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Article : "Les stratégies d'Open Savoir-Faire"

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dimanche 29 mai 2011

IT governance ontologies

An original IT governance ontology rooted in French culture and history

Notion of IT Governance ontology

Ontology is one of the most difficult concept in philosophy : you might remember a lecture in college [1] on the “Ontological Proof” (Fr : Preuve Ontologique) by René Descartes, a French philosopher of the XVI century (famous for his “cogito ergo sum”, “I think therefore I am”). Composed by the Greek word ontos , being, (Fr : étant) and logos, discourse (Fr : discours), ontology could be translated with discourse on being (Fr : “discours sur l'être”). Applied to a specific domain or entity, it could be translated into representing (Fr: représenter) the domain or the entity or modelling the domain or the entity.

For exemple, “governance ontology” simply means “governance modelling”.

In information systems management, modelling systems happens when ensuring interoperation between IT systems or integrating a component into a system. When the modelling follows some specific semiologic rules, computer science calls it ontology : “ “Within the context of computer science, an ontology defines a set of representational primitives with which to model a domain of knowledge or discourse. The representational primitives are typically classes (or sets), attributes (or properties), and relationships (or relations among class members)...” [GRUBER 2009]
Three classical IT governance ontologies

There are three classical IT governance ontologies :
  1. IT entitlements and IT accountabilities
  2. the above plus IT organisational structures and IT management processes
  3. the above plus the IT strategy and IT policy.

These ontologies might be revealed by three streams of thought leaderships on IT governance [WIKI 2009].

The first stream is leaded by Professor Peter Weill and Professor Jeanne Ross (MIT, USA) who formulated IT governance as "decision rights and accountability framework for encouraging desirable behaviour in the use of IT"[MIT 2002].

The second stream, probably the most widely followed, was initiated by the IT Governance Institute (USA), an institute sponsored by ISACA. ITGI retained the following definition: "(...)leadership and organisational structures and processes that ensure that the organisation's IT sustains and extends the organisation’s strategies and objectives" [ITGI 2003]. The definition is tightly coupled with the reputed best practices library COBIT (Control Objectives of Information and related Technologies), which represents a collection of 34 management processes organised in four families named as "Plan and organize" or "Acquire and Implement"[ITGI 1996-2007]. Similar definitions have been adopted by other frameworks which represent a collection of processes such as ITIL [ITIL 2007]

The third one is the most recent and is promoted by ISO: "(...)it includes the strategy and policies for using ICT within an organisation" [ISO 2008].

For each of these thought leadership, ontological primitives can be drawn out from the respective governance definitions.

Authors Primitives
P. Weill and J. Ross (USA) Decision rights
ISACA / ITGI Leadership
Organisational structures
OGC Policies
ISO Directing systems
Controlling systems
Use plans
IT strategies
IT policies

Users voice

Should we consult the user side, we could knock at CIGREF, an association of the leading French companies which was created 40 years ago in Paris to address the usage of information technologies within the enterprise. CIGREF bears the user voice of a community strong of 130 companies which form more than 95% of companies of the CAC 40 and 50% of Euronext 100. In a report of a study on IT governance conducted in 2002, CIGREF noted that "chaque fois que différents acteurs veulent exercer un pouvoir sur un système, ils évoquent la notion de gouvernance" [CIGREF 2002] (Ang : "any time various actors are willing to exercise some power on a system, they summon the notion of governance".

It is noticeable that the word “power” (Fr : pouvoir) is used in this user voice instead of “authority” (Fr : autorité) or “accountability” (Fr : responsabilité) that could have been used without modifying dramatically the meaning of the phrase.
This hints to the fact that governance primarily is a political notion and suggests whereas more traditional thinking say that IT governance were a branch of “Corporate Governance” or a discipline of its kind and called “IT Governance” with upper case letters, that IT governance might be simply “governance applied to IT”

A genuine IT governance ontology

Contemplating that regime (Fr : régime), a notion deeply rooted in the French culture and history, was a primitive notion in political science, we have crafted this genuine definition of IT governance :
definition, application and management of IT governance regime
where “IT governance regime” is simply a “regime for IT”. (©Tru Dô-Khac, France) The associated ontological analysis results into an outstanding simple output.

IT governance definition Primitive
Definition, application and management of
IT governance regime
where IT governance regime is a [governance] regime for IT


[CIGREF 2002] "Gouvernance du SI, problématiques et démarches" (Ang: IT governance, problematics and approaches), CIGREF, 2002, page 11.
[GRUBER 2009] Definition by [ Tom Gruber ], Encyclopedia of Database Systems, Ling Liu and M. Tamer Özsu (Eds.), Springer-Verlag, 2009
[ISO 2008] "IT governance standard", 2008, ISO.
[ITGI 2003] "Board Briefing on IT Governance, 2nd Edition", IT Governance Institute, 2003, page 10.
[ITGI 1996-2007] Cobit 4.1 Exerpt, IT Governance Institute, 1996-2007, page 26.
[ITIL 2007] ITIL® V3 Glossary v3.1.24, May 11 2007, page ,
[MIT 2002] "Don’t just lead: govern. Implementing effective IT governance", Peter Weill, Richard Woodham, 2002, MIT CISR, page 1, 3.
[MIT 2004] "IT governance on One Page", Peter Weill, Jeanne Ross, 2004, MIT CISR, page 4.
[WIKI 2009], Information technology governance/definitions, 31 janvier 2009.
[1] Tribute to Lycée Louis-Le-Grand and ist professors who raised me to Ecole Polytechnique ParisTech.

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