How to safeguard the operation of your IT-systems portfolio
It is one thing to chart your IT-systems portfolio as a public authority. It is another thing entirely to formulate an action plan, that ensures that both overview and control of your portfolio is passable – even after review with the Agency for Governmental IT Services.
For the Danish Court Administration, there were 4 primary factors of their approach to their portfolio, which helped them reach their goal of a sustainable action plan. Below, you can read IT-director Martin Woods’ insights and advice, so you can emulate their approach.
The Danish Court Administration in numbers
The Danish Court Administration is in charge of administrating and developing the Courts of Denmark, and has around 2400 employees distributed between 24 municipal courts, general and additional courts, administration and HR. With 40 IT-systems, 20 of which are business critical, it is necessary to have a dedicated initiative to control and develop the organization’s IT. As part of their review with the Agency for Governmental IT Services, the agency therefore emphasized the need for formulating and executing a thorough action plan, built on 4 core elements:
- Establish a knowledge sharing systems office
First and foremost, it is essential to acknowledge the importance of IT as a strategic part of an organization. For the Danish Court Administration, this manifested itself at the establishment of a brand-new IT knowledge sharing systems office in 2019. The office was responsible for handling the operation and maintenance of the administration’s systems and connecting them to the business. To ensure the last part, the office was not only equipped with 8 system owners, but also with a close collaborative relationship with business owners, placed in the administration’s center for development. The business owners are very familiar with both the business and changes to policy and can therefore align the system owners’ technical work with the business’ needs.
- Give the system owners the power
For the Danish Court Administration, the new knowledge sharing office also represented an acknowledgement of how decentralization could be an advantage to the action plan. As the system owners are the ones who are most familiar with the individual systems, it is natural that they should also be the ones making decisions about them. This is why the administration has also given the economic management responsibilities and the decision competencies to the 8 system owners, who are part of the knowledge sharing office. This can sound dangerous and for many authorities, it would also be a very unusual decision. For the Danish Court Administration, however, the decision exceeded all expectations and the budgets have rarely been more precise. By letting the system owners decide, the administration ensured that the resources were used in the best possible way and with the business’ needs as the starting point.
- Have a clear legacy-strategy
Most organizations cannot avoid some amount of technical debt or legacy-systems. And in the work with those kinds of systems, replacing them is not the only necessity. It is also important to devise a plan for how you can contain and avoid technical debt in the future. For the Danish Court Administration, this resulted in a decided legacy-strategy, where they continuously replace either entire legacy systems, or components and bad code in an otherwise healthy system. This is commonly done in collaboration with suppliers, in order to future-proof the system.
- Do not let the action plan be separate from the strategy
It is important, that the IT action plan does not become an isolated initiative, only for IT- and operations employees. If you want to preserve good portfolio management, maintenance and systems development has to be written into your overall strategy. The Danish Court Administration has therefore put the action plan on the agenda for both strategy, budget processes and annual cycles of work. In that way, the action plan becomes anchored in the organization, and the IT-systems portfolio gets a natural spot in the prioritization with annual work program and strategy review every 4 years.
Did the Agency of Governmental IT Services agree with everything?
In short: no. Although the IT-systems portfolio was approved, the Agency for Governmental IT Services recommended, that the Danish Court Administration should limit their number of parallel activities. However, this was a recommendation that the administration chose to ignore, as they were unable to judge which activities they could afford to cut. So, it is important to keep in mind, that you as an authority should use the IT Agency as a guide and competent sparring partner – but not a judge. The final decision is yours to make.
4 tips for other authorities facing a review with the Agency for Governmental IT Services
- Be active in your action plan. It should not just be a list of your IT-systems, but a description of how you intend to use and maintain them.
- Make an IT action plan that is as concrete and measurable as possible, so it is easier to document progress and next steps.
- Be prepared for the review to be pretty extensive. It is not only the technology that is being examined, but also competence development, stakeholder analyses and other activities within the organization.
- There should be a connection between the activities of the action plan and the organization’s strategy, so the two complement each other.
Where did we learn this?
This article is based on the presentation that CIO of the Danish Court Administration, Martin Wood, and unit manager Katrine Bork, gave at Peak’s webinar “Portfolio management of state IT-systems”.