A liaison initiative should be viewed as an investment in productivity and when recruiting a team, understanding the roles will help determine effectiveness based on the current working environment. The structure however should take into account organizational culture and size to enable efficiency and determine fit.
Individual liaison – Once business and IT divisions grow to 100 people each, there is a need for more formal process and project management discipline. Depending on the maturity and honesty of communication, planning, and delivery, an individual liaison can enhance the relationship.
For an organization with 500 in IT, a liaison model is well warranted and the individual model can be effective where business units have their own liaison and receive information and planning assistance while giving IT more visibility into business plans and priorities. At this size, liaisons should have a robust understanding of IT and can operate as an effective communicator and educator in a self-reliant fashion.
The risk is an individual becoming a communication bottleneck or becoming more of a project manager instead of a communicator, facilitator or planner.
Resource support pool – As IT grows beyond 500 with a business over 5,000, architecture, application portfolio, business process, marketing, and customer relationship complexity grows. Liaisons will have a larger scope to manage, will interact with a broader user group, and interact with senior executives. Effectiveness can be supported by an identified pool of resources across the business and IT operational lifecycle, including operations, architecture, development, testing, infrastructure, process, and finance.
Liaisons would also meet regularly to compare and share information, enhancing their effectiveness and assisting in supporting strategic planning as cross functional improvements can be identified. Proper support resource identification will organize communication and mitigate excluding knowledgeable employees, regardless of organizational chart status. A liaison support pool helps succession planning, provides increased job satisfaction, and builds internal networks―a critical component to business alignment that enables efficiencies and productivity gains.
Center of excellence – Beyond a certain size or organizational complexity, part-time resources become ineffective and a center of excellence (CoE) structure will allow cost effective maturity. A liaison CoE requires inward and outward focus, being challenged to become a leader in strategic planning and effective in the implementation of organizational goals. The CoE will have liaisons along with dedicated technologists, analysts, process engineers, and, if strategic planning is aligned, governance, risk management and financial analysts. Enterprise wide improvements are more effectively driven and the risk of partial information or missed expectations highly mitigated because of the dedicated team.
Your appetite for risk should dictate the preferred model. With a well selected core team for a liaison CoE, strategic planning, enterprise risk management, governance, process, and portfolio planning can all be effectively managed and effect positive influence across a global organization to drive competitive advantage.
The liaison relationship is assuredly an investment and will fail when initiated either part-time, with no support, or staffed with an inexperienced team. If done right, the resulting collaborative working environment will be a welcome addition to any organization’s strategy. Selecting and maturing the most effective model is dependent on an organization’s current state and transformation strategy, with liaison role and structure being two constructs to consider.
Adam Nelson is director of Global Client Management at Keane Inc., an IT services firm. Adam has initiated and led, or advised, business/IT liaison teams across retail, healthcare, government, and financial service industries with organizations up to 10,000 and IT divisions from 700 to 2,500 people.