How to Structure and Mature the Business/IT Relationship

A communicator/contributor should be open and trustworthy with a high emotional intelligence to help diffuse tense situations where blame might traditionally be freely assigned. The liaison might be challenged to redefine the relationships. With patience and several trust building conversations, the communicator will begin to participate in planning and delivery and become the advocate for different groups and perspectives.

The liaison is cautioned in aligning too closely with newly opened relationships as group-think might ensue. Liaisons should also be careful not to provide all the initial suggestions or answers as they will not be effective if viewed as the single point of contact and only trusted resource.

Facilitator/educator – This role is characterized by knowledge of the organization’s business divisions, plans, priorities, and technology processes, where the business and IT know each other and have a sense of what each group is attempting to accomplish.

As companies grow, small groups tend to form, frequently making decisions that cause unknown challenges for other business units and IT. A liaison with process framework experience can facilitate a team through methodology use and enhance understanding when decisions could affect other areas.

The facilitator role should have relationships across company levels and be respected to suggest improvement (even allowing teams to work around immature processes which would be a detriment to progress). The facilitator/educator liaison will be in a position to identify productivity detractors and should drive improvement, enabling teams to learn how to leverage flexible and valuable processes.

Planner/improver – Most effective with a well communicating business/IT team, the planner/improver liaison will assist in prioritizing project portfolios so, as business units refine their strategy, funding, or operations, IT does not bear the full burden of the modifications. Typically, there are several programs at the top of every group’s list resulting in multiple No.1 initiatives. IT might find itself working on 10 or 20 No.1 priority projects, leading to high failure rates; especially in a down market when costs and staff are being cut and projects are running lean.

The liaison should have intimate knowledge of business units, strategic corporate plans, and participate in IT operation strategy. Business units and IT must want to complete the projects and proactively identify process areas to improve and align with corporate needs, such as work load, reduced budget, or less staff. The liaison should be asking (at every work session) if process will support the business demands and, if not, how will the business participate in its modification so IT can deliver to expectations. As progress is made, the liaison will take on a program improvement role to track both projects and improvements and hold the business and IT accountable.

Depending on where a company started, the liaison role should be allowed to mature to support career development and mitigate attrition. Organizations should also select liaison candidates carefully. A good communicator may not have a strategic planning background and an educator who naturally provides answers may not understand that sometimes you have to let others solve the riddles.

The business/IT relationship should be managed with an understanding that competing goals may have to be adjusted and expectations re-aligned based on allocated scope, time, and budget. Liaisons should be highly adaptable.