To gain real competitive advantage from the next generation of solutions, such as cloud computing and mobility, companies should look to collaborate across a broader ecosystem of business and IT partners, including business units, alliance partners, corporate IT, system and service integrators, and other vendors.

Today these partners are a source of innovation and collaborating with them is often the only way to deliver and manage complex solutions.

Organisations that fail to collaborate effectively with their ecosystem will be at a disadvantage. They will have less capacity to drive innovation and the development of new strategic capabilities, which can substantially diminish their prospects for business growth.

Our research has found five strategies are particularly crucial to constructing effective collaborations across a global ecosystem of IT partners:

1. Think process:
Business and IT may have found common ground, but the way there is littered with misaligned efforts and unmet expectations.

Using process to navigate, they can now chart convergent paths to innovation and greater business efficiencies.

Key to the success of this process orientation lies in improving business-IT collaboration, and having in place effective methods, policies, metrics, management practices and software tools to manage business processes.

2. Think components:
Thanks to a new generation of solutions built on service-based components, the organisational IT environment has begun migrating from a capex-heavy ownership model to a pay-as-you-go utility model.

As a result of the flexibility, agility and timeliness that the component approach allows, an enabler such as cloud computing ceases to be just an application; it becomes the IT underpinning for the process-based orientation of IT-business collaboration.

3. Think structure:
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the collaborative IT ecosystem is aligning sourcing relationships with real-time business needs.

This implies re-examining existing external partnerships through the prism of service capabilities.

Simultaneously, harnessing the expertise of globally dispersed stakeholders needs robust structures and process frameworks managed centrally.

Both the efficiency and efficacy of these structures have to be measured to ensure consistent outcomes.

4. Think skills:
To exploit the potential of the collaborative environment, IT professionals must develop skills across platforms, functions and disciplines.

Investment in training helps. Our research shows that high-performance IT firms are seven times more likely than their peers to have invested in workforce training in new technologies.

Concomitant with their participation in business process development, IT professionals must also hone their relationship management skills.

5. Think governance:
Institutionalising innovation within an organisation can be glacial. And in the scramble for scarce investment dollars, new ideas can often fall by the wayside.

Therefore, governance models must foster innovation across the board, with tolerance to limited failures. They should also be adapted to accommodate the higher levels of stewardship and accountability that the growing dependence on external collaborations warrants.

At the end of the day, governance models must help CIOs run IT like a business.

Today, the ability of business and IT to speak the same language is not enough.

As technology solutions become increasingly more nimble, the growing reliance on an expanding ecosystem to find solutions to complex problems calls for a new approach for IT development.

This new approach blends deep collaboration and rich customer experiences with innovative solutions to help organisations strengthen their business strategies while continuing to meet everyday business needs.

High-performance businesses know that by successfully managing its collaborative ecosystem, the common language of their IT and business can spell differentiation and ultimately, success.

Frank B. Modruson is CIO at Accenture

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