Partnerships and Collaboration: A New IT Direction

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It is interesting to see where your mind can take you. I am writing this from Toronto, Canada, where I am attending the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. On my flight to Toronto, I started thinking about partnerships. From a personal perspective, we enter into many different partnerships over our lives—not only partnerships between organizations designed to deliver better solutions to our customers but also within organizations to address the needs of our internal business clients. As organizations, are we engaging in partnership opportunities as often as we should?

As IT decision making moves out of the IT department and into the functional areas of organizations, partnerships and collaboration become even more critical. According to an article in strategy+business on why CEOs must become more technology savvy, “the majority of technology spending (68%) is now coming from budgets outside of IT, a significant increase from 47% in 2014.” What this means is that many critical technology decisions are being made without the consultation of IT professionals.

Gilles Freund outlined a slightly different perspective on this shift in a recent LinkedIn post, based on the premise that IT is more than a cost center—though many organizations still perpetuate outdated opinions in this regard. IT has seemingly become a dial tone—we only hear grumbling when something breaks. The rest of the time, IT is scrambling to meet the varied and unique needs of their clients. Because IT professionals truly want to help, we sometimes create situations that are challenging to support and maintain.

Freund indicates that the way to change this is to implement three things: alignment with the organization’s strategy, transparency with key performance indicators, and accountability. These are all very good strategies. However, I believe there is one important element missing: developing partnerships with your clients. Sit with your clients and talk to them about what they do on a daily basis, learn to speak their language, discuss their pain points, and become a trusted advisor. The solution your client is looking for may not only require collaboration with internal providers of IT functions, it may also require developing a partnership with an external provider. The same rules of engagement apply—before you enter into a partnership, understand where there is common ground and how a better solution can be delivered together.

The news here is not dire—some organizations have started and are continuing a dialogue with IT, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled, “CIOs Get New Stature in Digital Economy.” In this article, Target’s CEO, Brian Cornell, said, “I view technology today very differently than I did 5 or 10 years ago. It’s no longer a backroom function.” Cornell also stated that his CIO is very involved in strategic planning. According to the WSJ, 53% of CIOs in Fortune 500 companies now report to the CEO—up from 46% 5 years ago! Ultimately, this article emphasizes the message on collaboration and partnership, which involves strategic discussions. According to Target’s CIO, the life of a CIO is no longer about deployment of hardware and software. What is important to him now, and likely other CIOs as well, “are user experience, speed to market, and putting technology in front of customers.”

Once again, this underpins my opinion that IT professionals must evolve their skill sets to include leadership capabilities that will enable them to reach out and start a dialogue with others, regardless of whether they are clients or at other organizations. Collaboration is the new way of doing business—there is an emphasis on global perspectives and outcomes, which are challenging to achieve without trusted partners. This all came together for me when I walked into the Microsoft conference exhibit hall and saw a number of partner quotes shared on large posters. One of them stated, “Every partnership made is a step closer to the solution.”

How will you start initiating partnership conversations to help your clients?