The CIO’s role in collaboration

Collaborating involves a mutual exchange of value. Whether it’s a games console vendor and its ecosystem of software suppliers or a bank and an insurance company teaming up to offer bancassurance, each partner brings assets and capabilities to create new forms of value, such as providing product, serving customers, reducing time-to-market or taking out the risk.

Collaboration is no bed of roses, however. Collaborations face cultural, legal and technical issues in an environment with complex leadership and governance mechanisms, and where trust is all too often a scarce commodity.

This is where the CIO comes in. As a minimum, CIOs must provide the technical underpinning needed to facilitate successful communication and coordination. Yet this is only the start. There are also increasing opportunities for CIOs to experiment with the collaborative model, and influence the enterprise to take advantage of newer and more dynamic methods of collaboration. I

n each part of an enterprise’s value chain there are countless opportunities to collaborate externally to generate value: R&D, core manufacturing and operations, distribution, sales and marketing, and so on. While every collaboration is different, we found in recent research that eight conditions must be present for success:

If these conditions can be met, collaboration looks like a value-adding proposition. The question is, what sort?

Collaboration comes in two flavors: static, where the same partners go to every dance together, and dynamic, where partners change, depending on the music. Dynamic collaboration typically generates higher levels of innovation, due to the broader involvement. Little wonder then that leading enterprises are rather keen on it. To make dynamic collaboration work there are five extra conditions that have to be met:

1. Clear and devolved multi-tiered governance, separating the permanent parts of the relationship from the expedient ones.

2. A scalable business model able to operate efficiently at different business volumes as relationships come and go.

3. Standardized business and technical components — without them, the cost of joining all the bits together becomes prohibitive.

4. Chunks of components, often contributed by different participant groups and operating within some sort of service-oriented architecture.

5. Flexible tools, such as wikis and blogs, to aggregate ideas and opinions, or promote different forms of collaboration.

External collaboration seems to be where the value is. CIOs that have established a sound IT service delivery platform and the associated credibility with their business counterparts are well placed to look for opportunities to lead external collaboration efforts. But don’t focus too much on the technical aspects of collaboration at the expense of building and maintaining trust. If your partner insists on wearing his bowie knife to the dance, it’s good to know this, so you can remember to put on your best body armor.

Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programs.

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