A go-between for IT and the business can improve the way they work together

Get help to spread information on IT's value to the business.

Get help to spread information on IT's value to the business.

We know that there is very often a gap in communication and understanding between business leaders and IT experts.

In an attempt to bridge this divide, a growing number of IT directors have appointed IT account or relationship managers to work with business units. These staff are usually drawn from within IT and improve alignment and collaboration between business leaders and the IT department.

In practice, beyond this basic brief, their day jobs can differ depending on the opportunities they can find to make a tangible difference in managing IT services or investments.

Senior executives' main strategic grip with IT is that they still cannot see the link between spending money on IT investment and services and the creation of real business value. As a result, they are not sure whether they are maximising the value of IT, or even whether IT spending helps to create any value at all.

The board wants people who can clearly demonstrate these links and make sure everyone understands and exploits them to maximise value for money.

So are relationship managers the answer? The first challenge IT directors face is what to call this emerging role. Should it be IT account managers, IT relationship managers or business engagement managers? As the post is all about communication and understanding, IT directors need to tread carefully - what the new post is called will say a great deal to the rest of the firm about where the IT department sees itself in the company's value chain.

IT account managers can add real value if they are dedicated to helping business colleagues maximise value for money, and are measured by this outcome.

As an interim step, they can help the business process, but before long they will need to go native and become part of the business team.

However, this may be hard to do if they sit in a kind of no man's land between the business and the IT department. As time goes by, having people acting as a "bridge" between the business and IT can lead to uncomfortable issues about what the true added value is and also a conflict of loyalties. Does the IT account manager represent the interests of the the customer (the business) or the supplier (IT), or the middle ground?

IT directors can reduce the risk of such problems by choosing IT account managers with proven skills in managing IT services and investments from the customer's perspective.

Appointing an IT account manager can help make a department more effective and improve relations with business leaders, but the dual nature inherent in the role has the potential to create more problems than it solves if IT directors do not handle it carefully, or fail to evolve over time.

Chris Potts is director of consultancy at IT consultancy Dominic Barrow

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