I’ve been thinking about a couple of things my CIO clients are wrestling with, and how these might be better approached jointly rather than as separate challenges.  These are:

  1. How to strengthen Business-IT Relationships in the context of the current economic climate.
  2. How to experiment with, learn from and foster Social Networking in the business context (rather than the more common “Facebook-like” personal context.
  3. How to sharpen and refocus the role of IT for the global recession.

Business-IT Relationships and the Current Economy

The abstract notion of “business-IT relationships” becomes more tangible when we thing in terms of role.  The CIO can be thought of as the “über-relationship manager” – responsible for the relationship between IT and the Executive Leadership.  The good news is that this relationship is key to shaping, understanding and enabling the overarching enterprise strategy.  The bad news is that there is often a large gap between this strategic intent and the actual strategy as enacted by business unit management.

A second layer of business-IT relationship management is needed at this second layer – seasoned IT executives (often on a CIO succession track) who face off with business unit leaders and, just like their CIO bosses, are responsible for shaping and understanding their business unit’s strategy.  The role responsible for this management layer is the IT Relationship Manager (actual titles vary considerably).  They are also responsible, with the CIO, for reconciling between strategic intent at the top executive layer, and current strategy at the business unit management layer.

From my experience, this Business Unit Relationship Manager role typically does not work very effectively.  The competencies essential for this role to thrive include:

  • Deep business knowledge and insight
  • Analytical skills
  • Sufficient IT expertise to keep it all real and current
  • Strong communications and change management
  • A goodly dose of innovation
  • Decent level of finance and accounting

This is a rare combination, with limited training and development sources available.  (I must plug my company, nGenera, here for being a pioneer with our highly regarded Relationship Management Professional Development Programs).

In a down economy, the Relationship Manager role is even more important.  They have to surface and “sell” innovative opportunities that can grow market share in a recession, create new top line growth, and innovate products, services and processes that provide exceptional customer experiences.  At the same time, they have to deflect all the low value demand for system tweaks and enhancements that don’t lead to these types of growth oriented opportunities, and actually add cost while consuming scarce resources without adding much value.

Experiment with, Learn from and Foster Social Networking

I’ve posted before that many of the more innovative and visionary CIOs are driving Social Networking and Web 2.0 into their IT organizations and their businesses.  Some are still struggling with this, looking for the “killer application” that becomes the tipping point for this brave new world of IT possibilities.  I believe that strengthening Relationship Management performance might be an ideal “killer app” for social networking.

Imagine a community of Relationship Management practitioners, sharing war stories, ideas and applications of their art.  Imagine Wiki’s containing internal (and external) best Relationship Management practices, pointing to tools and templates such as customer profiling, business case development, strategic account management and so on.

Imagine this community expanding over time to incorporate IT savvy business leaders, building on each other’s ideas and creating momentum for innovative and high value IT-enabling opportunities.

Sharpen and Refocus the Role of IT for the Global Recession

So, three separate challenges – converged, might make for a potent brew.  I believe there’s a potential “virtuous cycle” here – one that can be initiated relatively easily, inexpensively, and with very little risk.  In fact, I bet for many organizations, this is already happening – it’s just not be channeled and amplified into critical mass.

What do you think?  Are you doing any of this?  How’s it working out?  How could it be amplified?  As alway, comments are most welcome!