An IT department’s competence depends on four factors: Business integration, process maturity, technical architecture, and human performance.

Easy to say. But this is a view-from-50,000-feet perspective. It might help everyone understand what competence looks and feels like. How to achieve it? Read on.

Perfection means excellence in 150 separate and distinct but interdependent factors within each of these high-level categories. But 150 factors are too many to worry about at one time.

Which is why, as a public service, KJR has identified 18 factors out of those 150 that are critical. The first, and probably the most important of the bunch: Getting the business/IT relationship right.

Which means getting three sub-sub-factors right: (1) defining it right; (2) managing it well; and (3) being really, really good at delivery.


As a regular KJR reader you’re probably tired of hearing that IT is generally most effective as a peer within the company, collaborating with every other part of the company to create value for real, paying, external customers. Make this your default.

Defaults, though, are different from absolutes. In some situations IT does have to behave as if it is a separate company that sells its services to its internal customers. In particular, this happens when the business is organized as a holding company, with independently managed lines of business served by a central IT organization.

A holding-company structure means business leadership quite deliberately does not  set business units priorities in an integrated way. That being the case, there’s no way for IT to judge the relative priority of requests coming from the separate business units in an integrated way. What’s the alternative?

Charge enough for services to cover the costs of providing them and stop worrying about irritations like budgeting. With centralized IT and decentralized strategic priority-setting, charge-backs aren’t only the CIO’s friend, they’re probably the only way for CIOs to defend themselves from the political fallout of saying no to executives who have more clout than they do.

Managing the relationship

In human terms, defining the relationship is the difference between “let’s get married,” “let’s be friends,” “we’re opponents,” and “I consider you an enemy.”

Managing human relationships means such niceties as remembering your anniversary; asking a friend whether her sick puppy is feeling better; limiting the tactics you use to beat an opponent to what won’t turn him into an enemy; and reaching agreements with your enemies that reduce the chance that one of you will destroy the other (and especially that your enemy won’t destroy you).

In organizational terms, managing the relationship mostly means turning organizational relationships, which mostly must be governed, into interpersonal relationships, which are mostly built on trust.

Malcolm Gladwell’s inaptly named Blink! (it should have been titled Don’t Blink, but that doesn’t matter here) reported research showing that if (for example) a surgeon, surgeoning (surging?) while inebriated, removes the wrong kidney, if his patient happens to like him a lot but strongly dislikes the anesthesiologist, it’s the anesthesiologist who will need insurance and a good lawyer.

What this means to IT: If the humans who lead, manage, and do the work of the business like the humans who lead, manage, and do the work of IT, then even when IT messes up they’ll make excuses for us while helping us recover from whatever mess we’ve created.

Even better: If they trust you, they’re more likely to support you in ambiguous or political situations, where evidence and logic have little to do with the outcome.

Most CIOs understand the importance of maintaining close personal relationships with the company’s top executives. What many miss is the importance of everyone else in IT, at all levels, maintaining close personal relationships with their counterparts elsewhere in the company.

If every IT leader were to remind everyone in IT that the business/IT relationship is built or damaged one interpersonal interaction at a time, everything would work better.


Not everything is complicated. Here’s something simple: Your credibility depends on how well you deliver.

Which means the business/IT relationship depends on how well IT delivers.

If IT isn’t credible, that doesn’t mean its incredible. It means nobody trusts it to do what it promises to do.

Less obvious: The quality of IT’s relationships with everyone in the business profoundly affects its ability to deliver the goods.

It’s a loop: If they trust you, they’re more likely to do their part in making things work, even when that’s based solely on your assurances.

Which, in the end, is why the business/IT relationship is probably the most critical of all of IT’s critical success factors.