B2B integration and the changing role of the CIO


describe the imageTraditionally, the chief information officer has operated mostly behind the scenes. He or she didn't need to have the public presence of the chief executive officer or the bottom-line gatekeeping prowess of a financial czar. This is a reflection on the CIO's department. By and large, IT existed in a silo - a necessary support system for enterprise and supply chain development, but without the primary mission-criticality of financial planning or M&A. Servers had to work, computers had to be updated and company networks had to be shielded from malware. 

Over the past few years, this separation of responsibilities has undergone a rapid transformation. The rise of expensive cybersecurity threats, software application-based supply chains and complex communications platforms thrusts CIOs into the spotlight.

The changing CIO paradigm was evident in the aftermath of the Target data breach, in which a weeks-long hacking campaign leaked the credit card information of 40 million consumers. As revelations about the breach piled up, including findings that hackers accessed Target's system through an HVAC provider and that Target's security team did not act on a warning by a third-party security team, it became clear that the breach likely could have been better managed and even prevented. In February, Target CIO Beth Jacob, who had served the retailer in that position since 2008, stepped down. Target stated that Jacob resigned on her own, but some analysts have suggested that Jacob was the scapegoat for the organization's multi-layer failure, according to Associated Press reporter Bree Fowler. Either way, it is a signal that times have changed.

"For a host of companies, the Target breach was a pivotal event that permanently altered the way they approach data security," Fowler wrote. "Many CIOs say they're receiving more support, but they say the trade-off is that they're facing increased scrutiny from their CEOs and other executives. If their fortress walls fall to hackers, their jobs will be on the line."

Why B2B integration is needed
The chief benefits of B2B integration offer enterprises with many enterprise partnerships the capacity to better manage business processes that operate in part external to the organization. Whether this involves automated order management or a centralized repository for data management, B2B integration reduces complexity and eliminated blind spots that can exist between two organizations working in tandem. It also depends on effective oversight of business programs and IT security - two tasks under the purview of the CIO. B2B integration extends the CIO's role outward.

Virtually every aspect of today's business partnerships touch on technology in some way. Common IT investments bring multifaceted risks. Tim Scannell, the director of strategic content for the CIO Executive Council, pointed out to Fowler that even non-retailers typically have an e-commerce operation that has to be managed and secured. Financial services analyst Daniel Ives remarked that any company that uses customer data or even mobile phones is greatly increasing its risk. When communications and commerce operations - two mission-critical aspects of any B2B relationship - are at risk, it's clear that IT teams need to be more directly involved in maintaining protected, practical partnerships. As CIOs gain more responsibility and a seat at the executive table, pressure on them rises.

Putting B2B integration in action
B2B integration addresses the new state of IT in the enterprise - everything is connected. Sprawling networks - both physical and virtual - can lead to a variety of issues, but B2B integration tools enable CIOs to keep control. Key to successful B2B partnerships is reducing silos and uniting far-flung stakeholders - putting everyone on the same page. Funneling business partnerships through a B2B integration platform acknowledges that companies need to build stronger connections that can be more easily overseen. Investment in B2B integration can help provide "on ramps" for business-critical IT development. These on ramps, wrote Wall Street Journal contributor Andrew Horne, are vital to bringing IT "out of the shadows" and satisfying demands that may vary widely across the board. 

"The best way for CIOs to support different starting points while retaining shared resources is through services that align to business outcomes, Horne wrote. "In this model, each service manager tracks business-led IT initiatives that drive the outcomes their service supports. The service managers then make judgment calls about how and when to get involved so they can shape, improve and learn from business-led efforts, and ultimately incorporate the resulting capabilities into their service offering."

To get this ball rolling, CIOs can work with their organizations to find the B2B integration solution that makes sense for their current needs. Solutions like the IBM Sterling B2B Integration services or Oxford's B2B Managed Services establish a foundation for companies to reduce IT complexity and mitigate risk factors in B2B relationships.

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