, 2008

Governance and Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architecture is critical to effective IT governance. EA establishes the baseline and target architectures and the transition plan and enforces these through the EA Board, who conducts technical reviews of proposed new IT projects, products, and standards. EA guides the organization to performance results, business-technology alignment, information sharing and accessibility, systems interoperability and component reuse, technology standardization and simplification, and security, including confidentiality, integrity, availability, and privacy. In short, EA ensures information transparency of business and technology to enhance organizational decision-making.

But what happens when organizational governance, whether EA governance or corporate boards, that is supposed to ensure transparency, does not?

The Wall Street Journal, 14 January 2008, reports “Why CEOs Need to Be Honest with Their Boards.”

“People who have spent time in corporate boardrooms say honest communication is often lacking between CEOs and their fellow directors. ‘Communication and transparency being a problem is more the rule rather than the exception.’”

Sometimes this makes headlines, such as when CEOs conduct activities without informing or getting permission from their directors, such as:

  1. Backdating stock options
  2. Holding merger and acquisition talks
  3. Trying to solve problems independently that need to be vetted

“‘Many times it’s the thing not said, or overly optimistic positioning that gets CEOs in trouble’…as leaders, they want to take charge and inspire confidence, even when things are turning sour. But that instinct can lead them to be less than forthcoming about problems—which can snowball into severe tensions with directors.”

CEOs who do not keep their board up-to-date do so at their own peril—“In 2006, 31.9% of CEOs who stepped down world-wide did so due to conflicts with the board…the forced departures were ‘nearly always because of transparency issues...[this leads to a] slow deterioration of trust, so the termination is generally packaged as a ‘loss of confidence.’”

Things have definitely changed in the relationship between boards and CEOs─ “‘There used to be a bright, clear line: We, the management made the decision and they, the board, reviewed and approved those decisions”…that bright, clear line has gotten really fuzzy now.”

Why does the CEO resist this transparency with the board?

“It’s the CEO’s job to ‘put a good face on things to mobilize and drive the changes that any company needs going forward…this requires inspiring people and giving them confidence that if you only make this last push you will get there.” CEO’s don’t want to admit that things are not progressing as expected. They don’t want to concede that they don’t have all the answers.

What’s the lesson here for User-centric EA?

We can’t think that we have all the answers. Collaboration, vetting, and information transparency is critical to enabling better decision-making. Whether information transparency is coming from EA to business and technical information stakeholders or from the CEO to his board of directors, information transparency inspires trust and “breeds self-correcting behavior” (as the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant often reminds us). Hiding problems, being overly optimistic or self-reliant, or working in stealth are not the cornerstones for good enterprise governance. Rather, openness and frankness about program, projects, products, and plans (EA or otherwise) enables good governance. Hearing opposing points of views leads to better decision-making. Even if it is sometimes painful to hear or slows down the process some; a little enterprise introspection goes a long way to improving the end result.


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