Tech Insights: Information Technology Steering Committees

Dan Kaplan

Every day, no matter their size, towns, cities, and school districts across New Hampshire depend on Information Technology for almost everything they do. Larger organizations typically have IT departments and IT managers, while smaller ones may depend on a part-time employee or contractors. But few have formalized the work of monitoring, reviewing, and prioritizing IT projects by creating an IT Steering Committee.

Committee Objectives
An IT Steering Committee’s chief objectives are twofold: ensuring that an organization’s IT strategy and goals are aligned, and making sure that the departments represented on the committee are involved in making decisions that affect their work.

The IT Steering Committee benefits both the IT department and the entire organization. At budget time, for example, a steering committee sets priorities for the IT department and shares and explains them. The priorities list allows other departments to see how the various projects fit into the organization’s strategic plan. The list also holds the committee, rather than the department or manager, accountable for decisions.

The IT Steering Committee gives direction and authority to the IT manager, or IT management team, and supports both of them. In addition, the committee provides a platform for discussion of IT projects, including how they fit the organization’s needs and why one proposal takes precedence over another.

IT projects are generally team efforts, and the steering committee encourages priorities that are in the organization’s best interest.

Committee Membership
In assembling an IT Steering Committee, think small and strategic. The committee should include representatives from finance, human resources, key areas of operations, and the IT manager. Prerequisites should include a strong grasp of the IT department’s policies, procedures, and practices, and the authority to make decisions. Members need not be department heads, but they should have knowledge and influence.

Committee Mandate
To get the most benefit from an IT Steering Committee, the organization should clearly define the committee’s role. Proposed projects to be reviewed by the IT Steering Committee should be prioritized based on the following:

  • Size—Focus on larger projects.
  • Cost—Relate costs to capital investment, annual maintenance and support, and other financial measures.
  • Strategy—Focus on projects that have a significant impact on the strategic direction of the enterprise and return on investment.
  • Criticality—Some projects may not meet the threshold for size, cost, and strategy, but they are nonetheless critical. These include security, time sensitivity, reputation/brand issues, and regulatory compliance.

Projects should be brought to the steering committee as business cases, and the department making the proposal should make the pitch. That doesn’t mean a department is on its own, however. It may allow IT to help it make the case, but it should own the proposal, and deliver it to the decision makers.

The task of the IT steering committee, on the other hand, is to review and recommend IT projects and prioritize ongoing ones, objectives best met by meeting regularly.

Dan Kaplan is Chief Information Officer for the New Hampshire Local Government Center. He can be reached at 800.852.3358 or dkaplan@nhlgc.org.

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