Becoming a strategic partner to the rest of the organization has been a top priority for many CIOs for years, yet business leaders and end users remain dissatisfied with IT's ability to meet their needs. To improve the relationship, up to 70 per cent of IT functions have created IT–business liaison roles.

The roles are designed to be the face of the IT organization to business partners—the one number to call for any conversation with IT. The liaisons are tasked with understanding business strategy and identifying opportunities for technology to enable business outcomes. Earlier this year we wrote about the need for business liaisons to become challengers, capable of shaping demand for technology, but in many organizations there is a second structural challenge that CIOs must overcome.

Most liaison roles are stretched too thin. They are responsible for up to 20 different activities spanning shaping demand and delivering projects. Collectively, the activities require a range of skills that are hard to find in one individual. The role also requires trade-offs that make liaisons insufficiently proactive or creative.

In other words, even if they have the skills to be challengers, they don't have the time. The CIO aspiration of offering a single point of contact to business partners ends up creating a bottleneck that erodes the core advantage of streamlined communication.

The CIO Executive Board, a program of the Corporate Executive Board, has created an IT-Business Engagement Diagnostic that quantifies the impact on engagement of specific IT activities such as proactively suggesting new solutions and understanding business strategy.

The diagnostic is based on responses from more than 4,000 IT and business leaders and highlights six activities that have disproportionate impact. It also helps to show that, on average, overstretched liaisons may spend only 37 per cent of their time on these activities.