PhD Defence Daniel Smits

hard and soft it governance maturity

Daniel Smits is a PhD student in the Department Industrial Engineering and Business Information Systems (IEBIS). His supervisor is prof.dr. J. van Hillegersberg from the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social sciences (BMS).

The goal of the research presented is to determine how the IT governance (ITG) of an organisation can grow in maturity to become more effective.

The first ITG publications appeared in the late-1990s. While a considerable body of literature on ITG exists, definitions of ITG in the literature vary considerably. Out of a long list of ITG definitions, this research opted for the ITG definition: “the structures, process, cultures and systems that engender the successful operation of the IT of the (complete) organization”. ITG is thus not restricted to the IT organisation.

The research presented here follows the stream in which ITG is considered an integral part of corporate governance, focusing on the performance perspective. The proposition is that improving “ITG maturity” results in improving ITG. Given that ITG is an integral part of corporate governance, the assumption is that improving ITG results in improving corporate governance and improving corporate governance results in improving organisational performance.

The main question of the research is:

How can the ITG of an organisation grow in maturity to become more effective?

The research methodology is based on design science and a combination of systematic literature studies, Delphi workshops and case studies.

Organisations can be defined as social units of people that are structured and managed to pursue collective goals.

Thus, ITG can be seen from two perspectives:

  • In organisational perspective referred to as “hard governance”;
  • A social perspective referred to as “soft governance”.This research is grounded in the assumption that in order to advance in maturity, organisations should pay attention to both the hard and soft sides of ITG. The hard side is related to processes and structure, the soft side to social aspects like behaviour and organisational culture. The proposition was that immature or a low level of ITG maturity represent the cause of a lack of effective ITG. In order to improve ITG, a maturity model for hard and soft ITG was designed because such a model does not exist and is required in practice. This maturity model is intended to help organisations improve their hard (structure, processes) and soft (behaviour, collaboration) ITG. The end result was a maturity model consisting of three parts: soft governance, hard governance and the context (of an organisation). The maturity part of the MIG model consists of hard and soft governance. The context is placed outside of the maturity part. The MIG model consists of four focus areas for soft governance: continuous improvement, leadership, participation, and understanding and trust. The five focus areas for hard governance comprise: functions and roles, formal networks, IT decision-making, planning and monitoring. There are three focus areas in the context: culture, informal organisation and sector. This model was named the MIG model.The MIG model was used to design an ITG maturity model. The artefact resulting from the process was named the MIG assessment instrument. This thesis provides a detailed description of the design process between 2014 and 2017. The description of the design process starts with the initial version, the protocol for using the instrument and the changes in the second and third versions of the instrument. The design of the first version was based on the MIG model and the results of a series of Delphi workshops with practitioners.  A Delphi workshop with a group of CIOs demonstrated how the practical relevance of the research and a systematic ITG literature review was conducted to collect prior knowledge. Only two frameworks were found covering hard and soft ITG: COBIT 5.0 in a holistic way and the research presented today.Another literature review demonstrated that all 12 focus areas of the MIG model are also covered by the corporate governance literature.  The assessment instrument was used in case studies conducted by students and the researchers. The changes to the second and third version of the MIG assessment instrument are based on the use, improvement and validation of the instrument via several case studies. The assumption is that if students are able to use the instrument, it can be expected that practitioners — who in general have much more practical experience — will definitely be able to use the instrument.Between 2015 and 2017, 28 case studies were conducted using the first, second and third versions of the instrument. The use of the instrument was always combined with semi-structured interviews with the participant to evaluate and correct the results. Participants responded positively regarding the usability of the tool in general. They also proposed a large number of improvements to the instrument. The evaluations revealed that combining the instrument with semi-structured interviews results in an enhanced and usable instrument for determining the current level of hard and soft ITG of an organisation.

The contribution of the research is twofold:

Scientific contribution

This thesis illustrates that for organisations, the soft side of ITG is at least as important. This goes (far) beyond relational governance mechanisms as found in current research.

In spite of the efforts made here, a causal relationship between ITG and the performance of an organisation remains unclear, as does the ITG mechanisms that affect organisational performance. The MIG model and the MIG instrument may serve as a useful model to conduct further research to develop a better understanding of these relationships.

The focus areas of the MIG model are relevant for corporate governance, too. Thus, the model and instrument might be useful for research to attain a better understanding regarding how the relationship between ITG and corporate governance works.

Practical contribution

Consultants in practice base their approach on available models, frameworks and experience. The MIG model is a model created via design science in collaboration with practitioners. This research illustrates that CIOs require the availability of a reliable measuring instrument.

The MIG instrument is a practical implementation of the MIG model and can serve as a useful tool to support employees or consultants in improving ITG in contemporary organisations.

This research and the MIG assessment instrument demonstrate a means of reducing the mismatch between ITG maturity theory and practice.