Failure to Relate?

Last month, in his analysis column, Columbia University Professor Art Langer posed a simple question to IT leaders: What’s in a relationship?

Langer’s point was simple: Relationships are everything.

The key to relationship building is bringing value, he says. If CIOs can demonstrate the value of IT, they’ll get buy-in and support from the business. And that leads to even more value creation.

CIOs apparently agree, based on the findings of the new Society for Information Management (SIM) CIO survey. But there’s a troubling catch.

When asked how they spend their time, CIOs said they spend almost 20 percent building relationships with the business, the most of any initiative. Coming in third, behind strategy (15 percent of their time), was building relationships with their staffs (12 percent).

That’s the good news. The bad news is that both relationship numbers dropped significantly from 2008.

There are a few reasons for that. First, CIOs have been forced to grapple with a number of heightened priorities in this tough economic climate. Or maybe they’re spending less time on relationships because their previous efforts have been so successful. However, my gut feeling is that, for many, it’s actually the opposite: Their attempts to foster solid relationships with the business have gone unnoticed or been unsuccessful.

Whatever the case, CIOs should be spending far more time building relationships with the business. IT leaders already know it: In the same SIM study, they cited IT-business alignment as their No. 2 concern (behind business productivity and cost reduction)–which puts it up near its usual spot on the list.

We’ve written a lot about relationship-building this year–whether it’s aligning with the business, communicating IT’s value or building stronger work forces. To keep that going, this month we asked a prominent business leader for his take on the overall nature of the IT-business relationship. Former Medtronic chief and best-selling author Bill George offers various helpful lessons for CIOs, but perhaps none is more important than this: IT leaders need to get out and lead. It’s one thing to plan and execute well, George says, but if they’re not out there working closely to enable the business, they’re less valuable than they believe they are.

Another part of relationship management we’ve written about before covers a constituency absent from the SIM breakdown: vendors. But it’s not all on the CIO–technology providers need to do their part to build strong relationships with their customers.

So, in this issue, we offer an insightful report for the vendor community: our 2009 “Vendor Value” study. Want to see what your customers really think of you? Check out the findings, after reading Guy Currier’s sharp analysis. See how you stack up, and you’ll likely discover that you, too, would benefit from a little more emphasis on relationship management.

Langer is right: Relationships are everything. Last month I wrote that it’s time to put up or shut up about how strategic and business-savvy you are as an IT leader. Devoting more time to building a strong rapport with your fellow executives–as well as your own people and, of course, your vendors–is a step in the right direction.

Now is the time to step up and take the lead in building these crucial relationships. The business won’t follow otherwise.

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