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GPPMO: Maximizing Collaborative Decision Making and Successful Projects

By Michael Hites, CIO, University of Illinois System

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Michael Hites, CIO, University of Illinois System

In a central IT department, someone has to build the strategic plan, manage the prioritization process, start and finish projects, and ensure that the customers get what they need. In many large IT organizations, the governance, project management, business process improvement, and customer relationship management are performed by separate groups. At the University of Illinois System IT office, we prefer an end-to-end approach where the same department guides all of these functions.

"A successful office should have all of these components, that is, a GPPM office: IT governance, portfolio and project management"

In our system-level IT organization, there are about 220 employees that improve and maintain the enterprise IT services used for transactional business processing, data warehousing and analytics, process improvement, and records management. The University of Illinois is a system of three campuses in Springfield, Chicago and Urbana-Champaign that serves about 79,000 students with about 25,000 employees. The university is highly decentralized, and there are centralized IT services, shared IT services, and local IT services throughout. In total, there are over 100,000 customers (not counting the 700,000 living alumni) and over 100 different IT groups at the university. Providing effective IT governance and planning in this environment is challenging.

IT governance defines the processes, components, structures, and participants for making decisions regarding the use of IT. It collects ideas, reviews and selects, and prioritizes resources in the most strategic manner possible. IT governance promotes transparency, strategic alignment of the university and IT, resource allocation, performance management, collaboration, standards and policy, and it encourages constituents to participate actively in the process.

As Gartner and EDUCAUSE suggest, IT governance should be only as complex as needed. In a small organization, one committee can handle the strategic and operational prioritization. In a larger organization, an executive committee or steering committees might be needed. Depending on what needs to be governed, committees can be focused on constituent types, like faculty members or students, or focused on functions like research or enterprise architecture.

After our ERP migration in 2004, we had a large backlog of improvements and integrations, so we established a specific governance process that consisted of cross-campus subcommittees representing the functions of finance, HR, and student business processes. Our customers can choose to participate in any aspect of this process. Some write their own proposals, while others add their own local development resources to the projects. All of the work is managed through the centralized GPPMO.

Regardless of the shape or size of governance, it needs to have something specific to govern, or else the process will become sparsely-attended with unfocused discussions that meander indefinitely. Our IT governance process has been sustained because it directly manages resources. Specifically, there are 70,000 hours of project time and $1.4M of annual funding managed by the governance group. The committees are active and engaged because they direct the allocation of centralized resources to their campus needs. Since the pool of resources is finite, the group must discuss and prioritize to achieve the greatest impact for the least cost.

In order to have effective guidance for the governance process, IT should be part of the planning process in an organization. The Society for College and University Planning defines integrated planning as a process to promote academic, financial, facilities and IT planning in a repeatable, rational, and collaborative manner. SCUP tells us not to plan in silos and then toss the latest draft of the plan from group to group. Plan together and be transparent. In our case, the Administrative IT Services (AITS) department developed strategic objectives that enable our creative and innovative faculty and students by freeing up more of their time.

While it may be tempting to not have a governance framework, there must be something in place. If there is no process for people decide and prioritize collectively, it will lead to an “order taker” mindset where individual customers feel free to ask the IT department for any type of project because they do not have the awareness of the requests from others. Consequently, every customer group will believe that their priorities are the highest priorities because they did not actively participate in the process of looking across business units to prioritize what is most important for the university.

A good portfolio and project management office knows what resources are available and when projects will start and finish. In our environment, the portfolio and project management office is well suited to facilitate IT governance. Additionally, the group manages and schedules resources, monitors and controls the portfolio, develops the corporate project management center of excellence, and completes projects. A successful office should have all of these components, that is, a GPPM office: IT governance, portfolio and project management. This allows the same group of people to look from beginning to end of the project process.

We expanded our GPPMO to include other components: business process improvement, records and information management, and customer relationship management. This lets us help our constituents analyze their processes before they decide they need to start a project. The records office helps constituents interpret federal, state and university policy, making it easier for individuals to store, manage, and dispose of the records generated during the course of business. Finally, the CRM office helps coordinate our social media, annual reports, and participation in events and meetings so that every member of the IT department has the ability to work with our customers.

How well have we done? To date, our ROI is three to one, meaning that for every dollar spent on a project, we create three dollars in efficiency over a five-year period. There have been 513 projects reviewed, 445 approved, 65 rejected or withdrawn, 395 completed, and 53 in progress. The demand for our projects has increased 53 percent over the last five years, and there are about 87,000 hours of approved work in the pipeline.

In area process improvement, we have made 84 recommendations with apotential savings of $8.1M and 7,800 hours annually and have directly engaged with 75 units on their own projects. We have trained over 800 people trained in lean and six sigma methodologies, partnered to create collegebased BPI programs, engage shared service participants across the university, and mediate between groups to make forward progress.

Even though we have a successful process, we are continually reviewing IT governance, so it aligns with the campus strategic plans and business needs. We made several changes to our process over time, including realigning project selection to strategic plans, improving communication outside of the process by adding a CRM group, delegating decision making for “small” projects to make the process more lightweight, and creating a cross-functional prioritization committee at a lower level in the organization because we found that the higher level employees did not have enough time to learn about the nuances of the each project to effectively prioritize them.

There are many ways to set up an IT governance and project management framework. In our case, we maximize efficiency with asingle GPPMO, that guides the governance process, creates standards and requirements, manages our portfolio of work, reports on performance, focuses on integrated planning with IT and the customers, retains the capacity for large projects, and provides professional development opportunities for IT professionals through out the university. 

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