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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What’s Really Meant By Business-IT Engagement and How Do You Achieve It?

This is another post triggered by a reader’s question emailed to me.  Here’s his question (some details have been omitted to preserve anonymity).

I was searching for information around Business-IT engagement but have yet to really come across anything with substance.  I’m looking to better connect with the business unit managers to formulate an IT strategy. The unit managers have a track record of operating in their own silos, often making IT decisions without talking to IT which has ultimately cost the company money.  I was thinking about putting a plan together to engage. Structured via, face-to-face, email, social media, newsletter and even survey. Ultimately, from start to finish, I build the picture and connect and portray the message that IT is an enabler and there is benefit in engaging.  I wondered if you knew of anything which may help me?”

This is an interesting question and a common challenge.

What Do We Mean by Business-IT Engagement?

A little research into the term “Business-IT engagement” found a reference to “Employee Engagement“, which Wikipedia defines as:

An ‘engaged employee’ is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests. According to Scarlett Surveys, ‘Employee Engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization that profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work’. Thus engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organisational culture.”

I don’t think it’s an unreasonable stretch to derive from this a definition of business-IT engagement:

Business-IT Engagement exists when business unit leaders are fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their IT capabilities, and thus will act in a way that furthers the business value of those capabilities.  Business-IT Engagement is a measurable degree of a business executive’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their IT capabilities, IT colleagues and IT organization that profoundly influences their willingness to participate in the use of IT for business value.”

IT Engagement Model

I also found an IT Engagement Model from our friends at the Center for Information Systems Research:

The IT engagement model is defined as the system of governance mechanisms that brings together key stakeholders to ensure that projects achieve both local and company-wide objectives. The model consists of three general components:

  • Company-wide IT Governance – decision rights and accountability of company level and business unit level stakeholders to define company-wide objectives and encourage desirable behavior in the use of IT
  • Project management – a formalized project management process, with clear deliverables and regular well-defined checkpoints, that encourages disciplined, predicatable behaviour for project teams.
  • Linking mechanisms – processes and decision-making bodies that connect project-level activities to the overall IT governance.

The Linking Mechanisms are further explained in the following graphic:

I find this to be a pretty comprehensive and easily understood way to define some of the major aspects of Business-IT engagement.

Key Business-IT Engagement Factors

The other key factors I pointed my reader to include:

  • The experience your unit managers have with IT – do they trust IT? Has IT served them reliably? Is there transparency into how IT charges?  Is the business value of IT recognized and celebrated?
  • How engaged are business and IT leadership with each other? Does the CIO sit on the Management Committee? Is there an effective business-IT governance board and related processes and structures?
  • The skills of those in the business-IT interface role (Business Relationship Managers, or BRM’s) – how well do they understand the business? Do they have good relationship skills? Are they co-located with the business unit leaders and sit in on business management meetings? Do they perform a business management role, or are they simply seen as technical people taking care of IT?  Are they primarily responsible for Demand Management?

To the balance of his question, I asked:

  • Are you really trying to formulate an IT strategy? Or is it going to be a business-IT strategy. (If I’m a business unit leader, why should I care about or want to be involved in an IT strategy – it sounds rather internal to IT to me, so I’d probably want to stay out of it – I’m busy enough as it is!)
  • Do you really understand the business problems and how IT can contribute to solving them? If you do, what’s the best way to “market” those ideas, and to whom should you be marketing them?
  • What are the cultural norms in the business – do ideas drift down from the top, or do they percolate up from the edges – the ‘front lines’?

Outside-in Versus Inside-out Thinking and Acting

Finally, I was troubled by an aspect of the language my reader used in his question:

I build the picture and connect and portray the message that IT is an enabler and there is benefit in engaging”

This is what I call Inside-out thinking – “We (IT) are good and can help you so you should engage with us!”  I think my reader might be on a better path to engagement if he can identify the specific business issues and needs and communicate how IT might contribute to addressing those issues and needs.

Don’t Engage – Empower!

Just as I was finalizing this post, Zemanta did its usual thing of suggesting links and related articles.  (I really like Zemanta – it’s been one of my little blogging secrets for a while!)  Among its suggestions for articles was Don’t Engage Employees, Empower Them!  I think that is an important dimension to Business-IT engagement – especially in this age of IT consumerization.   Too many IT leaders see there role as ‘protecting the business from the perils of IT.’  Empowering them – for example, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can be a powerful way of bringing the business into the business-IT dialog and engaging them in strategic and tactical dialog and decision making.

Graphic courtesy of People Insight and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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Is IT Organizational Confusion Exacerbated by the Role of Business Relationship Manager?

I received a question from a reader about the role of a Business Relationship Manager (BRM).  I decided to bring the question and my response to this blog.

His question, and the context for it was:

When the BRM role was introduced at our organization, the Head of IT did not convey a clear vision or direction for how the new role would fit into the existing IT organization structure.  We did not have clarity on how to deal with the issues that are brought to surface by the BRM, or how the BRM should work with Business Analysts, Project Managers and other key roles.  Please share practical examples of how a typical BRM should operate on a day-to-day basis.  What impact should a BRM expect to have made in 3, 6, 12 months and who should see/feel the impact- is it for the IT department and its behavior or how business begins to engage with BRM?”

His email went on to say:

I feel that a lack of clarity and appropriate structure and governance of how a BRM is to operate within an existing IT organizational structure will result in a muddle and confusion for IT colleagues and ultimately fractured relations with the business/customers.”

New Organizational Roles Disrupt the Status Quo

My first observation is that you could substitute any major new role for the specific BRM issue above and have the same potential for organizational confusion.  I’ve seen this with the introduction of Business and IT architects, Program Managers, Service Managers, Product Managers, and so on.  Sometimes the new role gets introduced with limited clarity as to its purpose – rather it feels like “the thing to do”.  Often, the catalyst for the new role is something like:

  • Someone in an influential position has read about or came from an organization where this role reputedly worked miracles – “We should try this here!”
  • There are recurring pain points (e.g., a ‘noisy’ or dissatisfied business customer) – “Let’s put Jill into a role to face off with this customer and see if she can reduce the noise!”
  • Something doesn’t feel right about the current organization structure – “Let’s introduce a new role and see if that improves things!”  This is akin to the proverbial moving of deck chairs aboard the Titanic!

Implications of New Roles

Whatever the catalyst, there are a couple of important contextual characteristics to note here:

  1. Lack of clarity about the rationale for the new role – what problem(s) are we trying to solve and how will the new role solve them?
  2. Unclear expectations about what the outcomes of the new role should be (for example, picking up my readers question, “impact to have made in 3, 6, 12 months and who should see/feel the impact?”)
  3. Failure to fully consider changes that must be made to the IT operating model.  Presumably, the new role is taking over some Responsibility and/or Accountability from other roles, and that other roles need to be Consulted or Informed by the new role.  Note, the initials I’ve capitalized – RACI – the (hopefully) familiar tool for clarifying and assigning roles and responsibilities.

Unclear New Role + Unclear IT Operating Model = Total Confusion!

So, what we have here is a new role being introduced with a lack of clarity as to why, or how, into an organization that already has an unclear Operating Model.  In the past, we somehow managed to ‘get by’ with the unclear Operating Model because:

  1. We have bright, hard-working people who work at ‘smoothing out the bumps’ caused by lack of Operating Model clarity.
  2. They’ve been at this for a while, so unless there’s an unusual disruption to the status quo (such as a new role being introduced), we manage to limp along ok.

Answering the Tough Questions

My reader asked for “practical examples of how a typical BRM should operate on a day-to-day basis.”  With due respect to my reader, it’s the wrong question.  You can’t solve the problem by defining how a BRM operates.  The real question is, “How should the IT organization operate on a day-to-day basis with the introduction of this new role (the BRM)?” i.e., “What is our next-state IT Operating Model?”  I’ve posted many times on the components of an IT operating model, how to define one, how to implement one, and so on.  Enter IT Operating Model in the search box at the top – you’ll get about 40 posts on this topic representing 30 years of IT management consulting wisdom shared over 5 years of blogging!

My reader also asked, “What impact should a BRM expect to have made in 3, 6, 12 months and who should see/feel the impact- is it for the IT department and its behavior or how business begins to engage with BRM?”  The first part of this is totally dependent upon the organizational context – and especially on business and IT maturity.  But it is the right question, and the BRM should be working with the IT leadership team defining the hoped-for impact and how to track it.

It is also important to consider possible unintended consequences of a new role’s introduction.  For example, I worked with a global multi-billion dollar company who carefully introduced the BRM role.  They picked their “best and brightest” to fill the BRM position, and we developed a robust training program and toolkit for the BRMs.  Unfortunately, they were so effective at surfacing, stimulating and shaping business demand for IT, that they quickly exceeded supply capacity.  The BRM’s found themselves saying “no” to the same business executives they’d worked with to surface that demand.  If the expression “getting egg on your face” has any meaning, this was getting an entire chicken farm all over yourself, with lashings of excreted waste!

To the second part – who should see/feel the impact – I’d say that if there’s no positive impact to the business customer, then why bother with the BRM (or any new) role?  And inevitably, the IT department will feel impact – disruption initially, but over time, greater efficiency (“doing things right”) and effectiveness (“doing the right things”).

So, What To Do?

Again, this is a topic I’ve visited many times over the years on this blog – click on Organizational Change Management on the tag cloud to the right of this post for a collection of posts that more or less deal with this issue.

There’s no easy formula here – it’s about motivating change.  This is highly contingent on organizational context, relationships, and other factors specific to a given environment, but there are some common elements:

  1. Find ways to surface the pain of the status quo to those with the organizational power and authority to initiate the change – what the quality movement calls “the cost of quality”.  Use the process of surfacing this pain to build a guiding coalition of stakeholders who want and will benefit from the change.
  2. Find ways to clarify and sharpen the vision of the future state – the remedy to the pain of the status quo.  How will the introduction of a BRM role improve things?  What will this look like – after 3, 6, 12 months?  What will the implications be for our IT operating model?  Again, leverage the coalition – get their input and ensure their buy-in to the future state.  Help them understand what they must do to help the change happen and the future state become real.
  3. Find ways to clarify the transition from the status quo to the future state – what’s the transition plan?  Should we start with one BRM and conduct a pilot?  Should we pull together an “IT Operating Model Improvement Team” to do a fast cycle (no more than 60 days) analysis and provide recommendations to the IT leadership team?

Image courtesy of Awakening Business Solutions

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To Whom Should Business Relationship Managers Report?

I recently received this question from a reader:

We are evaluating a strategy to centralize IT and implement Business Relationship Management (BRM) roles as part of the centralization. Where do you typically see the BRM’s reporting into in a centralized IT organization? Should they report directly in to the CIO, or can they be effective a level or two below the CIO?”

Rule #1 – Reporting Lines Are Weak Determinants of Success for the BRM Role

I have found reporting relationships to be a very weak determinant of success for the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role. Far more important are the competencies (especially business knowledge and relationship skills) of the BRM and the maturity of the business executives they partner with.

Rule #2 – Heft Matters!

Notwithstanding Rule #1, the “heft” of the BRM role – the weight and implied authority it carries does matter.  There’s a couple of reasons for this:

  1. BRM’s are often on a CIO succession path (either explicitly or implicitly) – i.e., have the skills and wherewithal to be a CIO down the road, and the BRM role may be seen as a developmental step.  This has implications for who you chose to fill BRM roles, and for their career paths.
  2. The story a CIO tells the business executives when establishing the BRM role is along the lines of, “I am giving you one of my senior staff members to help surface, shape and manage IT demand so that you get the highest possible value from IT investments and assets. In return for this ‘gift’ I expect you to treat this BRM as a member of your management team.”

As a result, the most common reporting relationship for successful BRM’s is directly to the CIO.  In some cases, the BRM has a dotted line relationship to the senior business executive for the unit they represent.  In other cases, the BRM role is solid line to the senior business executive and dotted line to the CIO.

Rule #3 – Context Matters!

There are many other contextual factors to consider here, including:

  • What is the scope of the BRM role – is it primarily demand management (shaping, surfacing and managing business demand for IT)?  Or does the role include supply management, service management or other responsibilities?
  • Do the BRM’s act as Project or Program Managers for major initiatives?
  • Do the BRM’s sit on any governance bodies, such as Portfolio Management or Service Management?
  • How do BRM’s engage with the supply side?  How do they engage with Enterprise Architects?
  • How mature is IT supply?
  • Howe mature is business demand?

BRM’s Can Be ‘Game Changers’!

The BRM role is a tough one to get right, but from my experience, well worth the effort!  An effective BRM can:

  1. Elevate business maturity
  2. Ensure that IT resources are being focused on the highest potential value activities and initiatives
  3. Ensure that those initiatives capture the highest possible value


Graphic courtesy of Linda Galindo

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How Good are your IT Capabilities and How Good do they Need to Be? – Part 4

This is the 4th and final part in a series on assessing IT Capabilities.  (See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)

A Quick Recap

Part 1 introduced some assessment principles I’ve found to be important.  Part 2 defined the term IT Capability, presented a potential landscape, or normative model, if you will, for IT Capabilities, and discussed ways to determine what IT Capabilities are needed.  Part 3 covered assessment Dimensions, Options and Ratings.

In this final part in this series I’d like to address some contextual issues about why and how to conduct an IT capability assessment.

Why Assess IT Capabilities?

I think there are some parallels in the question, “Why have a medical check up?”  Sometimes, we have a medical check up because we suspect something might be wrong with our health – perhaps we are more tired than we think we should be, or we get a tightness in the chest if we exert ourselves.  This falls into the “I think I might have a medical problem – I need to find out if I do, what it is, and what I need to do about it!”  Other times, we have a medical check up because we like to be proactive about our health – assure ourselves that all is as well as we think it is, and find out about unrecognized problems before they become critical.  Still other times, an external force leads to the medical check up – applying for new medical insurance, for example.

So, the corollary is that we should assess IT Capabilities when:

  1. We think we might have a problem – costs to high, performance too low, etc.
  2. We think everything’s just fine, but would like to prove it!
  3. Someone of importance wants us to be assessed – e.g., the CEO, an Audit Committee, a major client, etc.

How to Assess IT Capabilities?

I’ve mentioned before, the best way to assess IT Capabilities is such that the assessment has credibility and the power to motivate improvement.  From my experience, a facilitated self-assessment, with an acknowledged expert facilitator fits both these needs well.

Here’s an outline of the approach.

  1. Identify the scope and depth of the assessment.  (See Parts 1, 2, and 3 for more on this.)  This will help determine the number and boundaries of Capabilities to be assessed.  I think the ideal is between 5 and 9, assuming you are going for full coverage of the IT landscape.
  2. Identify ‘leaders’ for each capability.  These will be people who will identify the SME’s and stakeholders (key customers and suppliers) for the assessment focus sessions.  An idea group size is between 7 and 9 people.
  3. Provide training on the method to the leaders – I find that a 1 hour session is more than adequate.  This positions the leaders to know who to invite and what to expect.
  4. Schedule the assessment focus sessions.  Allow 2 hours per session and timebox the sessions.
  5. Distribute the assessment results for commentary and feedback.
  6. Present the findings to the IT leadership team.
  7. Create a high level plan of actions coming out of the assessment.
  8. Communicate the high level plan to all assessment participants.

The Secret of IT Capability Assessment

But underneath all this, I have found the real power of capability assessment to be the dialog and insight it leads to – a way for suppliers, capability groups and customers to talk in a disciplined way about what they do, what works well, what needs improving and, to a degree, how best to improve it.  That is the magic – to view capability assessment as a social activity.

Capability Assessment as a Continuous Process

The insight of viewing capability assessment as a social activity has led my business partner and I to start experimenting with ways to leverage social tools to enable self-assessment and even to move it from a periodic to a continuous process.  Watch this space – or contact us if you are interested in getting involved.

Graphic courtesy of Elite Training

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