Whose fault is it anyway?

CALGARY — Whether it’s a huge software integration project or ensuring financial systems are compliant, enterprise IT is at risk because business units are abdicating their responsibility, a conference for CIOs was told yesterday.

A lot of the compliance efforts have derailed because of huge documentation requirements, improper testing and basically because everybody is trying to do everything, said Wally Curry, vice-president of information systems and support services for Enersource (formerly Hydro Mississauga), speaking at the Canadian CIO and IT Executive Summit here.

Problems can be eliminated when there is upfront communications between IT and financial end-users, Curry said. Some of the questions that need to be asked upfront are: How does IT fit into the governance structure? Who controls “the keys” to the systems? Who is the gatekeeper?

What happens is that business units may not understand the implications of a software upgrade or a source code modification, Curry added, and business people step away when they don’t understand.

“So we (IT) end up not delivering and owning the business processes by default,” said Curry.

Similarly, a lot of software integration projects are doomed to fail or never be undertaken in the first place because of lack of understanding at the executive level over why these integration efforts are so important.

“It’s not IT’s fault, it’s business,” said Michael Kuhbock, chairman of the Calgary-based Integration Consortium. “Trillions of dollars” are being wasted because systems don’t talk to each other, said Kuhbock.

“It’s project after project after project when what clearly is needed is an overall plan.” In 2002, enterprise application integration was the buzzword but the overall integration effort failed because nobody looked beyond the application and into what the organization actually required, he said.

Now the same thing could happen with service-oriented architecture (SoA) because executives do no want to understand it or unclear accountability, said Kuhbock.

Although not a new concern, the lack of business accountability for IT systems is becoming greater as CIOs assume greater responsibility for business strategy.

Clearly, the need is for CIOs who understand processes first and implement technology later, said Peter Gapp, CIO for Siemens Canada.

Siemens Canada underwent a huge standardization and harmonization of business processes effort itself, beginning with its ERP system and out into the business units.

The CIO has to step boldly forward, said Gapp. “It’s not a democracy, it’s a company, and sometimes, the CIO has to say, ‘This is the way it’s gotta be.’”

Tim Barnes, IT integration specialist with gas and energy producer Devon Canada Corp., in Calgary, said progress is being made.

“We’re taking off our glasses away from the application and turning it to business processes.”

Earlier integration efforts failed because of no overall plan. “We had multiple teams competing to do integration projects but no one was looking at the big picture.”

Devon Canada is now in the midst of a multi-year process to integrate its 600 applications into a complete “Central service unit” by 2008.

It’s a way of not only improving communications between its data and applications, but also its people and its processes, he said.

The Canadian CIO and Executive Summit wrapped up Tuesday.

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