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!

Common Failure Modes in Business Relationship Management – Part 2

hindenbergThis is the second in a series of  posts about common failure modes I come across in the deployment of a Business Relationship Management (BRM) role and/or capability.

In Part 1 in this series I discussed two common failure modes:

  • Failure Mode #1: Where the BRM is positioned as the “Single Point of Contact” between a provider organization (typically an IT organization) and their business clients. The Single Point of Contact role is often introduced in response to a common symptom—the business client is unclear who to contact for what. In other words, the root cause is lack of organization clarity, and the false belief is that by appointing a BRM (or whatever label you use) as a Single Point of Contact, the organizational dysfunctionality arising from lack of clarity will be mitigated.
  • Failure Mode #2: BRM As “Dumping Ground” when the BRM becomes a “catch all” for requests that nobody else wants to deal with, or that people are not sure who is supposed to deal with them. Again, lack of organizational clarity is a root cause here, and the types of problems this leads to are very similar to those identified above due to the Single Point of Contact failure mode.

Let’s look at a couple of other common BRM deployment failure modes.

Failure Mode #3: Strategic BRM when a Tactical BRM Is Needed

This is a very common BRM failure mode.  Here’s the common scenario:

For whatever reasons, a provider (typically, an IT organization) is seen to be not fully satisfying the demands and expectations of its business customers/clients (pick your favorite term—I’ve seen both terms as the preferred way of describing the entities a provider serves).  In response, the provider undertakes some type of capability improvement initiative (sometimes referred to as a ‘transformation’, ‘transition’, ‘realignment’, ‘refresh’, and so on.) The initiative often has several aspects, such as deployment of a Service Management Framework, Operating Model realignment, process management program, sourcing strategy, and deployment of a BRM role/capability.

Someone is nominated to lead the BRM deployment.  They do their research, perhaps retain some consulting advice, build their team, and with high hopes and a strong sense of “damn the torpedoes”, create and execute a deployment plan.

All this sounds reasonable, but the disconnect is that the vision of BRM to be deployed is that of a strategic relationship between provider and customer/client.  As such, the BRMs chosen to fill the role are relatively senior people, well-qualified to work with senior business executives with a focus on business demand shaping and business value realization. Meanwhile, Service Management, Operating Model realignment, Outsourcing, and so on are all underway. Just as a golfer determined to improve their golf swing knows, improvement initiatives are often accompanied by performance setbacks.  Imagine a golfer not only working on a new swing, but also using radically new clubs, a revolutionary new ball, wearing an innovative, experimental golf shoe, on a brand new course. With all these changes going on simultaneously, the performance degradation could take a while to pass through.

While the new BRM team is trying to foster new strategic partnerships, surfacing new, valuable, business demand, the ability for the provider to supply even basic services is seriously compromised. This is especially true with new major outsourcing arrangements, which can take a year to 18 months to settle down. The business partners quickly lose patience as the newly surfaced demand lays fallow in a backlog, and current services falter. It does not take long for one or both of two situations materialize:

  1. The BRMs get dragged into tactical firefighting.  This is ok, but it may be hard for them to reposition themselves back into the strategic role they were originally intended to fill.
  2. The BRMs are deemed to be not adding value—especially given that they are senior and relatively expensive resources.

Lesson 3: Don’t position the BRM as a Strategic when the context demands a Tactical BRM.

It is possible to migrate from Tactical to Strategic BRM, but it demands that the BRM has the competencies to be strategic, and it takes some skill and finesse to establish the medium to longer term vision for the strategic business relationship with the caveat that in the near term, the BRM will be part of the provider organization’s improvement efforts, and therefore mainly focused on essential, though tactical activities, such as service definition.

Failure Mode #4: Tactical BRM when a Strategic BRM Is Needed

This is less common than Failure Model #3 above, but is still quite common, especially when an organization has blindly followed the ITIL framework without sufficiently understanding their supply maturity context.  Here’s the scenario.

The provider has implemented a Service Management Framework such as ITIL, where they recognized they needed a BRM role. Some people from the Service Management function were appointed to BRM roles and deployed. The Service Management initiative has been effective, and the proverbial “lights stay on and trains run on time.”

After a while, the business customers/clients let the provider management know that their BRMs don’t add much value—things seem to work ok, and having folk in the BRM role seems like unnecessary overhead. Sometimes it is the provider management that comes to the conclusion that the BRM role has served its purpose and abandons it.

Meanwhile, there is little to no improvement in the business value that is realized from investments in the provider’s capabilities and assets. All the basics work well, the business’s ‘orders’ mostly get taken care of, but there’s a sense of general disappointment in the provider’s strategic and innovation capabilities.

Someone with the competencies and authority to be a strategic BRM can operate at a tactical level, but someone without those competencies cannot operate at a strategic level.  Tactical BRMs help to get the lights to stay on and the trains to run on time, but once those “table stakes” have been achieved, the tactical BRM will (to push the metaphor too far!) run out of steam!

Lesson 4: Don’t position the BRM as a Tactical when the context demands a Strategic BRM.

It is very difficult to migrate a purely tactical BRM to a Strategic role. They will be unlikely to have the experience and competencies to act as a true strategic partner, or to be granted the executive level access they need to be successful in the strategic BRM role.

What do you think?  What other failure modes have you seen?


Note: My next on-line BRMP Course is being held across 3 Mondays—July 7, 14 and 21, 2014. For details, please click here.

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IT Organization Circa 2017 – 5 Year Countdown (Part 1)

countdown5When I launched this blog on September 21, 2007, my opening post declared:

I’ve named this blog “IT Organization Circa 2017″ in an attempt to position the domain of interest – what will the IT Organization inside businesses, governments and other organized entities look like in 10 years (2017) and how did they get there?”

I went on to explain that I’d picked 2017 as it was 10 years from my first post – a time-frame that seemed to allow a high degree of change, but that I would (statistically, and hopefully) be around to see.

So, with 5 years to go, here are some musings on IT Organization Circa 2017, with thanks to my co-founders at Business Relationship Management Institute, Aaron Barnes and Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk with whom I’ve been noodling on the subject.

To set this up, we need to consider the major disruptive forces acting on the IT organization today:

Let’s take each of these disruptive forces and delve into them.

IT Organizational Disappointment

There’s a general (though not universal) sense of disappointment with IT! We used to hear, “It costs too much and delivers too little value!” Nowadays, we are more likely to hear, “It takes too long!” When the competitive landscape can change almost overnight and when technology creates opportunities to reinvent products, services and business models just as quickly, it usually seems to be the IT organization that’s the bottleneck. Typically,

  1. It takes the IT organization time to examine a need or opportunity.
  2. It often feels to the business executive that the examination of a given need or opportunity is an exercise in bureaucracy – too many hoops and hurdles to go through with few of them, if any, adding value.
  3. If the request does make it through the hurdles before the need has gone away, there’s often a lengthy ‘waiting period’ while resources are freed up – the dreaded so-called ‘backlog’.
  4. Sometimes the original simple request somehow morphs into a major deal, as other business needs are piled on, and legacy issues rear their ugly heads.

To get beyond these clichéd perceptions, some IT organizations are now on their 3rd or 4th ‘transformation’ comprising activities such as retooling, re-skilling, reorganizing, leaning out processes, and adopting standards frameworks such as ITIL and COBIT. While these efforts may well be necessary, many are not cleanly executed, taking 2-3 years to bring benefits, and in the meantime creating more disruption for the business customer.

So, it hurts me to say it, and many of my readers may resent it, but the truth is that more often than not, IT organizations are seen as barriers to business progress with information and IT, rather than the enablers they would like to see.

Cloud Computing

Despite some well-publicized snafus, Cloud Computing is making significant inroads just about everywhere. Sometimes, the shift to the cloud is around very small services – document sharing, or storage of large files such as videos, and so on. Other times, the shift is broad based and significant – moving supply chain or customer relationship management processes to the cloud, for example. Either way, the cloud offers an easy way to try something without a significant capital investment or running through the corporate maze of product and vendor certifications and contracting. And, at least in theory, if not in practice, cloud solutions feel to non-IT people as something they understand and can procure and deploy without IT assistance. In fact, it’s often something they are already using at home with great success. This represents a huge ‘bypass’ to the traditional IT organization.

Many companies today are catching on to “big data” and the power of analytics applied to vast sources of data, such as sentiment analysis of social media or identification of consumer purchasing patterns based upon correlations that had not been previously recognized. Big data often requires massively parallel software running on tens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers – something that is beyond the limits of most corporate data centers, but achievable through Cloud Computing – creating yet another entry point that can bypass the IT organization.

Add the attractiveness of the Cloud Computing value proposition and perceived ease of doing business to the sense of IT organizational disappointment mentioned about, and you have an interesting recipe for a revolution!

Consumerization of IT

This, with its sister movement towards mobile everything is a powerful disruptive force! People are increasingly able to chose their own devices – smart phones, laptop computers, tablet computers, and so on. These devices come with a vast available library of ‘Apps’ to do just about anything you might need. And if you need something for your business that does not yet exist, there’s a universe of willing, inexpensive developers out there who’d be delighted to develop the App for you and your business!

This trend is not going away – to the contrary is is the beginning of a new sense of empowerment – everyone is their own IT department. It’s probably wrong to call this a “slippery slope” which implies a falling down at some point, but it certainly marks a shift in the relationship between business people and their technology – a shift in which the IT professional may have moved from a faceless body in the corporate IT department to a slick, service-oriented professional in the local phone store. (Reality note here – my daughter’s phone stopped working last week and she revealed to me her loathing of having to visit the phone store! She said, “The phone store has become the modern day equivalent of the automobile dealership!”)

Global Sourcing

While not a panacea, and while many companies experience a painful transition to various flavors of outsourcing, most companies have tried it at some level, and plan to do more of it! For all its challenges, a well-executed global sourcing arrangement (or set of arrangements) can help an IT organization flex with changing business demand – both in terms of capacity (the ability to handle more or fewer projects as demand dictates) and capability – the ability to take on work for which the inhouse resources may not have the necessary skills or experience.

Who Is Engaging these Alternate Sources?

Increasingly, these alternate sources (namely, Cloud Computing, Global Sourcing, Consumer IT, Apps) are being engaged directly by the business with minimal to no reference to the IT organization.

So, What’s Does the IT Organization Look Like Circa 2017

I’ll leave you all to ponder on these disruptive forces for a week or so, and then I’ll provide my take on the future of the IT organization. Meanwhile, comments appreciated and encouraged!

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Driving Business-IT Convergence – The Evolving Role of the Business Relationship Manager (Part 2 of 2)

cloudIn Part 1 of this 2-part series I defined the BRM role – with the caveat that it is by no means standardized.  In fact, as far as IT Service Management standards such as ITIL® and ISO/IEC 20000 are formalizing the existence of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role and corresponding process as a new best practice, they are selling the role short in terms of its potential strategic impact to business.  I went on to describe the typical BRM in terms of their purposes, goals, responsibilities and accountabilities.  To the title of this post, I introduced the shift from business-IT Alignment to Convergence and why this is so important as every aspect of business strategy and operations is increasingly dependent upon information and IT.   Today, the BRM operates at the leading edge of the convergence movement – a movement being accelerated by the ‘consumerization of IT‘, digitization of everything, and by the “Internet of Things.”

In part 2 of this 2-part series, I’d like to discuss needed BRM competencies, how the BRM role changes over time with increasing maturity (of both the BRM and her business partner) and how the way that the BRM engages with the business partner shifts the nature of the relationship from one of order taker to that of strategic partner.

Typical Competencies Required of the BRM

Drives Value Realization

This might be the most important competency for a BRM.  It includes knowing how to surface, clarify and promote the best value-delivering opportunities for IT investments and assets, and how to ensure that these actually deliver on their promised value – delivered in ways that are felt and seen.  This requires skills in Program Management (with implied Project Management skills), Portfolio Management, influence, persuasion, communication, finance and organizational change.

Understands Business Environment

Driving value realization also requires a great understanding of the business, its ecosystem and its competitive landscape.  Successful BRMs have a keen sense of the top strategic business and IT issues – both short and long term, and how these issues relate to initiatives in their industry.  In short, they understand the “business of the business.”  They are viewed by business leaders as a proactive partner in finding the right solutions to business needs and not as a mere “order takers” for IT services.

Aligns IT with the Business

First, let me say that some readers will fume at the subheading.  “IT and the Business are one and the same!” they shout.  While this may reflect a laudable perspective (and one that will gradually materialize as IT-business convergence takes place) it is rarely, if ever, the case today.  Unless your business is information technology, then “business” is where profits are generated, and IT organizations work in support of that.

With that digression out of the way, alignment can be a tricky concept, and in some respects sounds inconsistent with my argument for business-IT convergence.  But alignment represents the necessary table stakes – business leaders and IT leaders need to be ‘on the same page’ in terms of mission, vision, values and goals for both IT and the business – and how these relate to each other.  Mismatches in any of these can spell disaster to the ability to build and sustain value-producing business-IT relationships, let alone converge business and IT capabilities.

Successful BRMs work closely with business leaders to predict demand for IT services and to manage that demand.  They take the lead in highlighting competing objectives.  They are effective at managing the flow of demand through negotiations and seek to iron out demand/supply disconnects between IT and business leaders.  Most important, they constantly seek ways to foster convergence – empowering business leaders – teaching them to fish, as it were, rather than always fish for them!

Manages Relationships

Any role with the word “relationship” in the title has to imply a high level of competence at creating, sustaining and developing strong relationships among stakeholders – especially between business units and the IT groups that support them.  Relationship skills do not come naturally, and are not easily developed in some people.  Effective BRMs are able to build and maintain relationships with senior IT and business leaders.  They are seen as a value-added participant in strategic business-level discussions (i.e., worthy of a “seat at the table”).  Successful BRMs are not shy in speaking up when the demand for IT services outpaces supply ability or capacity.

Manages Organizational Change

Another tough set of skills and behaviors to master!  This requires deep understanding of the organizational levers for making change (people, process, and technology) and how IT and business strategies translate into practical plans of action for change.

The successful facilitator of change engages in discussion with IT and business leaders on the intended and unintended consequences of change, and is willing to confront senior executive sponsors if they are not “walking the talk” and proactively leading the change themselves.  They understand the total cost – both technical and human – of end-to-end implementation.  They can surface the hidden costs and potential obstacles that could derail the change.

They have the ability to identify key stakeholders at the outset of a project, to assign decision-making roles, and ultimately hold leaders accountable for results.  They think and act in terms of outcomes, not deliverables.

Manages Projects and Programs

Successful BRMs typically have several years of project and, ideally, program management experience under their belts.  They have demonstrated competency in project management fundamentals and in the complexities of program management. They demonstrate the ability to get things done through others, even though they may lack ultimate authority.

Effective Communication

Successful BRMs are recognized for their ability to listen, speak, write and communicate clearly and effectively. They demonstrate the ability to negotiate win-win, or at least buy-in, in situations where there are opposing viewpoints.  They are effective at influencing those that they hold no real power over.  They have the ability to recognize and surface disconnects between IT and business leaders and are able to resolve problems through difficult confrontations.

Financial Savvy

Successful BRMs have good knowledge of finance and accounting – they know their ROIs from their NPVs and know how to build a business case that is compelling.  They understand Portfolio Management and have at least basic knowledge of Options theory.  They understand the financial drivers of the business and the drivers of the industry within which the company operates.

The BRM Maturity Journey

BRM Maturity - The Merlyn Group

The graphic above shows how the quality of the Business Partner experience grows and the BRMs maturity increases.

Ad Hoc Relationship

At the lowest maturity level, the BRM role has typically not been formalized.  As such it is being handled in an ad hoc way – the ‘squeaky wheel’ Business Partner gets the most attention.  Or, in some cases, the least demanding Business Partner, regardless of their potential to use IT for high value purposes get the most attention.

Order Taker Relationship

I see this most frequently. Typically, IT supply has been badly broken and the business-IT relationship is hostile, so the BRM role is introduced to “patch things up!”  The BRM, in her ignorance, believes the best way to improve the relationship is to say “yes” to any and all business demands.  This is nearly always a losing proposition.  IT can’t meet the demand, and if they did, there’s little to no business value to be gained.


This is a more constructive and productive relationship, where the Business Partner sees the BRM as an advisor.  By this time, there has usually been some formalization of the BRM role and its rules of engagement.  There’s also been some level of training for the BRM – or at least some thought put into the selection of people for the role.

Strategic Partner

The ‘Holy Grail’ of BRM implementations.  This should be the clear ambition – one that is understood and shared by the BRM and her Business Partner – with the recognition that you aren’t a Strategic Partner because you say you are, or because you want to be.  You reach that elevated position because you’ve earned it – and because your Business Partner sees you that way.

IT Matures as the BRM Role Matures

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the BRM role does not act in isolation.  It is inextricably linked to IT supply.  If IT supply is broken, the BRM role will be limited, and might not even make it to Order Taker.  This, from my experience, is a common situation.  Things are bad, so the BRM role is introduced.  Unless supply improves, the BRM is doomed to failure – and may actually make things worse.  Promises are made and expectations set that cannot be kept.  On top of lousy supply, the BRM is seen by the business partner as ‘overhead’ – yet more evidence that the IT team is clueless, always adding cost without demonstrating value!

To reach the Holy Grail of Strategic Partner, IT supply has to be excellent – both with steady state services (networks, email, help desk, etc.) and with solution delivery (projects and programs).  The “strategic” BRM needs IT supply to work flawlessly.  IT supply needs the BRM to suppress low value demand while stimulating demand that delivers real business value.  That way, everyone is happy and a virtuous cycle is sustained.

Image courtesy of TradeArabia

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Driving Business-IT Convergence – The Evolving Role of the Business Relationship Manager (Part 1 of 2)

WhitePaperCoverI’m seeing a surge of interest in the emerging role of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) as a key position that sits between a shared services organization (most frequently IT) and its business partner.  This is an internal role that should not be confused with the similarly titled externally-facing role common in banks and financial services organizations. I have referenced the BRM role many times over the last 6 years, and covered the topic at some length in January (see ITIL and the Business Relationship Manager: Avoiding the Performance Trap and Design Thinking and Emerging IT Roles.)  Recently, I’ve been getting an inbox full of questions about the role, so I decided to satisfy that interest with a new 2-part post looking at how the role is evolving.

Defining the BRM Role

The BRM role is by no means ‘standardized’, even as the IT Service Management movement tries to place it in its standards as a rather tactical position, mostly focused on steady-state IT services.  High quality steady-state services are certainly an important aspect for any IT organization – table stakes, if you will, for getting a “seat at the business table”.  (Please excuse the double table metaphor!)  But once the business partner experiences the BRM as negotiator for and arbiter of services, service levels and the like, they are unlikely to invite that BRM to the next strategy offsite to help figure out how the business strategy should address increasing business digitization, for example!

We see common variations in BRM:

  • Seniority – and the level of business executive with whom the BRM partners.
  • Scope – and the number of business unit executives and managers the BRM works with.
  • Purpose – especially in the balance of the BRM focus between supply and demand.
  • Title (e.g., Business Partner Director, Account Manager, Client Relationship Manager, IT Business Partner, Business IT Partner, etc.)
  • ‘Supply side’ focus (i.e, many BRMs represent the IT organization, some represent HR, Finance, and so on.  A small number represent multiple “shared services”.)
  • ‘Demand side’ focus (e.g., Line of Business, geographic region, major business process, corporate functions, etc.)
  • Size of the BRMs team – from sole practitioner to leader of a team of 8 or 9.

The Typical BRM

While typical, as with averages, can be misleading, the most common model for the BRM includes:

  • The BRM sits at the intersection of IT and its business partner – representing the business partner(s) to IT and IT to the business partner(s).
  • The BRM stimulates, surfaces and shapes business demand for IT projects, services, capabilities and investments in order to maximize their business value.  This means taking a proactive role in educating the business partner, suppressing demand for low value activities while stimulating demand for high value activities.
  • Ideally, the BRM is a member of both business and IT leadership teams, contributing to both business and strategy and planning, identifying how information and IT can support and advance business objectives, and helping translate demand into supply.
  • The BRM partners with appropriate supply resources to ensure supply-demand alignment.
  • The BRM helps create project and program charters.
  • The BRM oversees initiatives and helps manage business process change to ensure that the value predicted by a business case is actually realized.
  • The BRM monitors business partner satisfaction and facilitates continuous improvement in the business partner experience with IT (or HR, etc.)
  • To accomplish all the above, the BRM typically manages a small team comprising “junior BRMs”, business analysts and other specialized resources required to ensure an effective business-IT relationship.

If that sounds like a lot of responsibility, it is!  In fact, at their best, IT BRMs are thought of as “mini-CIOs” and are often on a succession path to the CIO position.

BRM Responsibilities

Common responsibilities include:

  • Active member of both the business partner and IT leadership teams.
  • Joint accountability (with the business partner) for business case development and value realization.
  • Accountable for development and execution of the business partner IT investment portfolio.
  • Partnering with the IT Solution Delivery Organizations to manage expectations and ensure efficient and effective delivery of all IT services.
  • Accountable for business partner awareness of systems security requirements and responsibilities.
  • Orchestrating key roles on behalf of their business partner (e.g., Project Manager, Enterprise Architect, Business Analyst).
  • The BRM acts as a broker for needed resources and capabilities (e.g., Vendor Management, Service Management, Organization Development).

From Alignment to Convergence

I’ve posted on this important concept before – with all due credit to Professor James Cash, Harvard Business School, with whom I helped design and deliver a relationship manager development program some years back.  He first helped me to the insight that alignment was no longer sufficient – CIOs needed to recognize that business and IT were converging as every aspect of business strategy and operations was increasingly dependent upon information and IT.  Today, it is largely the BRM who operates at the leading edge of the convergence movement – a movement being accelerated by the ‘consumerization of IT’.

Teaser for Part 2

I’ll pick up in Part 2 of this 2-part series with examples of needed BRM competencies, a discussion of how the BRM role changes over time with increasing maturity (of both the BRM and her business partner) and how the way that the BRM engages with the business partner shifts the relationship from one of order taker to that of strategic partner.

Graphic courtesy of Acre Resources Limited

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ITIL and the Business Relationship Manager: Avoiding the Performance Trap!


I have good news, and I have bad news!

The Good News…

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) 2011 edition and the ISO/IEC 20000 standard for IT Service Management formalized the existence of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role and corresponding Business Relationship Management process as a new best practice and international IT Service Management standard requirement.  This is good – for professional BRMs around the world, for the IT profession in general, and for improving the business return on IT investments, as technology becomes ever more deeply embedded in business processes.

The Bad News…

(And I know I will get hate mail and lose readership for saying this, but…) As defined by ITIL, the BRM role comes off as somewhat tactical – not something to get business leaders salivating over their new partnership with IT, nor hungry to innovate business products and services!  Let me be clear – the ITIL vision of BRM is necessary – but from my experience, it is insufficient to drive real business value beyond a certain point.  It will help an IT organization with poor service quality get better.  But it will not help an IT organization with good service quality to excite and delight their customers with the new business capabilities that are enabled by information and information technology!

Business Relationship Manager Role

I’ve posted extensively on this role in the past – the BRM is a bridge between the IT organization and its business clients (just as a good CIO is a bridge between the IT organization and corporate leadership).  As such, it both represents the business clients to IT, and IT to the business clients.  This role has surfaced over the last 10 years or so and Gartner predicts that the fraction of IT personnel dedicated to Relationship Management and Change Leadership functions will reach as much as 15% by the end of 2013 and grow up to 20% by 2016.  LinkedIn hosts two groups dedicated to the BRM role.  One group – IT Business Relationship Management – currently boasts over 1,800 members.  The other group, Professional Business Relationship Managers currently has over 2,600 members!  (In the interests of full disclosure, I co-manage the latter group.)

I’ve conducted a significant amount of consulting, assessment and training in the BRM space, including designing and leading BRM training and development programs for global companies with over 100 BRMs (as well as for those with fewer than 5 BRMs).  From that experience, and from my ongoing activity on the LinkedIn groups, I’ve seen two distinct ‘flavors’ of BRM – “Tactical” and “Strategic.”

BRM and Business-IT Maturity

To help understand “tactical” and “strategic” BRMs and how they’ve come to be, I’ll use my Business-IT Maturity Model (BITMM).  I’ve posted at length about the BITMM.  In its simplest form (see graphic below) the model represents both business demand maturity (highlighted in red to the left of the learning curve) and IT supply maturity (highlighted in blue to the right of the curve. These never move completely in tandem – sometimes demand is slightly ahead of supply, other times it is slightly behind.  If demand and supply get too far out of whack, there’s usually a change of CIO (or a turnover of the IT organization to an outsourcer!)


The number of maturity levels is arbritary, but for simplicity let’s use three – business efficiency, business effectiveness and business transformation.  Where a company is at any point in time is a function of factors such as:

  • the industry it’s in
  • current business leadership
  • competitive and regulatory forces
  • quality of IT leadership
  • quality of service delivery

For example, the financial services industry tends to be highly information-intense, so is generally demonstrated higher business demand and IT supply maturity than say, manufacturing companies, which have traditionally been less dependent on information.  All that is changing, of course, as businesses and governments everywhere become increasingly digitized.

The ITIL Connection

Improving service delivery quality is where ITIL focuses.  According to its current owners (The APM Group Limited) ITIL is “the most widely accepted approach to IT service management in the world.”  Originally developed under the auspices of the UK Office of Government Commerce (OGC), ITIL is becoming a popular approach to service management.  Often loosely, and occasionally rigorously followed, ITIL documents processes and practices for service management.  This focus on service management is crucially important in moving IT supply maturity up from low Level 1 to mid-Level 2.

The Tactical BRM

The graphic below crudely cuts the BITMM in half.  The lower half is what I refer to as the “tactical” BRM space – focused on business efficiency and effectiveness.  The conceptual dividing line between these spaces is important.  Around the mid-point of Level 2 maturity, the learning curve changes direction.  This is also a common “sticking point” (see my earlier posts on “sticking points”) where IT organizations often become trapped and their efforts at performance improvement taper off.  In some cases, they actually fall back in performance.


So, in the pursuit of service management quality, the BRM has an important role, establishing a strong business relationship with the customer by understanding their business and customer outcomes.   But the focus is service management, as opposed to the strategic possibilities for IT capability to enable new or improved business products and services.  Service management applies most to ‘steady state’ IT services – not to transformational projects and programs on behalf of business units.

The Strategic BRM

The upper half of the BITMM is the “strategic” BRM space – focused on business effectiveness and transformation.  While an IT organization must be careful not to slip back on IT service quality and customer satisfaction, simply delivering ever-improving services will not transform IT into a respected, value-producing business partner. Sooner or later, IT service management efforts reach a point of diminishing returns. Something quite different is then needed to further improve the business return on IT assets and investments.  While the “Tactial BRM” tends to focus on IT supply management processes and activities, the “Strategic BRM” focuses on business demand management – stimulating, surfacing and shaping demand for services, activities and initiatives with the highest potential business value.  The “Strategic BRM” works closely with her business partner to ensure that IT investments and capabilities yield real business value.

Leverage the Standard Frameworks – But Don’t Get Stuck

The message here is that it’s ok to leverage standards and frameworks such as ITIL, COBIT and TOGAF – but essential to do so with intelligence!  They have their place – and a context for which they were intended – that often being UK government entities.  Nothing wrong with that, but it tends to be a context of control – not innovation.  Control can help you get from low Level 1 to mid-Level 2 – but not to Level 3.  What kind of IT capability does your business need – controlling or innovating?

Thoughts on a postcard, please!

Graphic courtesy of

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Book Review – The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership

I’m often asked to review new books – I usually decline.  There’s a couple of reasons why I stay away from book reviews:

  1. It’s just not what my blog is about – there are many sites that do a great job reviewing books, and I love the “wisdom of the crowd” effect you get from customer reviews on sites such as, so I don’t feel the need to add my own voice to the book review universe.
  2. I’ve been asked to review some books that were real clunkers!  I felt an obligation to say something (after all, the author has had a hand in getting me a review copy!) but I wanted to keep my authenticity, so I tend to end up “damning with feint praise” as they say!  (e.g., Fred’s book is nothing if not short!”)

Notwithstanding the above, when the request to review The CIO Paradox by Martha Heller came in, it was accompanied by sufficient clues as to its content (including a table of contents and a sample chapter) to convince me I’d enjoy reading the book, and have no problem creating an honest review.  It also helped that I was familiar with Martha’s writing for CIO magazine, including her first article on the CIO Paradox back in 2009 – a piece that resonated strongly with me from my work with CIO’s.  I suspected this book would be of value to my readers.

The CIO Paradox

Martha sets up the book with a question she started asking CIOs in 1999:

When you walked into your most recent CIO job, what did you find?”

She almost always got the same response:

I inherited a mess. IT had no credibility with the business. Projects were overdue and over budget. We had no project management discipline, no governance, no career paths, and the team had outdated skills.”

Thirteen years later, Martha points out, she is still asking the question, and getting the same response. CIOs continue to inherit a mess.  She goes on to ask:

How can this be? How can CIOs strive tirelessly to improve their IT organizations only to leave “a mess” in their wake? … is there something so inherently problematic about the CIO role that even talented, intelligent, and experienced leaders have trouble making it work?”

Great question!  From her work with the CIO Best Practice Exchange and the CIO Executive Council and as an executive recruiter, where she talks to hundreds of CIOs and helps them build their teams, she concluded that there are a set of paradoxes – conflicting forces that are deeply embedded in governance, staffing, executive expectations, and even corporate culture.  She groups these into four major categories which become 4 major sections of the book:

Your Role

  • You were hired to be strategic, but spend most of your time on operational issues.
  • You are the steward of risk mitigation and cost containment, yet you are expected to innovate.
  • You are seen as a service provider, yet you are expected to be a business driver.
  • IT can make or break a company, but CIOs rarely sit on corporate boards.

Your Stakeholders

  • You run one of the most pervasive, critical functions, yet you must prove your value constantly.
  • Your many successes are invisible; your few mistakes are highly visible.
  • You are intimately involved in every facet of the business, but you are considered separate and removed from it.
  • You are accountable for project success, but the business has project ownership.

Your Organization

  • Your staff is most comfortable with technology, but must be good with people.
  • Your staff is doing more with less, but must make time for learning finance and the business.
  • You develop successors, yet the CEO almost always goes outside to find the next CIO.
  • You are forced to seek cost-efficient overseas sourcing, yet you are expected to ensure the profession’s development at home.

Your Industry

  • Technology takes a long time to implement, yet your tool set changes constantly.
  • Technology is a long-term investment, but the company thinks in quarters.
  • Your tools cost a fortune, yet they have the highest defect rate of any product.
  • You sign vendors’ checks, yet they often go around you and sell to your business peers.

Leading and Interesting Practices

For each paradox, Martha shares leading and interesting practices from CIOs.  She names names, and writes clearly and insightfully about approaches that have worked – some simple, some more involved.  This makes for an easy and interesting read.  It also provides a comprehensive compendium of improvement ideas to consider.

A Suggestion for a “Meta-Practice” Based on The CIO Paradox

As I was reading the book, thinking back over my many years of management consulting and helping my clients think through and address some of these paradoxes, I found myself running through a thought experiment.  In the experiment, I had some of the IT leadership teams I’d worked with read the book.  Then they’d come together for a one-day retreat, where they’d discussion questions such as:

  • Which CIO Paradox have we made the most progress on solving?  What were the keys to our success?
  • Which CIO Paradox seems like it is the toughest for us to solve, and why?
  • Which practices suggested in the book should we be implementing, and how?

A variation on this theme would be to share the book with senior business executives, and run the retreat with them – perhaps as a prelude to a business-IT strategy/roadmapping process?  That could open up some invaluable dialog!

Two “Killer Practices”

Finally, as I was reading the book’s closing chapter – a “Breaking the Paradox” checklist, I was sorting out in my own mind which practice could have the highest transformational impact for an IT organization that was already doing well in terms of business-IT maturity.  I tried to distill this down to a single practice, but in the end, I whittled the list down to two:

  1. Reach beyond IT. CIOs are picking up new titles left and right. We see “CIO and VP of customer care,” and “CIO and VP of strategic planning” all the time. Whether they take on an additional title or not, it is time that CIOs apply their leadership far beyond the IT organization.
  2. Move closer to the revenue. When technology data is directly related to a company’s products or services, the CIOs of those companies have a shot at driving revenue.

To view the table of contents, advance praise and a sample chapter click here.

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