Two Valuable Books for Business Relationship Managers

book%20review_65263741I frequently get asked to write book reviews on my blog and I almost always decline. But I had a couple of books on my “must read” list that I managed to get to over a recent vacation, and was sufficiently impressed that I decided to provide short reviews, even though the authors had not requested them!

A Must for Any IT Leader Trying to Elevate the Business Value of Technology

To be frank, I approached “Technical Impact: Making Your Information Technology Effective, And Keeping It That Way” by Al Kuebler, with some trepidation!  I’ve read many books by successful CIO’s that somehow fall short of their promise. Not surprising, really, that the competencies demanded for success in the CIO suite do not necessarily translate into the competencies needed to write a really helpful, readable book about IT leadership. But this one did not disappoint at all!

Great Storytelling!

First, Al is a great story teller!  He has a rich experience, going back to roles in IT operations, through programming, systems programming, IT management, CIO and management consulting. He’s learned many powerful lessons in each of these roles, and is able to share these lessons through interesting and entertaining stories. Real life situations that anyone in IT can relate to make for great drama and a helpful backdrop against which to draw out challenges, tensions and leadership lessons.

Great Structure!

The book is structured and organized to be approached in any sequence that makes sense to the reader. It contains a “Book Map” that outlines areas of interest, such as “Aligning Expectations”, “Best Practices”, “Careers”, “Innovation”, and so on. Under each area of interest are typical questions the reader might be looking to answer, with Chapter references. I still approached the book in a more traditional and linear fashion because I was not looking at any particular area of interest, and I did not want to miss any of the many nuggets the book offered, but I appreciate how useful the Book Map concept could be to someone dealing with real fires they wanted to focus on at a point in time.

Great Insight!

I’ve never been a CIO, but I’ve consulted for over 20 years to hundreds of CIO’s in some of the largest and most successful companies in the world (and many that were not doing so well!) and I can attest that Al’s advice is pertinent, valuable and broadly applicable. He’s pragmatic and drills quickly to root causes. He brings a great balance of “quick fix” ideas that buy you time, with longer term approaches for continuous improvement. I very much appreciated the ways Al makes politics real and accessible—something that new IT leaders often struggle with.

I’m generally suspicious about advice that divides the world into ‘two kinds of people’—I find life far more complex and nuanced, so when I came to the chapter that distinguishes between what Al calls “performers” and “operators” I was skeptical. But I actually found Al’s treatment of this material to be valid and quite helpful.


Originally published in 2010, with revisions in 2011 and 2012, this book will have a long life—most of the issues are perennial, and will be applicable across industries, countries and cultures.

Well done, Al!  And thank you for taking the time to create such a useful, readable and even entertaining resource!

A Must for Any Business Relationship Manager (or Any Manager Who Recognizes the Importance of Relationships)

Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships” by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas was the second on my vacation reading list, and I glad that it was!  I’ve added it to my recommended reading for people taking my Business Relationship Management training courses and the Business Relationship Management Professional certification exam.

Great Storytelling!

Just like Al’s book reviewed above, Andrew’s and Jerold’s book is packed with great storytelling! Organized into 26 chapters, each describing a ‘relationship law’ plus a section on ways to apply the 26 laws in a variety of situations, each chapter begins with a story. Each story is entertaining and illuminating and sets up one of the relationship laws in a clear and compelling way.

Great Insights on Applying the Laws!

Each chapter concludes with ideas on how to put the law into practice. I found these ideas very helpful and actionable. They make sense—the kinds of things you know you should be doing, but often don’t, or don’t do them as consistently as you should.

A Handbook for Business Relationship Management!

In many ways, this book could be thought of as a handbook for Business Relationship Management (though it is not intended as such as is much more broadly applicable). I found many of the application ideas hit the common traps that the novice Business Relationship Manager falls into. Here’s one example from the Twenty-Second Law, “Become part of your clients’ growth and profits and they’ll never get enough of you.”:

Think about it. If your plumber calls you up and suggests you have lunch to discuss the latest joint-soldering techniques, you would probably decline. [...] But what if your doctor called? “I’ve got your test results back, and you ought to come by so we can discuss them.” I think your response would be, “How soon can you see me?”

Use This Book to Build Your Key Relationship Agendas

The Business Relationship Manager that really uses this book to create and implement an action plan for their key strategic relationship is either:

  1. Going to be very successful in their role, or…
  2. Going to realize that they are not cut out for the Business Relationship Management role.

Either way, the price of the book and the time taken to read it will be well worth it! Even if you conclude you aren’t cut out for the Business Relationship Management role, there are many other ways that relationship building will be important to your work, home and social lives, and these will benefit from the insights that Mr. Sobel and Mr. Panas have shared with us!

Note: My next on-line BRMP Course is being held across 3 Mondays—April 14, 21 and 28, 2014. For details, please click here.

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Business Value from IT = Business Transition Management + Business Relationship Management

valueOne of the wonderful things about my role with BRMI is that I get to talk to a lot of people who are part of a Business Relationship Management (BRM) Capability. They usually express gratitude that I am prepared to spend time with them. The reality is that it is me that feels the sense of gratitude—I nearly always learn something new, or get inspired in some way by the conversations.

I was inspired by such a conversation I had with a BRMI member last week.

Project and Program Management Counts

She had a very strong background in Project and Program Management. These are important skills and backgrounds for effective Business Relationship Management, and are often where BRMs are drawn from. I’ve always thought of these competencies as “necessary, but not sufficient.”

Organizational Change Management Counts Even More!

Most notably, she also had a very strong Organizational Change Management (OCM) background. She’s been setting up a new BRM function for a set of shared services that support a very large and diverse business. She has incorporated Organizational Change Management capabilities into their BRM group, and has had some great success. This got me thinking…

BRMI’s BRM Competency Model

BRM DNA with Copyright

First, by way of explanation, BRMI refers to “Organizational Change Management” as “Business Transition Management.”  There’s a couple of reasons for this:

  1. The term “Organizational Change Management” has always been problematic. Often, there’s no “organizational change” actually happening—but a lot of “business transition” that needs to occur.
  2. The term “Change Management” gets confused with technical Change Management, especially in the Service Management domain.

Based on the BRM Competency Model, Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) training teaches (and the certification exam tests) knowledge of Business Transition Management fundamentals. We see these as an essential BRM competency.

The Big Question…

Should BRM capability always be a focal point for Business Transition Management, unless there’s already a strong Organizational Development (OD) or Human Resources (HR) group that brings OCM capabilities to the table? In practice, I often find that even where there is an OCM-competent OD or HR group, those driving or sponsoring new initiatives that drive business change don’t know how to engage these OCM resources, or how to make the best use of them. For example, they are often engaged way too late to have a real impact. (“OK, it’s time to deploy this new process, wheel in the OCM folk!”)

The BRM and Business Value

Given that one of the main purposes behind the BRM Mission is increasing business value realization from Provider services, capabilities and assets, emphasizing Business Transition Management as an essential part of BRM capability seems logical.

What do y’all think?

Note: My next on-line BRMP Course is being held across 3 Mondays—April 14, 21 and 28, 2014. For details, please click here.

Cartoon courtesy of Zuihitsu

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Measuring the Impact of Business Relationship Management Capability

roi1One of the questions I frequently get goes something like this:

We’re setting up a Business Relationship Management (BRM) Capability. How should we measure our impact?

A common corollary to this question (often suggested by the questioner as a potential answer) is:

What’s the best way for a Business Relationship Manager to measure their customer’s satisfaction?

The Ultimate Measure of Success – Business Value Realized

I typically start the conversation by asking my questioner:

What were the primary reasons you decided to establish a BRM capability? In particular, what would your Business Partners (customers) most want to see out of the relationship?

The response to this relatively straightforward question is usually telling—first in the noticeable pause before they are able to respond, then in the fuzziness of their response. I guess the old cliché, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do!” applies here. If you don’t know why the BRM capability was established, it’s no wonder why you are having a hard time figuring out metrics!

I firmly believe that Business Relationship Management exists to serve two important purposes:

  1. To stimulate, surface and shape business demand for a Provider’s products and services and ensure that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and recognized.
  2. To shape the Provider’s products and services and ensure that they are optimized to meet the business value demand.

First, before you even get too far into measurement, you need to get really clear with your stakeholders—both Business Partner and Provider stakeholders—as to the goals and expectations for your BRM capability. This will help you ensure role clarity in the context of intended purposes and determine appropriate metrics for measuring the impact of the role.

The Tenets of Business Value Measurement

There are all sorts of challenges (many well-documented) with measuring business value, but over my many years of management consulting, I’ve discovered some basic tenets of business value measurement:

  1. There are important intermediary steps between ‘inputs’ (the cost of which is an important element of net value realized) and ‘impacts’ (the business value actually experienced by key stakeholders).
  2. Trying to figure out how business value will be manifested and how this manifestation will be tracked and measured is always illuminating and clarifying, even if you don’t end up with a perfect metric.
  3. Shifting the focus of BRM measurement to business value sends a very important message to the organization about what’s really important and why BRM capability has been established.

Let’s look at these tenets a little more closely.

1. From Inputs to Impacts

You can’t simply say things like, “This project will create $x business value.” The reality is more likely something like, “This project (and its inputs), the results of which will depend upon Q infrastructure capabilities (more inputs) and R and S projects (yet more inputs), will enable T change in business capability (outputs) which will increase sales effectiveness by U% within V months (outcomes) which will be worth W (impact) to the organization. Sorting through the value chain from inputs to impacts begins to get a handle on how business value is to be created and how it could be measured. As importantly, it will suggest intermediary results that can be measured, and may, in fact, be important leading indicators for the final impacts.

2. Dialog About Value Measures Is Clarifying

Sorting through the value chain from inputs to impacts, especially when that process involves key stakeholders, leads to a couple of important qualities:

  1. Stakeholders get much clearer on the value chain and what it will actually take to realize the business value being targeted.
  2. In gaining clarity, stakeholders gain buy-in and commitment to the initiatives associated with moving from Inputs to Impacts.

3. Position Business Relationship Management as a Value Driver

Tell your Business Partner that you are there to improve service quality and she will probably be mildly pleased. Tell her you are there to help drive business value from Provider services and solutions, and she will be downright excited!

But actions trump words every time! Engage your Business Partner is the kinds of value-clarifying dialog outlined above, and you don’t have to tell them why Business Relationship Management has been established—they will have experienced the reason and be telling others about the power of BRM! Positioning Business Relationship Management properly is crucial to getting on a meaningful path to success. All to often, I’ve seen BRM positioned too low in the food chain, where Business Partners, especially those in executive positions, really don’t care and won’t invest their time to engage.

The Corollary Question

And what about the customer satisfaction question: “What’s the best way for a Business Relationship Manager to measure their customer’s satisfaction?”

I’ll get to that in a subsequent post!  (Yes, dear reader, I want you to visit this blog again!)

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Announcing the Inaugural Instructor-Led On-line Business Relationship Management Professional Course

BRMP-Class-AdI am very excited to announce that I will be teaching the upcoming inaugural Business Relationship Management Professional™ (BRMP™) training and certification program on 3 days over a 3-week period, starting September 9, 2013 and continuing on September 16 and September 23.

This course is intended for the entry-level to intermediate Business Relationship Manager, with the training and certification designed to provide a solid baseline level of knowledge.

BRMP™ Learning Objectives

Holders of the BRMI Business Relationship Management Professional™ (BRMP™) credentials will be able to demonstrate:

  • Understanding of the characteristics of the BRM role.
  • Understanding of what it means to perform as a trusted advisor, contributing to business strategy formulation and shaping business demand for the provider’s services.
  • Understanding of how Portfolio Management disciplines and techniques are used to maximize realized business value.
  • Understanding of Organizational Change Management and the conditions for successful change programs.
  • Understanding of their role in Service Management and how to align services and service levels with business needs.
  • Ability to communicate effectively and persuasively.

BRMP™ Course Outline

BRM Fundamentals

  • Be able to explain the goals and objectives of the BRM role.
  • Understand why the BRM role is gaining importance and how it is evolving in response to business and provider forces.
  • Explain the concepts of Business Demand Maturity and Provider Supply Maturity and how these impact the BRM role.
  • Understand the drivers of relationship maturity and be able to differentiate between tactical and strategic BRM roles and how these relate to order taker, trusted consultant and strategic business partner.
  • Be able to explain common BRM reporting and organizing structures.

Strategic Partnering

  • Understand how and where to engage in your business partner’s decision cycle.
  • Co-develop, with your business partner, a Relationship Strategy-on-a-Page and corresponding mutual Relationship Contract.

Business IQ

  • Be able to work from business strategy to create Capability Roadmaps.
  • Be able to use the Value Management Framework to link business strategy, provider strategy, portfolio and the business case to shape priorities and communicate business value.

Portfolio Management

  • Understand the relationships between Project, Program and Portfolio Management and how these work together to optimize business value.
  • Be able to use Business Outcomes to clarify strategic initiatives, manage scope and determine value metrics.

Business Transition Management

  • Understand what is required to motivate stakeholders to actively engage in strategic change initiatives.
  • Understand the key roles to be orchestrated in managing large scale or strategic change.
  • Know how to create a Stakeholder Map and use it to inform Change Management Planning.
  • Recognize people’s emotional response to change and help them to cope with it.
  • Understand the sources of resistance to change and how to mitigate them.
  • Understand the stages of commitment to change and how deep a commitment level to pursue for a given type of change.

Provider Domain

  • Provide value-centric definition of a service.
  • Define Service Management and understand its key principles.
  • Understand the Scope of BRM Engagement Through the Service Lifecycle.

Effective Communication

  • Understand the components of effective communication.
  • Understand how to influence those over whom they do not have direct control.
  • Convey the unique value proposition of the BRM role.

For additional information, and to register, please visit the BRMI website here.

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Four Reasons for a Business Case – And Why Three of Them Are Wrong!

business_case2Most Business-IT initiatives require some type of Business Case (cost-justification) to be prepared.  The common purposes for these Business Cases include:

  • Clarify the initiative
  • Justify the cost
  • Prioritize the initiative against other activities competing for limited resources (e.g., funds, people)

As sensible and worthwhile as these sound, the dirty secret is that most business cases fail to achieve their highest purpose – to help drive value realization from IT investments! Let’s explore this phenomenon.

1. The Business Case as a Clarification Tool

Most (but by no means all!) business cases do a decent to good job at clarifying initiatives:

  1. What problems are we trying to solve?
  2. How will this solution solve them?
  3. What will the solution cost?
  4. What benefits – tangible and intangible will the solution bring?
  5. What other solutions were considered?
  6. Why is this solution recommended?
  7. What happens if we do nothing?

2. The Business Case as a Cost-Justification Tool

Here is where business cases typically start to fall down:

  1. Costs are often short-sighted, failing to really anticipate ongoing maintenance, operating and retirement/decommissioning costs.
  2. Costs are often narrow-minded, failing to really anticipate the cost of change to business processes, competencies and unintended consequences.  Most initiatives cost more than you think they will!
  3. Benefits are often unrealistic, hard to quantify and make all sorts of unstated or unrealistic assumptions.

3. The Business Case as a Prioritization Tool

Given the weaknesses in the business case as a cost-justification tool, it is not surprising that the business case typically does a poor job in helping prioritize initiatives:

  1. Prioritizing one case against others might be very misleading.  Individual projects often become (by initial intent or in retrospect) parts of overarching programs.  It is as if my auto service shop tells me I need my front right tire replaced – it will cost me $50 but give me another 5 years of safe driving for that wheel. Oh, by the way, you need your front left tire replaced as well, another $50 for 5 years of safe driving. And so on for the rear tires. Oh, by the way, you will need a wheel alignment—that’s $50. But, we’re running a special: buy 3 tires and get the 4th free, plus we will throw in the wheel alignment for free. Now, do I prioritize 5 separate investments, one for each of the 4 tires plus the option of having all 4 done? Obviously not. The deal would be pitched to me not as 5 investment options, but as one integrated safety ‘program.’  IT business cases, however, are often pitched as separate ‘tire’ investments with the logic that it might be an easier “sell” or because each ‘wheel’ is the responsibility of a different business unit!
  2. Prioritization at the project level often means juggling and evaluating hundreds of projects. Most business-IT governance bodies are unable to reasonably evaluate so many initiatives.
  3. Investment prioritization is better handled at the program level—interdependent projects that together achieve an important set of business outcomes. But many Project Management Offices (even if they bear the name Program or Portfolio Management Offices) don’t really work at a program level – they work with laundry lists of individual projects.
  4. While prioritization at the program level is significantly better than at the project level, even then, program level prioritization often ignores portfolio implications. For example, what I really want from my business-IT investments is some sort of balance between short and long term investments, between high risk, potential high reward and low risk, low reward opportunities. I want some sort of strategic balance—which business units or product lines do I want to be investing in and which am I harvesting? Rarely is the portfolio perspective taken into account—a technique that is just about universal for the personal investment portfolios of all of the business and IT folk involved in the initiatives!

4. The Business Case as a Value Realization Tool

And the most valuable reason for the business case is the one that is almost always absent—value realization!

  1. What are the tangible sources of value this initiative or program will enable?
  2. How will these value sources be felt?
  3. How will we track and measure them and who owns the measurement plan?
  4. How will we account for them on the books?
  5. Who is accountable for them?
  6. What are the consequences of achieving them or failing to achieve them?
  7. Who are the key beneficiaries and what is their commitment to value realization?
  8. How will we capture and incorporate lessons learned?

How are you using business cases to drive value realization?


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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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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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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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Questioning the Role of the Business Relationship Manager

I’ve been deeply into understanding and developing the role of Business Relationship Manager (BRM) since the early 1990′s when, as a Partner at Ernst & Young’s Center for Business Innovation, I began researching what was then an emerging role.  Since then, I’ve continued research into this important role, led many consulting engagements helping companies implement or improve the performance of the BRM role, and have been on the faculty for several global BRM development programs.

More recently, I’ve been a co-moderator of the Professional Business Relationship Manager Group on LinkedIn.  This has been a fascinating experience for me – some very interesting dialogs surface from time to time, and the diverse opinions and approaches to the BRM role become ever more evident each day.  Also, the sheer growth of this group over the last couple of years is remarkable, and speaks to the growing importance of the BRM role.

What is a Business Relationship Manager?

First, it is important to understand that this is a role, not a job title.  In fact the job titles for people who fill this role vary enormously.  Adding to the confusion around titles, “Relationship Manager” is a common title in banking, and we get a lot of applications to join the LinkedIn group from banking officers – not the intended audience!  Also, a number of pure “sales” jobs call themselves “relationship managers.”  I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not the focus of the BRM group.

Second, the ways that the BRM role is implemented varies significantly.  Sometimes it is a sole practitioner – other times, the BRM leads a small team (anything from 1 or 2 business analysts to a larger team, including architects and even developers.)  Sometimes the BRM reports to the IT organization – typically as a direct report to the CIO.  Other times, it reports to a business leader – perhaps with a dotted line relationship to the CIO.

No matter what the variations in organization and structure, the common thread across BRM implementations is an interface between business and IT.  The common goal (though expressed and measured in myriad ways!) is to increase the value realized from IT investments (typically, new initiatives), assets (usually current systems and infrastructure) and capabilities (the services and products offered by the IT organization.)

This “interface” responsibility implies two ‘faces’ of the BRM role:

Representing the Business to IT

This is one of the BRM ‘faces’ – representing a given business unit (or units, or business process, or geography) to IT.  In this regard, the BRM’s primary role is in shaping and surfacing business demand – always with an eye to maximizing the business value of IT investments, assets and capabilities.

Representing IT to the Business

This is the other BRM ‘face’ – representing IT to the given business unit(s).  In this regard, the BRM’s primary role is in supply management – ensuring that the IT organization understands business needs and expectations, and is delivering against those expectations.

But, What is the Real Rationale for the BRM Role?

Implicit in the many debates I see in the BRM community (and behind some of the failures I see in making the BRM role successful) is the question:

What is the most important aspect for the BRM to focus on – demand management or supply management?”

There is no easy answer to this – it really is a function of both supply and demand maturity.  But, I will make some assertions based on a great deal of experience:

  1. If supply maturity is low (i.e., basic IT services are unreliable, unpredictable, unstable, unclear) the BRM role will almost certainly fail.  It cannot add real value, spends it’s time apologizing for IT and making excuses, and is quickly seen by the business partner as “overhead.”
  2. If supply maturity is moderate (i.e., basic IT services work well, but capacity is highly constrained, projects take too long to deliver and are prone to delays) the BRM role has to play a careful balancing act – stimulating and shaping demand while living within the constraints of supply.
  3. If supply maturity is high (i.e., a well regarded IT organization that delivers basic services and project work; that has ‘elastic’ supply that can flex with demand and can deliver with ‘agility’) the BRM role can and should focus almost exclusively on demand shaping and surfacing.

Of these three situations, scenario 1 is the most treacherous for the BRM.  It’s essentially a losing proposition.  My advice to clients is, “Don’t put BRM’s in place – fix the basic services first!”

Scenario 2 takes a great deal of finesse.  The temptation for the BRM is to either try to fix the problems of supply, or shield the business partner from those problems.  Fixing supply is best done with those on the supply side who are responsible and accountable for IT supply.  If you put the BRM in that role, they can’t be effective in their demand management role.  Once their business partners see them as part of the supply side, the BRM loses their credibility as valuable demand shapers.

Why would I invite you to my leadership team strategy retreat – you’re the person who’s fixing IT services!” might be the reaction of a business leader to a BRM who has asked to join the business unit’s strategy formulation retreat.

On the other hand, shielding the business partner from supply side woes is also a trap – what I refer to as “colluding with dysfunctional behavior” which is never a good idea!

Scenario 2 also takes great skill with the discipline of ‘value management’ – understanding how IT investments, assets and capabilities lead to business value – making sure that the constrained supply is working on the highest value possibilities, ensuring that low value requests do not get through the intake process and that value is actually ‘realized’ – felt and seen by the business.

Scenario 3 is the ‘holy grail’ for the BRM.  Unfortunately, by the time IT supply has reached that level of maturity, so has business demand, and the BRM role may be redundant.  But that’s a story for another post…

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When IT Is Your Company’s “Piggy Bank”


First, my apologies – this is old news!  But I was talking to a CIO last week and he made a statement I’ve heard many times over the years:  “The company views IT as ‘the piggy bank’ – it’s a place they can reliably come to when they need to cut costs!”  This reminded me that while I’ve had the good fortune over the last 5 to 10 years to work mostly with more mature IT organizations and their ‘clued in’ CIO’s, there’s a lot of CIO’s out there who should not be running enterprise IT functions – they are doing a terrible disservice to their employers!  Hence this post, intended to prompt less capable CIO’s (and maybe some CEO’s) into action!

Back to my anecdote.  I asked the CIO (knowing pretty much what his response would be), “How does the company feel about it’s IT capabilities?”  He said, “Well, no so great, actually!  They tell us we are delivering ok from a tactical perspective, but are not creating strategic value!”  I asked, (again, anticipating a predictable response) “How engaged are the members of the IT organization?”  His response, “Well, we do have an engagement problem – IT scored quite low on our latest engagement survey.”

The ‘Piggy Bank’ Trap

This CIO is caught in a familiar vicious cycle:

  1. While they’ve done a decent job ‘keeping the lights on and the trains running,’ IT has not delivered strategic value.
  2. As a result, when the company is looking to take out costs, IT is the first place they go.
  3. Feeling vulnerable and wanting to be a ‘team player’ the CIO makes some cuts and ‘ponies up’
  4. With budgets reduced, and with IT’s position as a tactical capability reinforced, the business units don’t look for strategic IT enablement, and the IT organization doesn’t have the bandwidth or capabilities to stimulate strategic demand.
  5. Inevitably, more cuts are requested of IT (as a dependable source of budget money) and the cycle continues!

IT Must Be highly Cost Effective!

Make no mistake – IT has to run its operational side in the most cost effective manner – provable through benchmarks.  (And, as it turns out, IT operations and support is one of the most easily and accurately benchmarkable aspects of IT.)  Often, getting to an acceptable benchmark in operational costs means working with business units to consolidate disparate systems, retire ancient and non-viable platforms, and exploit newer technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing.  There’s good news and bad news in this:

  • The bad news is, it can’t be done without business cooperation.
  • The good news – it forces business cooperation!  In other words, IT is not simply acting as a piggy bank – it is working with its users to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

The good news side of this equation helps position IT beyond a ‘back office’ mystery zone of geeks and propeller-heads, and towards a valued business partner.

IT Must be Strategic

But cost effective operations is just table stakes for the real mission – enabling business growth and innovation.  Not simply helping the bottom line, but growing the top line – and even creating new top lines enabled by information and technology.  You cannot cost cut your way into this role.  If, as CIO, you find you are repeatedly getting relegated to the company piggy bank, you need to look in the mirror.  As I’ve noted before, businesses get the IT they deserve!  And the corollary to that – CIO’s get the respect they deserve.

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