Rethinking Governance
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Rethinking Governance

By Vennard Wright, CIO, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

Vennard Wright, CIO, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

Historically, one of the most vexing challenges for central information technology (IT) organizations has been planning for and making informed decisions about requests for new projects, such as the implementation of a new enterprise system or an operating system upgrade, as compared to responding to outages and requests for existing services such as the installation of approved software or a password reset.

There is always a struggle for the central IT organization to maintain ongoing compliance from shadow IT organizations, while working to drive down costs and improve efficiencies in the face of ever shrinking technology budgets. This struggle necessitates a gradual shift from strict adherence with governance policies and total control over technical infrastructure to a focus on balanced aspects of IT growth, business alignment, risk mitigation, operational efficiency and compliance.

At the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the IT organization is responsible for providing day to day technical support for a 100 year old public water utility, which serves 1.8 million residents in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties in Maryland, across approximately 475,000 customer accounts.

Providing IT support for WSSC comes with a unique set of challenges that necessitates constant adaptation and rethinking of governance policies to prevent unnecessary slowdowns and outages in service due to inefficient processes and bureaucratic red tape.

Our IT department acknowledged this need for flexibility in our thinking by working with the various internal departments to brainstorm and implement a collaborative, standardized set of processes and procedures aimed at addressing issues related to ongoing governance of the lifecycle of major projects that range from customer care and billing to asset management. One of our most important goals was to formulate a streamlined, transparent way to manage our project portfolio.

To ensure that we were successful in accomplishing that goal, we worked with the designated points of contact for each of the departments, called IT coordinators, to bridge the gaps between our current state and achieving their respective goals for new, innovative solutions, all while making efficient use of WSSC resources.

"Providing IT support for WSSC comes with a unique set of challenges that necessitates constant adaptation and rethinking of governance policies"

To bridge any existing gaps, we designated a team of project managers to serve as business analysts for customer outreach and requirements development under the auspices of our overall governance methodology, which is based on principles from industry best practices such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK), Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 20001.

To effectively address the challenges that inherently exist in making complex decisions about which projects to approve, we developed a governance board called the Enterprise Program Management Office (EPMO), which comprised of representatives from various departments such as Procurement and Finance, to support decision making for enterprise level initiatives that range from implementation of a new procurement system to the purchase of new work management software.

The EPMO evaluates and classifies each of the new requests into one of the following three categories:

• Run the Company – Operational projects; not to exceed 65 percent of all requests; or

• Grow the Company – Revenue generation projects; not to exceed 25 percent of all requests; or

• Transform the Company – New technology projects; not to exceed 10 percent of all requests.

The purpose of creating the EPMO was to ensure that all new projects possessed a clear methodology, the requisite funding and aligned with WSSC’s vision, mission, strategy, goals and objectives before moving forward. In the past, we encountered hurdles such as resource constraints and missed deadlines because we did not plan properly for large projects that impacted multiple departments.

This enabled WSSC to produce qualitative and quantitative measurements of effectiveness in meeting requests for the initiation of new projects. Because of this new approach, the EPMO is benefitting from the following improvements:

• Creation of a centralized governance structure and methodology for accepting, validating and moving forward with new projects; and

• Efficient, transparent evaluation of new requests via a common, documented methodology; and

• Seamless access to a dashboard that outlines where each approved request is in the process lifecycle and project queue.

The EPMO reports directly to a Deputy General Manager as the Executive Stakeholder and ensures participation in the change control process and new levels of efficiency throughout the commission.

As a direct result of rethinking our original policy, we have been able to work on initiatives to deliver much needed improvements, such as the deployment of a data warehouse for displaying online information and mobile applications that provide access to services for customers.

This means WSSC is becoming much more sophisticated in how we use governance processes to collect and manage data which allowed us to establish a new policy of making data driven decisions and sharing data openly with the public. This policy is the foundation for a new digital roadmap for the Commission.

Our digital roadmap contains strategic information about implementations, upgrades and new ideas that were developed collaboratively with our various points of contact throughout WSSC. This is information that we can share and validate with our strategic industry partners to remain on the cutting edge with technology and to benefit from lessons learned from other utilities.

The outcome of these partnerships with industry will result in time saved in the evaluation of new technologies and interceptive strategies for WSSC customers, much earlier than was previously possible, leading to more rapid improvements in customer service.

By launching this digital roadmap, we are also aggressively committed to a policy that seeks out new and innovative ideas that will continuously help us to develop partnerships with private industry in new and more efficient ways that will drive change for the better, while ensuring that governance is always an underlying driver in all IT initiatives.

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