How to Structure and Mature the Business/IT Relationship - Page 1

Aug 24, 2009

Adam Nelson

Managing the relationship between an organization’s business units and IT is a strategic initiative that can support corporate objectives, bolster program planning, help set implementation expectations, and improve operational score cards ... or, it can become a burden and a detriment to open lines of communication.

A liaison model should take into account several company parameters, including sponsorship, size, governance, and collaboration levels, and be tailored to an organization’s culture and design. An effective communication program should be designed to fit within the current environment and have a plan to mature into a model that supports the future state of an organization if it is going to be sustainable.

A well operated and sponsored program has direct benefits including faster time to market, lower overall cost, fewer defects and misinterpreted expectations, and a more collaborative working style that raises the likelihood of success for cross-functional programs and organizational transformation.


Stakeholder involvement is typically a catalyst to a program's success or failure and this is no different with a liaison model. The liaison team should be led by an executive team member, someone with enterprise visibility and the ability to interact with senior management. With this level of sponsorship, strategic initiative support is encouraged and business unit conflicts are mitigated.

Depending on the executive sponsor, the group will probably have an affinity to that leader’s goals. If the group is expected to review spending habits, reporting to the CFO would be an advantage; if the technology portfolio is in need of support, the CIO would be an excellent sponsor. Ideally, the liaison model would be part of a more robust governance effort, as the team’s objectives are invariably linked to corporate improvement initiatives, including balanced scorecard, enterprise risk management, governance and compliance, and process improvement. A model that reports to a chief administration officer or corporate strategic planning will help the group evolve beyond business/IT communication and provide value for multiple stakeholders.

Business/IT communication can be implemented by taking into account team member roles and team structure. Herein, three roles are defined―communicator/contributor, facilitator/educator, and planner/improver―along with three structures (individual, pool, and center of excellence) to provide a framework for initiating and maturing a liaison team.

Team Roles

The role a liaison team plays depends on not only the current state, but what the existing challenges are. Understanding the pain points of the relationship will guide the selection of the appropriate style.

Communicator/contributor – This role tends to be most effective where the relationship is strained or where there is a "super-hero" environment. The liaison would focus on opening the lines of communication and rebuilding trust. With a superhero-oriented IT department, business users must learn to engage the entire department and not to call their IT buddy directly. IT must also respond efficiently. The communicator liaison becomes the bridge between the business and IT. They must be aware of the players, the projects, the insiders, and contribute to planning so that groups feel they have an advocate.

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Tags: IT Leadership, Keane Inc., Biz/IT Alignment, Liaison model, center of excellence,

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