There\u2019s no shortage of challenges CIOs face each day, from meeting customer and employee expectations, to mitigating complex security risks, to evaluating and integrating new tech solutions, to managing their own people and ensuring resilient business systems.\n\nGood guidance and experienced counsel has always been vital to IT leaders \u2014 even more so in a fast-moving, often uncertain business environment. According to the 2021 State of the CIO survey, 88% of IT leaders agree that the CIO increasingly needs to rely on trusted advisors to help navigate new technologies, processes, and methodologies. \n\n\u201cRelationships with trusted advisors are critical, as no one has all the answers,\u201d says David Levine, vice president of corporate and information security and CSO at Ricoh USA. \u201cWhether you are looking for recommendations on products, metrics, approaches, technologies, or seeking validation \u2014 or even invalidation \u2014 leveraging trusted advisors and good relationships can be invaluable.\u201d\n\nCIOs look to a number of trusted advisors \u2014 strategic vendors, consultants, former colleagues, CIO peers \u2014 for help. Sometimes, they serve as a sounding board or empathetic listener. Ideally, they enable IT leaders to consider new points of view. \u201cMy relationships with my trusted advisors are very important,\u201d says Michael Ringman, CIO of TELUS International. \u201cI look to these people to challenge my thoughts and bring new, different perspectives to the table. Over the years, I have learned so much from these individuals and these diverse points of view are the catalyst to growth and driving innovation.\u201d\n\nAs most IT leaders will tell you, they lean most on trusted advisors in times of crisis. \u201cIn fight or flight situations, when you\u2019re up against the wall and only have time to make one phone call,\u201d says Todd Bandauski, CIO at Crew Carwash, \u201cyou need to know who you can count on.\u201d\n\nIT leaders can\u2019t wait until they\u2019re facing an emergency to find out who\u2019ll have their backs. CIOs must establish and nurture these relationships over time \u2014 and leverage them thoughtfully.\n\n\u201cCreating a relationship with an advisor you trust doesn\u2019t happen overnight. People don\u2019t automatically trust you because you have the title of CIO,\u201d says Jay Upchurch, CIO at SAS. \u201cYou\u2019ve got to be willing to invest the time \u2014 listen, learn, and be empathetic. As with any relationship you value, it requires ongoing nurturing and consistent decision-making. And it\u2019s 100% worth it.\u201d\n\nFollowing are some tips from CIOs on how they identify, grow, and make best use of their trusted advisor networks.\n\nBecome a joiner\n\nFor those CIOs seeking to establish a network of trusted advisors, Ricoh\u2019s Levine advises attending and participating in peer groups.\n\n\u201cMy peers are some of my closest trusted advisors. I belong to a large number of peer groups and organizations and actively participate in roundtable and webinar discussions,\u201d Levine says. \u201cPeer recommendations are great. I am one hundred times more likely to take solution recommendation from a peer than just about any other source. Sometimes just validating an approach, methodology, or maturity level can be a huge benefit.\u201d\n\nLevine recently leaned on his trusted advisors when reviewing a suite of products his internal team was anxious to install. \u201cBy reaching out to trusted advisors for their opinions and advice, I was able to validate my concerns,\u201d Levine says. \u201cIn working with them, we identified an alternative approach that allowed us to move forward with the project.\u201d\n\nPay attention to who shows up when the chips are down\n\nEstablishing a network is one thing; knowing who you can to turn to in a pinch is crucial, says Crew Carwash\u2019s Bandauski.\n\n\u201cI turn to advisors that I can rely upon,\u201d he says. \u201cPartners who will not only be there when everything is going great, Monday through Friday, but more importantly in an emergency, where every minute counts.\u201d\n\nHere, it\u2019s critical to distinguish between vendors and partners. \u201cA true partner will provide trusted advice whether it\u2019s in their best interest or not, for the greater benefit of both parties and forging a long-standing relationship,\u201d says Ricoh USA\u2019s Levine. \u201cA vendor will frequently only be looking out for what is in their best interest.\u201d\n\nSeek out truth tellers\n\nRingman of Telus International isn\u2019t looking for \u201cyes\u201d people to become his trusted advisors. In fact, they\u2019re more likely to tell him \u201cno.\u201d\n\n\u201cI rely on these individuals because they have a view of my blind spots, give me constructive feedback, and together we can create robust and effective solutions that drive impactful change and progress for our teams,\u201d Ringman says.\n\nBrittany Hamm, global director of managed services at Kalypso, also looks for those who are comfortable being honest. \u201cBackground and experience level vary \u2014 from technical to functional, junior to senior,\u201d Hamm says of her trusted advisors. \u201cBut those that give, and welcome, candid feedback are the common thread.\u201d\n\nThat\u2019s not to say vendors can\u2019t be impactful. For many CIOs, trusted \u2014and truthful \u2014 vendor advisors helped save the day dealing with the pandemic\u2019s impact on the supply chain. \u201cWe will get a reliable answer, along with suggested alternatives, and with that knowledge we can act accordingly,\u201d says Bandauski of his experience reaching out to trusted vendors during the pandemic. \u201cWhen stock counts are either bottlenecked or depleted and you need to make alternative plans, you need to be working with the facts.\u201d\n\nIn most cases, Crew Carwash\u2019s trusted vendors have gone above and beyond what market conditions might reward to help the IT organization avert crises, Bandauski says.\n\nThink long-term\n\nTrust must be built over time \u2014 particularly with vendors. \u201cIt\u2019s often the little things that add up to create a value-added relationship,\u201d Bandauski says. \u201cI like to start small, watching how a new partner delivers on their commitments. In reality, it\u2019s these \u2018tells\u2019 that indicate how well a partner is going to perform long-term.\u201d\n\nIt doesn\u2019t happen overnight, notes J.P. van Loggerenberg, CTO at SYSPRO. \u201cThe depth of a relationship evolves, starting with service offering before transitioning to needs-based, relationship-based, and finally trust-based,\u201d van Loggerenberg says. \u201cTo build that relationship, your advisor needs to show credibility, consistency, competence, and compatibility.\u201d\n\nTake the initiative\n\nIt\u2019s important to proactively carve out time to connect and share with a trusted advisor. \u201cThose trusted advisors that I connect with at a regular cadence are the most helpful,\u201d says Hamm of Kalypso. \u201cNot just having an open door, but actively staying connected helps the most. While sometimes I wait to check in with a trusted advisor until a specific issue arises, afterwards I\u2019ve always wished I engaged them sooner.\u201d\n\nIT leaders who want to build these relationships don\u2019t wait for their would-be partners to present them with wisdom; they come with a perspective and questions. \u201cA little preparation makes it worth it for both of you,\u201d says Hamm, who checks in with her trusted advisors to make sure she\u2019s on the right track.\n\nUse them early \u2014 and often\n\nWhile trusted advisors can be helpful during crises, they are even more valuable when they can help you avoid one. \u201cA trusted advisor can save countless hours of research and work from CIO teams who might arrive at a conclusion that, as well intended as it may be, is not based on multiple scenarios and\/or has not been \u2018trialed and errored\u2019 in a meaningful way,\u201d says Ron White, CIO of Avanade. \u201cA trusted advisor can provide a shortcut to perspectives that can streamline decision-making and add legitimacy to strategic positioning.\u201d\n\nShivkumar Gopalan, CIO at Unit4, calls on trusted advisors for insight into what\u2019s happening outside of his organization. \u201cWe find their inputs most useful when we are doing something new \u2014 for example, introducing a new business process, technology, or supplier,\u201d says Gopalan, who turned to advisors when deciding to insource IT operations during the initial pandemic lockdown. \u201cWe were not confident about that decision,\u201d he says. \u201cConversations with our partners gave us insight and knowledge into what we needed to strengthen our in-house IT operations.\n\nEnsure reciprocity\n\nTo thrive, trusted advisor relationships can\u2019t be all take and no give, says Ringman of TELUS International. \u201cThese relationships need to be nurtured; you must make time for them and they need to be a two-way street,\u201d he says. \u201cI have found great relationships with trusted advisors on my team, across my organization, as well as with peers in the industry. We have been able to help each other, share best practices and celebrate each other\u2019s IT success stories.\u201d\n\nBe clear\n\nTo make the most of vendor advisors, it\u2019s important to provide clarity, CIOs say.\n\n\u201cBusinesses need to be transparent about projected timelines and ensure they manage expectations to achieve the delicate balance between resources, capacity, and funding,\u201d says van Loggerenberg of SYSPRO. \u201cCIOs need to ensure that they always understand what their trusted advisors are capable of, what they can deliver, and how you leverage their abilities to obtain the maximum value.\u201d\n\nBandauski of Crew Carwash says his partners thank him for his candor. \u201cThe majority of the time people are truly looking to help. Ambiguous answers lead to wasted time, confusion, and ultimately frustration for both parties,\u201d he says. \u201cIf something is not a fit, say so. If you don\u2019t understand, ask questions. I\u2019ve found this helps to foster a relationship faster than anything else.\u201d\n\nAnd don\u2019t be afraid of potential conflict. \u201cTake the time to have the challenging conversations so you and your peers and your teams are in alignment,\u201d says Penelope Prett, CIO of Accenture. \u201cThose are always the toughest discussions to have, but sometimes the most worthwhile.