How Do You Optimize IT Capabilities for Business Value?


Value Disciplines

In their groundbreaking book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, published in 1997, co-authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema argued that companies that have taken leadership positions in their industries have typically done so by focusing their strategy on one of three value disciplines, and optimizing their business operating models accordingly. They don’t ignore the other two value disciplines — they must meet industry standards in all three disciplines. But they lead in, and optimize for one value discipline, be it operational excellence, customer intimacy, or product leadership.

If we think of an internal IT organization in business terms, it becomes clear that IT infrastructure and operations are optimized for Operational Excellence, and that enterprise architecture and solutions delivery should be optimized for Product Leadership. This begs the question, what of Customer Intimacy?

How Can an IT Organization Achieve Customer Intimacy?

Many years ago (and even today in some companies) business leaders achieved Customer Intimacy with their IT capabilities by establishing their own, dedicated IT organizations. Over the years, as IT became an increasingly large chunk of business budgets, IT organizations transformed to gain advantages of scale by consolidating their IT capabilities into centralized shared service organizations. These tended to be optimized for Operational Excellence, consistent with the “lowest price and hassle-free service” promise associated with the business case for centralization.

For many such centralized, shared service IT capabilities, however, the Customer Intimacy value discipline was subsumed under the pressure to take out cost and be operationally excellent. The business customer of the IT organization could have anything they wanted, as long as it was consistent with the enterprise IT infrastructure and drew from the portfolio of standard enterprise solutions. In other words, as long as one size fits all! As business leaders stepped up to the competitive plate, trying to get ever closer to their customers, their IT organizations, in the name of defensible cost structures, were moving further away from their customers!

Enter the Business Relationship Manager!

In today’s leading IT organizations, the Customer Intimacy value discipline is being restored through the emerging role of Business Relationship Manager (BRM) — charged with driving business value from information and IT by getting close to their internal (and external) customers and, to paraphrase Treacy and Wiersema, by “delivering what specific customers want” and by “anticipating needs.”

All well and good — as long as IT infrastructure and operations live up to the Operational Excellence value discipline. When Operational Excellence is lacking, internal customers are typically reluctant to engage their BRMs in strategic exploration while basic operational issues (metaphorically, “lights on and training running on time”) are disrupting business operations. So, what is the BRM to do?

Plug the Holes, or Call for Improvement?

With many BRMs transitioning into their role from other IT disciplines, including Service Management and Project Management, there is often a strong temptation to step up to the plate and compensate for the deficiencies in Operational Excellence. There are several traps inherent in this strategy:

  1. When the BRM steps into an Operational Excellence role, they are taking time and energy away from their Customer Intimacy role — they tend to become part of the problem their role was established to address.
  2. When the business partner sees their BRM in an Operational Excellence role, the BRM may have a hard time either establishing or sustaining a relationship based upon strategic insight.
  3. By ‘masking’ the operational issues, the BRM is essentially ‘colluding with dysfunctional behavior’, potentially weakening the forces for operational improvement.

A Better BRM Approach for Addressing Operational Issues

Rather than falling into the ‘collusion’ trap, an effective BRM leverages their influence and persuasion skills and their competencies in organizational change management by stepping to the role of Change Agent for improved IT operations and infrastructure. They fearlessly call out process issues by:

  1. Gathering and presenting data that highlights process issues and their implications — always focused on the process, rather than the people.
  2. Offering to help fix the process issues — volunteering their business customer perspective, facilitation, process management, organizational change management, or whatever competencies they can bring to the table.
  3. Creating synergistic “foxholes” with their IT colleagues by establishing (or reinforcing) shared goals, common enemies (such as poor process, rework, dissatisfied business customers) and mutual dependencies.

Know and Lead With Your Customer Intimacy Value Discipline

When you get sucked into operational issues, you may find yourself in a role that is inconsistent with your main mission — it might feel good, heroic even — but it’s not what the BRM role is really about. Operational issues should be solved in those organizational entities that are optimized for Operational Excellence — IT infrastructure and operations.

 

Note: You can learn more about the techniques discussed here — and much more in my next on-line BRMP Certification course. This is being held across 3 Tuesdays—November 4, 11 and 18 . For details, please click here.

 

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How Can Business Relationship Managers Redirect Their Efforts for Increased Business Value?


Time-is-Money2_reneequim.com_This post is for those with a substantial Business Relationship Management (BRM) role — i.e., at least 50% of their job is BRM.

I am part way though a research project that is examining where BRMs are spending their time, and where they think they should be spending it. (If you would like to be part of this research, and receive a free copy of the research report “BRM Time Allocation Patterns and Ways to Improve Them” please respond to the survey. The survey will stay open until October 1, 2014.)

I will be reviewing the research in an upcoming free webinar entitled, “A Day in the Life of an Effective Business Relationship Manager” to be held on October 3, at 11am ET. For details, please click here.

Preliminary Results – BRMs Want to Change Their Time Allocation!

Of all roles, the BRM seems to be most prone to being dragged into directions that are not seen to be valuable. There are several reasons for this:

  1. “Urgency” always seems to trump “valuable.” If you have not contracted with your key stakeholders around how the role can and should work in order to deliver the highest business value, then your day will be largely spent dealing with operational and largely tactical issues. You might feel like a hero at the end of the week, but you business partners and key IT stakeholders will likely not see you that way.
  2. Without explicit outcomes defined, any activity seems worthwhile. We easily confuse “busyness” with “effectiveness.”  In the heat of the moment, these things can feel the same — but they are not!
  3. Under stress, we fall back on our core competencies. If we were successful project managers before we were BRM’s, getting “dragged into” project management activities is an easy trap to fall into. I wish I’d had $10 for each BRM that has told me, “I don’t have time to be strategic — the tactical demands consume all my effort and energy!” Deeper assessment and reflection usually reveals that the lack of time to be strategic is self-inflicted — worn as a ‘badge of courage’ to display how important one is to ‘keeping the lights on and the trains running on time!’
  4. BRMs sometimes feel compelled to ‘collude with dysfunctional behavior.’ For example, Service Management might be poorly implemented, with a result that services are not clearly defined, service levels are erratic, and there is insufficient transparency into how the services work and the customer experience those services create. Rather than act as change agents to upgrade Service Management discipline, the BRM steps in to ‘mask’ the poor customer experience, or respond to service failures. This ‘enabling’ behavior might feel good to the BRM, but tends to make things worse over the longer term — and limits the time available for the BRM to take on the more valuable activities.

So, What Can BRMs Do About Changing their Time Allocation?

The first thing they must do is to classify and be aware of where there time is going, and compare that with where they and their key stakeholders believe the time should be going. This will be the key focus for my “A Day in the Life of an Effective Business Relationship Manager” webinar to be held on October 3, at 11am ET (for details, please click here) so I’ll leave this as a teaser for now.

Calls To Action

  1. Please participate in the research, and get yourself on a track to higher performance effectiveness — respond to the survey
  2. Please join me for the webinar — and be part of the change you would like to see – sign up for the webinar

 

Image courtesy of At Your Service Concierge

Business Relationship Management Research – Where Does the Time Go?


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If you have a role as a Business Relationship Manager (BRM), I’d love to engage you in a very quick research study — and I will share the results and analysis with you!

The Context

I recently published a post called When Business Relationship Managers Collude with Dysfunctional Behavior.  I’ve had a lot of comments about this post (as usual, mostly via email – people continue to be shy about posting comments to a blog!) and a request to deliver a webinar for Business Relationship Management Institute. So, I’m developing a webinar entitled “A Day in the Life of an Effective Business Relationship Manager.”  The webinar will examine:

  • Time allocation patterns for Business Relationship Managers
  • A diagnostic approach to re-balancing time allocation for increased business value
  • Addressing Provider dysfunctionalities without becoming part of the problem

The webinar will be held on Friday, October 3, 2014, 11AM-12PM EDT, and is free. If you miss the webinar, BRMI members can download a recording of the webinar about 2 weeks after the actual event.  Non-members can purchase a copy of the webinar recording for $65 USD.

A Research Opportunity

In preparation for the webinar, I have decided to run a small research study, looking at how BRMs spend their time across 10 classifications, and asking them how they would like to see their time allocated in order to realize the optimum value from their role.

If you spend at least half your time in a BRM role, I’d love for you to participate in the research.  In return, I’ll be happy to share the research results and analysis with you.

Simply click on this link and you will be taken to the research survey.  Completing the survey should take less than 10 minutes.

Thank you!

Does This Mean the End of the Business Relationship Manager?


endoftheworldToday, it seems that the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role is gaining prominence, recognition and momentum.  I witness this daily through the incredible interest in and membership of Business Relationship Management Institute and through the lens of no less that 4 LinkedIn groups dedicated to the BRM role.  I also see it directly through requests for BRM training and certification, and for demand for consulting in the BRM space.

All This is Great — But What of the Future of BRM?

To gain insight into the future of the BRM role, we need to think about the past, the current state and the two ‘megatrend’ forces acting on the BRM role:

  1. The BRM role is a result of the need for an efficient, effective, value-driven ‘bridge’ between a service supplier (often an internal IT organization) and its business customers/clients.  After 50 years or so where the IT organization and its business customers lived either side of a virtual brick wall, the BRM acts as a window in the wall through which IT-speak and business-speak are translated one into the other, with the result that business demand for IT services and supply of those services is aligned based upon potential business value realization.
  2. The so-called “consumerization of IT” and the availability of cloud-based services for Software, Infrastructure and Platforms (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS) are another force that is breaking down business-IT barriers.

These forces were in many ways predicted by author and futurist Alvin Toffler, who wrote about the cleavage between production and consumption that in many ways fueled the industrial revolution, and that the technologies of the “Third Wave” would heal that breach with a rise of “prosumerism”– the combining of production (the IT organization) and consumption (the business customer of the IT organization.)  I’ve referred in previous posts to this shift in the IT provider-consumer relationship as “convergence” of business and IT.

Is the BRM Role Permanent or Temporary?

If you think through these three forces, you might be drawn to the conclusion that the BRM is a temporary role–one that over time, in conjunction with forces such as cloud computing and the consumerization of IT, tends to eliminate the need for itself.  Of course, predicting the future is always a dangerous proposition, but I personally believe that the most successful BRM’s will approach the role as though it is temporary, following a “teach them to fish” philosophy, rather than “catch fish for them.”  From my experience, when a role such as BRM is approached in this way, it tends to stay relevant and valued for a very long time.

Mutual Understanding Results in Business-IT Alignment

When there is excellent mutual understanding among the key stakeholders, businesses and their IT organizations become aligned. But the forces acting on both the business and the IT organization impact the dynamics of mutual understanding and over time it is all but impossible to keep business and IT aligned.

Empowerment Results in Business-IT Convergence

When the business is empowered with information and IT through a robust infrastructure coupled with the knowledge and skills needed to drive value from IT capabilities, the type of alignment thus gained is not only lasting, it actually strengthens and deepens over time. The BRM is key to ensuring that the information and IT infrastructure is fully appropriate and properly leveraged, and that the necessary knowledge and skills are in place.

The Moral?

Approach your BRM role as temporary–and it will be forever valued!

 

Image courtesy of A New World Society

When Business Relationship Managers Collude with Dysfunctional Behavior


5-dysfunctions-of-a-trial-team-fix-dysfunctional-litigationI’m often consulted when a Business Relationship Management (BRM) team is experiencing an identity crisis regarding any or all of its:

  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Roles
  • Metrics
  • Value proposition

All That Hard Work Might Be Misguided!

Typically, the BRM team is working very hard to act as a valued bridge between an internal (and sometimes, external) provider, most often an IT organization and their Business Partners. Unfortunately, dysfunctionality in the IT organization (frequently, one of the main reasons the BRM role was established in the first place) is inadvertently ‘masked’ by the BRM in a noble attempt to please their Business Partners. This happens when they ‘pick up the pieces’ when processes fail or when things fall through the cracks, or even when they step in by way of anticipating a process, project or service deficiency.

Adding Cost – But Not Adding Value

These “pick up the pieces” and “gap filling” activities might feel valuable (“Well, I prevented a fire!” or, “I was able to mollify my Business Partner when we blew the agreed service levels!”) but in reality they add cost, not value:

  1. Expensive people (BRMs) are spending valuable time compensating for broken processes or poor service and/or project management. Those broken processes and poorly managed services and projects cost money to run, especially when they don’t run well. All the BRM is doing is adding more cost (interventions) and masking the defects.
  2. By masking the defects, the broken processes and poorly managed services and projects perpetuate — incurring not only the costs of those processes and services, but also incurring the costs of poor quality, rework and delays.
  3. By stepping into essentially tactical activities, the Business Partner sees the BRM as a tactical resource and is less likely to engage them in potentially high-value producing activities such as demand shaping, business problem solving and strategy formulation.

Where Does the BRM’s Time Go?

BRM Time Pie 1

Typical BRM Time Allocation

One of the exercises I often ask my consulting clients to go through is to identify a list of 8 to 10 major activities they engage in, and then keep a log of where their time goes, for a couple of weeks or a month. The chart above is a simplified example of what I often see in a relatively mature IT organization.  (In a less mature organization, the numbers are far less attractive!) Some things to note:

  • Only 10% of the BRM’s time is devoted to Demand Shaping (stimulating ideas and opportunities for high business value demand, while suppressing, deflecting or redirecting requests that will deliver little to no net business value). This can be one of the most valuable BRM activities, but at 4 hours per week, is unlikely to yield significant results.
  • At least 15% of the BRM’s time is devoted to Service Management. This should be the focus of the Service Management group — not the BRM. While Service Management is critically important (necessary ‘table stakes’ for building trust and respect between the business partner and their IT organization) is is not where BRM’s should be spending so much of their time.  Not only is this a misuse of BRM time, but it positions the BRM in a non-strategic role — significantly reducing the chances that they will be “invited to the strategy table” where they have a real and important opportunity to influence business value.
  • 15% of the BRM’s time is on communication (formally communicating about project status, service status, etc.) 6 hours per week is a lot of time spent on this types of communication and is often a symptom of IT dysfunctionality. If processes are not well defined and continuously improving, and if roles are not clearly defined with clear responsibilities and accountabilities, the need for ‘communication’ to compensate for this dysfunctionality blossoms (dealing with the aftermath of service lapses, explaining rework and schedule slippages, etc.)

Where Does Your BRM’s Time Go?

Ignoring the specifics of the illustration above, think for a minute about the general principles I’m surfacing:

  1. Where are you spending your time? Have you performed the analysis?  What 8 to 10 major activities do you engage in?
  2. How should you be spending your time? Which activities have the potential to create the most business value?
  3. On which activities are you spending time that is actually masking problems elsewhere? Are you helping solve those problems, or are you simply compensating for them?

Note: My next on-line BRMP Certification course is being held across 3 Tuesdays—September 2, 9 and 16 . For details, please click here.

Image courtesy of A2L Consulting

Business Relationship Management and Cloud Services – Friends or Foes?


friend-or-foeCloud computing is a reality in most corporate computing environments today and, like it or not, is an increasingly important part of the enterprise computing landscape. There are several important aspects of cloud computing, particularly in its Software as a Service (SaaS) variation. These include:

  1. Little to no capital outlay.
  2. Low barrier to entry for the customer–sign a deal and you are in!
  3. Relatively attractive pricing.
  4. Often, few decisions to make–what you see is what you get! (Little to no customization opportunities.)

Some Software as a Service Implications

The four aspects of SaaS outlined above lead to a couple of important implications:

  1. Reduced dependency on central IT to find, evaluate, procure, operate and maintain a business solution.
  2. While entry costs might be low, overall life cycle costs for SaaS solutions can be significantly higher than traditional IT solutions. (The typical business model for SaaS providers is to fully recover costs in 4 years–revenues collected beyond that period are essentially pure profit.

The danger here is that with the attractiveness and ease of engaging of SaaS services, many business executives will see this as a pure business decision, and sign up without involving their IT departments.  Many will do this in ignorance of the wisdom of involving enterprise IT–others will do it as an expedient measure, believing that it is easier to ask forgiveness later than to ask for permission up front!

Implication #1 – The Funding Challenge

Depending upon your IT funding model, the ongoing costs of SaaS solutions may well show up in the IT budget, even though IT was not involved in the procurement decision. To use a crude analogy, it’s as if your teenage son took a second mortgage on your house to remodel their bedroom without asking your permission — and the second mortgage is in your name!

Implication #2 – The Architectural Challenge

The direct engagement of the SaaS solution by a business unit might lead to redundant or incompatible solutions. For example, business unit A might sign up for a Learning Management solution. Subsequently, business unit B decides to sign up for their own Learning Management solution. The company now has two different Learning Management solutions, leading to higher costs than if one solution had been shared, and a major headache for the Human Resources organization trying to manage staff development as an enterprise-wide initiative. To pick up on my house analogy used above, this is as if your teenage daughter now remodels her bedroom and signs up with different cable TV provider from that procured by her brother–and dad now has two cable TV bills to pay, but is unable to watch his favorite channel because it was not included in either of the cable TV services!

Implication #3 – The Data Analytics Challenge

As each business unit engages its own choices of SaaS solutions, the ability of the company to make meaning from all the data that passes through it becomes more and more difficult, as disparate solutions fragment the overall data picture. The promise of “big data” collapses into the nightmare of “what data?” and “whose data?” Back to our analogy, dad has to hunt around just to find out what TV channels are available in his house, and who is watching them!

Implication #4 – The Wrong Problem/Wrong Solution Challenge

In many cases, the business unit signing up for the SaaS solution may not have applied the analytical skills and experience to understand the root cause of the business problem they are trying to address. Whether or not the SaaS provider was taking advantage of an unwary buyer, the provider does not have the business context, analytical skills or incentive to really understand the customer’s business problem and to ensure they are getting the best possible solution. It’s as if the teenage children are being sold High Definition TV channels that won’t work properly on their low definition television sets.

The Business Relationship Manager Solution

These implications can be headed off at the pass if there is a skilled Business Relationship Manager (BRM) in place who can act as a bridge between the business unit and its IT organization, and can work with the SaaS providers to ensure the right problems are being solved with the best possible solutions. They can ensure that the funding, architectural and data management perspectives are all taken into account, helping to orchestrate the appropriate business and IT resources. These benefits of a well-implemented BRM role have existed for years. In the age of SaaS and Cloud Computing, the role becomes even more valuable.

What other challenges have you seen surface from the inexorable move towards SaaS?

Note: My next on-line BRMP Certification course is being held across 3 Tuesdays—September 2, 9 and 16 . For details, please click here.

 

When You’re Too Busy to Think, It’s Time to Stop and Think!


too-busyI used to joke (half-joke, actually—there was an element of truth in it!) that my consulting clients pay me to climb on a plane, read the latest IT management book, then tell them what I’ve learned. And they were thrilled because they never had time to read the book! This is a sad admission and reflects a sorry state of affairs.

Most of my clients are too busy to think about anything except how busy they are. I’ll ask them to review a document or model and they will take 15 minutes to tell me all the reasons they don’t have time to do the review—a review that would have taken them 5 minutes at most!

I was working with an IT Leadership team a while ago and I asked them to review some material prior to a workshop. When the workshop was held a couple of weeks later, I asked who had reviewed the material. One member of the team actually had and came to the workshop prepared with some thoughtful questions and comments. The other team members sheepishly admitted that they had not reviewed the material—they were “too busy!” By the way, there seemed to be little guilt or apology for the lack of preparation—it seemed to be culturally acceptable (almost expected) that preparation was a luxury, not a necessity!

What Happens When We Are Too Busy to Think?

This is what transpired.

  1. Much of the workshop time was wasted taking the team through the material they’d been asked to review. By the time we were ready for the substantial discussions I was hoping for, it was time to close the workshop. The 10 minutes review I’d asked them to make turned into 90 minutes of group time, with no time left to reach alignment and make decisions. Another 90 minute workshop had to be scheduled to achieve this.
  2. The one team member who did their homework felt cheated—their 10 minutes of review time had been wasted, and on top of that they had to sit through a 90 minute discussion that was not productive for them.
  3. All the team members subsequently had to sacrifice another 90 minutes that could have been avoided if they’d taken the 10 minutes to do the preparation asked of them.

I suppose this is somewhat like the late Dr. Stephen Covey’sno time to sharpen the saw” parable. The issue is common—too busy to think about anything except being too busy! My colleague and BRMI co-founder, Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk recently sent me a gift of a new book—“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. This book is largely about the “too busy” issue, and provides some great methods for getting down to the critical few instead of being swamped by the trivial many. The book really resonates with me for a couple of reasons:

  1. When I declared myself “semi-retired” about 4 years ago, I forced myself to focus my reduced workweek on the “critical few”. My productivity soared, my stress level dissipated, and life started to look and feel much better than it had in years! I was in control, instead of being controlled by others.
  2. There is so much in what I teach about the Business Relationship Management role that is about proactive demand management based upon business value realization that incorporates the essence of Essentialism. I was actually getting more done in less time!

The sad part of all this is that I now have time to read and absorb books like Essentialism, while my clients continue to chase their tails trying to do more and more with less and less. I guess I need to climb on a plane and tell them what I’ve learned!