Governance and Innovation

The word “governance” is getting a pretty bad reputation as bureaucratic red tape getting in the way of people trying to “do stuff”. It’s seen as a barrier to innovation. I take the opposite view. I think that governance promotes innovation. In fact, its essential to innovation.


Thanks to SOA, SaaS, PaaS, WOA, mashups etc there’s a real buzz in IT right now. But have you stopped to think what is the key driver that has allowed these ideas to gain traction? In a word: standards.

Standards define the rules of the game. If everyone plays by the rules, everyone gets along. Standards are a form of governance, but they have clearly encouraged rather than stifled innovation.

Governance is also good in everyday life. Online retailing was an innovation that was made possible by governance: privacy laws mean we don’t mind handing over our personal details and credit card information to online retailers because we know they won’t be divulged to 3rd parties.

Similarly, governance will be a catalyst for innovation within your organisation. Currently the vast majority of data and functionality resides in line of business (LOB) applications. The application and its data is ‘owned’ by a particular department, but the true power of emerging technologies, such as SOA, comes from taking an enterprise-wide approach. LOB managers need to be reassured that opening up their systems to the rest of the enterprise won’t adversely affect them. This is achieved by governance. Without governance, the enterprise will become a ‘wild-west’ free for all and every manager will circle their wagons around ‘their’ data and applications. Obviously this will inhibit innovation.

Governance is also critical when looking outside of the enterprise. When we type in our credit card on a web page we want to know that the site is ‘secure’ – that’s governance. Similarly governance will give people piece of mind that any web based services they use are secure, reliable and stable. No one wants to be responsible for building a mashup around a web-based service which steals customer details.

So how do you go about introducing governance in a way that doesn’t inhibit innovation? Here’s two tips you might find useful:

1. Just enough governance, just in time.
Introducing governance is an incremental and iterative process. Trying to do it all up front just doesn’t work. Provided that your governance maturity level grows in step with your growing IT sophistication, everything will be fine. This lets people try things out and innovate – without unnecessary barriers that may kill enthusiasm. But when something proves successful and is about to move from ‘prototype’ to ‘production’ then it’s time to put of a bit of rigour around it – and introduce a bit more governance.

2. Understand the psychology of governance.
No one likes to “be governed” – but the truth is that everyone likes “governance”. We don’t like to be told what to do but we’re happy that society is governed by laws, and that there are governments in place to provide things like police, schools and hospitals. So when it comes to ‘selling’ the importance of governance, make sure that it doesn’t come across as ‘big brother’. Rather, show people what’s in it for them. Bad: “we need to introduce governance so we know who is doing what with the data”. Good: “with a bit of governance we can make sure that no one pulls the plug on the data you use in your mashup”.

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