Where should IT be in the reporting structure?

Where do we place IT in the reporting structure of an organization?  The topic of reporting structure and IT’s placement has nagged me for years.

The typical answer for IT reporting structure is “it depends” and that is not wrong.  Based on my experiences, I am firmly convinced that IT needs to report to the Chancellor/President/CEO, essentially the top level in an organizational structure.  My reasons? I believe it has to do with governance. Governance recognizes roles and decision rights over strategic capabilities in institutions. IT is not plumbing although there are significant infrastructure elements. IT provides a set of capabilities that can be applied to move an organization forward strategically BUT it can only do that if it is part of the initial conversation. If IT has to react after the fact, everyone will be disappointed and the organization will be under-utilizing a strategic asset.  It has been said so many times – IT needs to be at the Executive level so that its strategic capabilities can be fully utilized. I asked this question on my social media channels.

Where should IT report to in a  #highered organization? Welcoming your thoughts. 

It triggered several dialogues on Twitter and Facebook.   I will write a follow-up post on the discussions.  Let me share a discussion overview that I put together to frame our conversation.   Note, this is based on my experience in higher education institutions and is biased from my direct experience. There are four common reporting models used in higher education institutions.   IT can report to:

  • Chancellor/President/CEO
  • Provost/Vice President of Education/COO
  • Vice Chancellor of Finance/Vice President of Finance/CFO
  • Dual Reporting to Provost and Vice Chancellor of Finance

Chancellor IT reports to the Chancellor and sits at the Executive/Senior Staff level with a Vice President or CIO title.  This positions IT to be a university wide strategic capability.  IT will be perceived as impartial without favouring  academic or administrative mandates.  The challenge with this model is if the Chancellor does not see IT as strategic.  They may not have the time (or interest) to provide direction and guidance required.  There may also be a perception that IT is only a strategic function and is not focused on delivering tactical services.

Provost IT reports to the Provost and sits at the Deans Council level to ensure IT is aligned to the University academic plan.  IT is positioned to be a strategic academic capability.  IT is aligned to support the education and research mission of the institution.  The challenge with this model is that IT may end up focusing solely on academic services.  There is a risk that operational IT services get lesser priority.  The institution would not be well served if they had excellent educational technology but failed to have reliable administrative services like student admission and registration.

Vice Chancellor for Finance IT reports to the CFO and sits at the Senior Director level to ensure IT is aligned with the financial and administrative mission of the institution.  IT is positioned to be a tactical, operational capability and ensures reliable and available core technology services.  The challenge is that IT is perceived as administrative focused.  There is a risk that educational technology may be given a lesser priority.  The institution would not be well served if they had excellent administrative services but failed to integrate technology into teaching, learning and research.

Dual Reporting IT reports to both the Provost and CFO and sits at both the Dean’s Council and Senior Director or CIO level to ensure that the dual mandate of academic and administrative needs are served.  There is a strong requirement for governance in this model as a dual reporting structure automatically places the CIO in a conflict situation.  If managed well, then both academic and administrative capabilities are serviced.  This also aligns and rationalizes resources across both academic and administrative areas of the institution.

Certain organizational functions have a enterprise wide mandate.  IT and Human Resources are two of these.  My answer to the question is:

IT needs to report to the Chancellor/President/CEO, essentially the top level in an organizational structure.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the feedback I got from Twitter and Facebook about IT’s place in a reporting structure.