Enterprise governance is often seen as a necessary evil -- the unfortunate means to achieve the end of employing an effective enterprise architecture strategy. But a proactive governance approach might have the power to change this image. Eric Marks, president and CEO of Agile-Path Corp., suggests taking an event-driven approach to enterprise governance.
An event-driven approach, said Marks, focuses on identifying the types of events that need attention to ensure that development and integration efforts are on the right track. If it is carefully implemented, an event-driven approach can streamline governance and ensure that organizations do not create "silos of governance."
At Agile-Path, Marks has consulted with many enterprise organizations to implement business transformation as well as technological innovation via BPM and SOA. Governance, he said, is a consistent concern, and most efforts can stand significant improvement. He said the problems governance efforts face aren't usually technology problems -- instead, they're organizational problems.
Marks explained that organizations with deficient governance generally have siloed governance efforts that overlap in some places and leave gaps in others. Service governance, architecture governance, data governance and other types of governance each run in their own little silo. This system (or lack thereof) typically results in governance friction slowing some projects down while other projects slip through with little or no oversight.
Flipping the process on its head
The solution may be flipping the governance program build-out on its head: Instead of building governance committees that decide on governance policies and then seeking out instances when they should jump into action, it could be done the other way around. Marks said organizations should start by determining what events trigger governance reviews, followed by what processes the reviews should entail, and then what sort of committees are appropriate for those governance policies.
The goal of event-driven governance is to make the governance process run as smoothly as possible while still ensuring that governance requirements are met. In order to meet that goal, Marks suggested focusing on a relatively small number of core governance concerns and ensuring that the policies and processes for these concerns are laid out as explicitly as possible.
"Focus on the three to seven important core policies that matter most to your organization and then define governance around that core," said Marks. The specific priorities of focus vary widely from one organization to the next.
However, Marks mentioned that service reuse tends to be a priority for most SOA organizations. Similarly, cost control might be a major issue for any organization experiencing severe budget constraints. On the other end of the spectrum, integration would likely be a major concern for organizations actively acquiring new assets.
After figuring out what the overarching governance concepts are for your organization, the next step is to define all the events that trigger governance policies into action. Many of these events are likely outlined already in your SOA governance plan. For example, systems development lifecycle checkpoints will trigger governance policies.
Other governance-triggering events might not be as obvious. A business request for a new application should probably trigger, among other governance processes, a check for existing assets that can be applied to the new business case.
Avoid too many governance boards, committees
What are the pitfalls? If the organization starts out with boards and committees and then tries to define the governance process from within those committees, warned Marks, there is a strong tendency to build up too many committees. An overabundance of committees can lead to overlaps here, gaps there, and inefficiencies everywhere. "Start with the policies and process," said Marks. "Get that right and then layer virtual boards on top of that."
Following Marks' model of event-driven governance, organizations aggressively weed out redundant and unnecessary review boards and governance committees. Instead, they rely on what Marks calls virtual review boards. These are review boards that meet only when an exception in the usual governance process (triggered by an exceptional event) requires them to meet. "[The virtual board is] not a standing permanent entity; it's invoked by a necessity to get together to deal with a particular situation," Marks said.
According to Marks, using an event-based approach to governance can allow organizations to "skinny up governance" by reducing the organization's reliance on standing governance boards and committees. Marks suggested basing governance on events to empower the organization to implement leaner self-governance and community governance methods. "It's a simpler governance model overall," says Marks.
James Denman is associate editor at SearchSOA.com and TheServerSide.com. Follow him on Twitter @TTJDenman.