How to overcome the culture of “no” in your IT department

How to overcome the culture of “no” in your IT department

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Conference Table CIO

An interview with Curt Carver, the Vice Chancellor and CIO; Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia


These days many IT-driven organizations are working hard to overcome their “no police” reputation. Business-minded IT leaders in particular know that saying no all the time won’t earn them a seat at the table. Yet saying yes to every request isn’t necessarily the right answer. In this interview we ask Curt Carver, the Vice Chancellor and CIO for the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, how he’s helping his IT department strike the right balance between yes and no.


The Enterprisers Project (TEP): How are you changing the culture of IT being the “no police” within your department?


Curt Carver: It’s a topic I like to talk with our employees about. We’re a state agency. About five years ago, most of my budget was state money. However, if you look at my budget right now, more than two-thirds of my money is revenue. So I have to sell services, and this idea that I'm going to go around telling everybody “no” is not going to work when I’m trying to sell services.


So what I try to practice internally with my organization and externally with our campuses is to allow them to co-author the policies we’re working on. This lets them know that we’re not trying to tell them exactly how to do things. Instead, we’re trying to create an environment that is participatory and allows them to co-author their own fate while putting safe boundaries around that behavior for the benefit of the entire organization. It doesn't have to be my way. It can be their way. But it needs to be one way, and whatever that one way is I'm willing to discuss with them. So we’ve built shared governance structures that you need to help facilitate those types of conversations.


TEP: Does shared governance work?


Curt Carver: It works about 90 percent of the time. Another 10 percent of the time we run into instances where we've got an institution that basically says: “You can’t tell me what to do.” When that happens, Audit comes back in and says: “Yes, they can,” and then audits them. Then they have to formally respond back, and the meetings continue until the behavior changes.


If you were to go back and look at the concept of control and IT controlling everything, we're moving away from that as fast as we can, but we want to do that in such a way that we’re viewed as a partner and we’re viewed as setting up safe boundaries around performance.


TEP: Can you give us an example?


Curt Carver: A recent example is Bring Your Own Device. If you go back five or 10 years ago, IT completely controlled the image of the device, the build and the patching. Since then we’ve moved into Bring Your Own Device with some appropriate controls around that in four key areas. What I’m trying to do is set the stage for not only Bring Your Own Device, but Bring Your Own Network and Bring Your Own Analytics. The kind of cultural change that’s going to be needed for each of those transformations requires that we not be viewed as the office that says “no.” We need to be viewed as the office of saying: “This is how you do it safely, and this is how we can do this so that you can be innovative and you can be agile and you can be moving forward quickly, but at the same time do it in a very safe manner.”


TEP: Are there any side effects to that, good or bad?


Curt Carver: It slows down the rise of shadow IT. In fact, what we’re seeing now is the business partners saying: “Look, I do want you involved in this process. I do want you to have a seat at the table. I do want you to have a say on this.” That comes from delivering services flawlessly. That’s your foundation so that trust is built, and you build on that being responsive to their needs and listening to their voices.


You can always say “yes” to anything if you shift the resource question, be it time, people, money or space. Those are your four principal resources. You want to help them make an informed decision. You don’t make the decision for them that the answer is no. You build trust so that they know your estimates are accurate, that you’re not gouging them, and that they have free control to pick one of the options you’ve given them. Once they select an option, you execute flawlessly on what you promised to do.


Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer for the Board of Regents of University System of Georgia (USG). In this capacity, he oversees a statewide educational infrastructure and service organization with more than 190 innovators and more than $75 million annual investment in higher education. He also provides technical oversight of the USG Shared Services Center. Dr. Carver has led the transformation of IT services by partnering with USG business owners, institutions, and other state agencies to jointly solve problems.

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