The Search for Role Clarity Ends with Strategic and Operating Model Clarity! (Part 1)

Role-ClarityI come across a whole heap (yes, that’s a technical term!) of “role confusion” in my consulting and training work. And it’s an insidious issue. Lack of role clarity leads to errors, miscommunication, redundancy, noise and wasted effort. It creates frustration, confusion, and, for a provider such as an IT organization, it leads to a poor customer experience and to the familiar refrain, “IT costs too much, delivers too little and is hard to do business with. They want to help us improve business processes, while their own processes are badly broken!”

It’s interesting to note that external providers generally don’t have this problem. They demonstrate high maturity and a level of precision in how processes, roles and rules of engagement are defined. They have to–it is crucial to how they make money and how they attract and retain clients–and talent! Internal IT organizations often like to say, “We run IT like a business!” But they rarely do. If they did, they would ensure role and operating model clarity–or they’d have a failing business!

You Can’t Transform a Silo’d Organization Silo by Silo!

Too often I see an IT transformation initiative being managed silo by silo:

  • Service Management is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Enterprise Architecture is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Solutions Delivery is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Business Relationship Management is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Project/Program/Portfolio Management is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!

The good news is that most of the ‘moving parts’ that comprise an IT capability are moving to a better, more disciplined and more intelligently designed future. The bad news is that:

  1. They are starting from different points on a maturity curve.
  2. Their destinations are usually roughly the same–unless you drill into the details (where the devil lies!)
  3. They are each following their own trajectories.
  4. Nobody is driving this holistically–it’s a set of relatively independent transformations.

The result?  Role confusion.

Pre-transformation Things Seemed to Work

Before each of the silos began transforming, work got done through a combination of:

  • “I know who to go to because she and I have worked here for years.”
  • Heroic efforts. Processes are either broken or undefined, but that’s fine because I can fix things and be the hero. And heroic behavior is rewarded.

So, before the transformation, things kind of muddled along–error prone, inefficient and frustrating to the business customer. But they worked. Now, in the heat of transformation, people are:

  • Positioning for power and influence.
  • Protecting turf.
  • Unable to see (or believe!) the “big picture” of the end state.
  • Afraid of loosing control. (“The old ways were not very efficient, but at least I understood them!”
  • So focused on their own silo, they don’t have the time, energy, or structural paths to clarify how all the moving parts engage.

I will pick up on Part 2 in the next week or so. Meanwhile, as ever, comments welcome!

Shadow IT: Friend or Foe?


Every now and again, I see articles, posts and comments about “Shadow IT“, nearly always cast as a negative phenomenon–something to be avoided, challenged, even eliminated. As an example, Information Week recently published an article entitled “Shadow IT: 8 Ways to Cope.” While all the suggested ‘coping mechanisms’ make sense, I’m always concerned that Shadow IT is treated as an evil force to be eradicated as opposed to a powerful capability to be encouraged and leveraged.

What Do We Mean by “Shadow IT?”

Sometimes called “Stealth IT”, Shadow IT usually means work that ‘should’ be performed within the ‘formal’ IT organization but is instead performed by non-IT professionals inside business units. The implications of Shadow IT can include systems that don’t meet requirements of security, privacy, integrity, or compliance with standards, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Basel II or PCI DSS.

The degree to which Shadow IT solutions violate such standards, and the implications of such violations is rarely considered. Shadow IT is considered a scourge on the landscape that must be eliminated.

The Other Side of Shadow IT

The problem with tarring any form of IT work handled outside the IT organization with the “Shadow IT” brush is that it misses a key trend, and ultimately, a powerful opportunity. This is something I’ve referred to in this blog over the years as “Business-IT Convergence.”

The reality today is that:

  • Information and IT are pervasive–everything can and is being digitized in some way.
  • IT literacy is increasing–people enter the workforce expecting the same level of connectivity and user friendly tools they have at home.
  • Demand for IT solutions continues to far exceed supply–it is frustrating to have a need stuck in a ‘backlog’ with the knowledge that it may take months or even years to deliver valuable functionality.
  • Cloud services such as Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service are proliferating–there are a growing range of low entry cost and effective solutions available for almost every apparent business need.

As a result of these forces, the “high priests and priestesses of IT” are no longer the only source of IT talent. In some ways, the cat was out of the proverbial bag with the invention of the minicomputer, and given free reign with the invention of the PC and of spreadsheet tools like Visicalc. These tools enabled a non-programmer to quickly do the work of a highly skilled FORTRAN programmer–usually in a fraction of the time!

When Does Shadow IT Become Embedded IT?

The real danger with Shadow IT is when it truly is hidden in the shadows–when the real costs of IT are buried, when the risks associated with legal or regulatory compliance is real, or when solutions have low integrity.

The best ways to head off this danger is to go ‘with the flow’ inherent in business-IT convergence and encourage embedded IT by providing the infrastructure to safely support it.

Without meaning to introduce politics into my blog (something I’ve managed to avoid since the first post in 2007) President Obama is pursuing engagement with Cuba with the argument that 55 years of embargo have not been effective. Whether or not this is the right policy, I believe IT professionals have to reach out to Shadow IT groups, learn why they exist, and find ways to embrace them and bring them ‘out of the shadows.’

Bringing Shadow IT into the Light

There’s a ton of valuable information in the existence of Shadow IT:

  1. What needs does Shadow IT fulfill and why weren’t these needs fulfilled by ‘official’ IT groups?
  2. How are Shadow IT groups and activities staffed and funded, and how can this activity be legitimized?
  3. How can an infrastructure be established that includes appropriate governance and funding mechanisms that clearly delineate ‘departmental’ needs and solutions from those that should be leveraged across departments or the entire enterprise?
  4. What is the best way to connect Business Relationship Managers into embedded IT groups?  What is the nature of the BRM role with these groups?

There’s also a ton of valuable knowledge within the Shadow IT groups:

  1. What types of knowledge exist in the Shadow IT groups?
  2. Are there ways to better capture and tap this knowledge?
  3. Are there other groups that don’t have access to this knowledge that could benefit from it?
  4. What other knowledge could these groups benefit from, and what is the best way to make that knowledge available to them?

So, I suggest looking at Shadow IT as a positive rather than a negative force–as a source of information and knowledge and as an early form of business-IT convergence. If you can’t beat them, embrace them.  Bring them out of the shadows and help establish them as a part of a highly effective enterprise-wide IT operating model.


Cartoon courtesy of Enterprise Efficiency

Business Innovation: Processes, Techniques and Tools for IT Business Relationship Managers


Shameless Promotion!

Disclaimer: This post is a promotion for my one-day training event in Portland, Oregon on Friday, May 29, 2015, 9:00AM-4:00PM PST. This training session follows BRMConnect, the world’s first and highly anticipated conference for BRMs being held at Cascade Crest Conference Center on May 26-28 in Portland’s picturesque Washington Park on the grounds of the Oregon Zoo.

Act now–this event is being limited to a maximum of 20 participants, and there are only 5 seats left!

Why Is This Important?

To survive today, organizations must be adept at making effective use of IT to support business operations and administration. This has become “table stakes” for organizations of any size or purpose. Only a few organizations, however, reach beyond table stakes to truly innovate business products, services, processes, and business models, even though today’s technology landscape offers a host of innovation enablers, such as:

  • Cloud-based services and solutions with very low barriers to entry
  • Low cost sensors, tag, cameras, etc., with RFID, GPS, bio- and telemetrics, etc.
  • “Big data” analytics for making sense of the environment
  • Social tools for collaboration and engagement with customers and workers
  • Mobile everything; the “Internet of Things”
  • Electronic wallets and payment systems
  • 3-D printing
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Gaming, Massively-multiplayer online gaming
  • eLearning, Massive Open Online Courses

New Processes, Techniques and Tools for the IT BRM

How do BRMs become business innovation catalysts? Innovation research highlights new methods that can be effective in surfacing, evaluating, selecting and exploiting business innovation opportunities, including:

  • Design Thinking
  • Mind Mapping, Heat Mapping and Dialog Mapping
  • Innovation Jams
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Prototyping
  • Sentiment Analysis
  • Prediction Markets
  • Innovation Labs
  • Systematic Inventive Thinking

This one-day course will discuss the BRMs role in business innovation and explore processes, tools and techniques for stimulating, surfacing and exploiting IT-enabled business innovation opportunities.

Course Learning Objectives

Today’s IT BRM must be knowledgeable in the ways of IT-enabled business innovation and skilled in the underlying techniques. Though this one-day course you will learn:

  • The importance of “Innovation Intent” and how to create it
  • Distinguishing between Invention, Innovation and Improvement
  • Innovation lessons from the world of improvisation–an experiential learning session led by improv master, Gary Hirsch, co-founder of On Your Feet
  • Tools and techniques for innovation Discovery
  • Tools and techniques for implementing innovation
  • Key Organizational Principles of innovation and how to assess them
  • Design Thinking and the Innovation Process
  • Enabling the Innovation Process with technology
  • Illustrative Case Studies in IT-enabled innovation

Please click here to find out more about this course. Please visit BRMConnect 2015 Registration page to register for this class.

Fostering Business-IT Convergence – Business Relationship Manager as a Synchronicity Coach


The more I teach, the more I learn!  Last week I wrote about the boxing metaphor for Business Relationship Management–a metaphor that surfaced during a recent onsite Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) certification course I was teaching. This week, a new and surprising metaphor surfaced in my online version of the course–that of Synchronicity Coach.

Learning Through Metaphors

Early in the BRMP course, I ask participants what metaphors come to mind for them when they think about the Business Relationship Manager role, and this week one of the participants offered “Synchronicity Coach.” I asked him to say more about his metaphor, and he said:

Both business and IT need to constantly adapt to changes in the information and Information Technology landscape.  The natural tendency is to adapt over independent paths, which is not healthy. The BRM role exists to bring these independent adaption paths into synchronicity.

I thought this was a very astute perspective. I’ve blogged in the past about the notion of “Business-IT Convergence”–going well beyond the elusive “Alignment” goal (which always feels reactive) to something more proactive, that recognizes that:

  1. Business executives and managers are becoming ever more IT literate.
  2. Information and IT are becoming every more ‘consumerized.’
  3. The role of the IT organization is shifting from the ‘doers’ to the ‘enablers’ and ‘coaches’.


Wikipedia defines Synchronicity as:

The occurrence of two or more events that appear to be meaningfully related but not causally related. Synchronicity holds that such events are “meaningful coincidences”. The concept of synchronicity was first defined by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, in the 1920s. During his career, Jung furnished several slightly different definitions of it. Jung variously defined synchronicity as an “acausal connecting (togetherness) principle,” “meaningful coincidence,” and “acausal parallelism.”

Certainly, business is evolving in its relationship to information and IT, and the IT organization (or, more correctly, the IT Operating Model) is evolving in its relationship to Information Technology and the enterprises and business units it supports. So, I think that what my participant was referring to the BRM as a coach in fostering Business-IT Convergence:

  • Helping the business harvest more value from information and IT.
  • Helping the IT organization be more responsive to, and anticipate the needs of the business units/enterprise they support.
  • Increasing the transparency of IT to the business and business to IT–fostering porous boundaries that allow Business-IT Convergence to be a natural evolutionary response to Cloud Computing, Consumerization of IT, “Big data” and so on.

The best way to learn is to teach!

Business Relationship Management with Boxing Gloves!

buying-cheap-boxing-gloves-onlineI love teaching the Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) course! They say that the best way to learn is to teach, and I always learn from my course participants.

I was teaching a course last week and went through my usual routine of asking the participants what metaphors they thought come to mind when they think about the BRM role. The answers are always revealing and sometimes surprising. In last weeks course, one of the most seasoned BRMs said, “Boxer!” I was initially taken aback, but as he went on to describe his choice of metaphor, I realized what an apt metaphor boxing represents.

Not An “Order-Taker”!

Some novice BRMs fall into the trap of becoming an “order-taker.” All business requests are seen as good requests, no matter what the potential to deliver real business value. The seasoned BRM, by contrast, knows how to deflect low value requests, as a boxer deflects his opponent’s punches.

Not An “Account Manager“!

Some novice BRMs think of themselves as “Account Managers”, making sure the business partner‘s needs are routed to the proper people in the Provider organization. This is a dreadfully limited role, and sooner or later someone is going to wonder why we have such seasoned, skilled resources adding so little value. Boxers fight for themselves–they understand the stakes and work every day to prove their worth.

Not A “Gap Filler”!

Weak BRMs are victims of dysfunctional Provider organizations–stepping in to fill any and all gaps in their business partner needs that are not being adequately met by the Provider. Strong BRMs deflect low value requests. They challenge dysfunctionality in the Provider organization, bobbing and weaving to move the Provider to a more responsive role. Willing to throw a punch when necessary, appreciating that to not do so is to become a punching bag for someone who is not stepping up to the plate–who is not delivering what they are supposed to deliver.

Throughout the 3-day course, the seasoned BRM who offered the boxing metaphor went on to offer many real examples of how he had pushed back and steered his business partner away from low value requests towards high value opportunities. He offered examples of how he had refused to collude with dysfunctional Provider behavior, while stepping in to point out shortcomings in Provider services or processes, and offering to help fix these–once!  There were no second chances. Let the business partner down a second time and you received the knockout punch!

Like I said, I love BRM training!

What metaphors do you find especially enlightening about the BRM role?  Answers on a postcard, please!  (Or even better, as comments on this post!)

The BRM and Shared Services

Shared_Services_89180833Some years ago it seemed that much of my management consulting work was helping large, complex corporations implement some form of global shared business services.  This was always challenging, disruptive, but ultimately fascinating work.  There were always significant benefits to be had (cost savings, service improvements, increased leverage and collaboration) and in some cases, figuring out the synergies among disparate business units was almost literally a ‘game-changer’.

The Keys to Effective Shared Services

I have not been particularly tracking the shared services trend for the last several years, but I wonder why I am not seeing more of it among my Business Relationship Management consulting clients and trainees? After all, the keys to effective IT services are more broadly applicable to all shared services:

  • Strong Service Management discipline
  • A focus on Service Value
  • Global sourcing
  • Integrated measurement and governance across all Shared Services
  • Business value focused Relationship Management

Information Technology is not a Solution

Furthermore, in today’s business climate of continuous change and rapidly emerging technologies, sustainable competitive advantage is rarely gained from IT alone. Today, it is more commonly the combination of:

  1. Better information enabling better decisions or new services
  2. New technologies enabling better business processes or business models
  3. Smarter, more collaborative, more engaged talent

These three dimensions demand a strong synergy among technology, business process and human resource experts. And yet, traditionally, these three disciplines have not always worked together synergistically. For me, cost savings notwithstanding, achieving 1., 2. and 3. above is the best reason for shared services.  In other words, it’s not an efficiency play, it’s an effectiveness play.

Shared Services Maturity

Shared Services Maturity

Shared Services Maturity

Regular readers will know that I am fond of using maturity models as a way of making sense of the world.  The Shared Services Maturity Model above surfaced through a multi-company research collaborative I was part of back in 2006. I’m pleased to say that many companies have made progress in maturing their shared service capabilities over the last 10 years, but the progress is slow, and it is still the rare minority that are really achieving the benefits of Value-centric Shared Services.

If you are an IT Business Relationship Manager, imagine how much more impact you could have if your domain was people, process and technology!