My recent post on Questioning the Role of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) has sparked some interesting discussions. One revolves around the question of “owning” the business-IT relationship. It’s a tricky question for several reasons:

  1. “Ownership” is a tricky term in this context – just what does it mean to “own” a relationship?
  2. There are at least two sides to any relationship – do all parties to the relationship see it in the same way?  If you “own” the relationship with me, do I recognize that and behave accordingly? Do I need to?
  3. Context is everything – what works well for one company/one situation might not work at all for another!

Business-IT Relationship Issues

First, a small anecdote to frame the relationship ownership question. I recall interviewing a business executive about his needs and expectations from his IT organization. He said:

The last time I needed to talk about a possible new IT solution, I set up a meeting with my new Business Relationship Manager. Seven people from IT came to that meeting!  We had to find a conference room and move the meeting!  By the end of the meeting, most of those present had said nothing, but they had all furiously taken notes – presumably each capturing the same things.  No wonder IT costs too much and delivers too little!”

Too Many Cooks…

It’s a familiar situation – understandable but not acceptable! I imagine the seven IT folk included the BRM, a couple of Business Analysts, an Enterprise Architect, Project Manager and a couple of ‘subject matter experts‘.  They all wanted to be there so nobody would miss anything.  Perhaps they thought a “show of force” would impress the business client.  (In fact, it had the opposite effect!)

Too Many Specialists…

Yes – IT is complicated stuff, and ultimately, you have to get it right – 80% availability is not adequate for most IT solutions! This has led to an IT world that is full of specialties.  That is fine – but do all the specialties need to be represented in an initial meeting with the client?  How are the client’s needs best handled in terms of IT relationships?  How can we create an exceptional experience for our client?

The Need for a Single ‘Focus’ of Contact

The needs of both the business group and the IT organization are best served when there is a single ‘focus’ of contact – an individual who shepherds all contacts between business and IT.  This is one of the roles of the BRM.  Note, they are not a “Single Point of Contact” (SPOC), but they do “own” the business-IT relationship.  This means:

  1. They are accountable for the success of the business-IT relationship.
  2. As such, they need to be aware of all contacts between business and IT.  So, if I’m an Enterprise Architect, and I run into a business executive in a corridor and he mentions some specific need or IT issue, it is my responsibility to let the BRM know.
  3. Similarly, as BRM, if I hear something through my business relationship that the Enterprise Architect should be aware of, it is my responsibility to let them know.

A good model to consider is the one followed by most consulting firms. They typically operate to a ‘rule of engagement’ whereby each client or prospect is ‘owned’ by a specific partner. If someone other than that partner has contact with the client or prospect (which was absolutely fine!) then they must ensure that the partner is aware of that contact.  This is seen as a common courtesy, both to the partner that owned the relationship and to the client – and a means to ensure an efficient, transparent client relationship. More importantly, it fosters strong relationships and a deep client knowledge.

Enabling the Business-IT Relationship

Business executives are not served by specific individuals – they are served by teams representing many facets of IT – operations, solutions delivery, support, training, architecture, and so on.  On the business side, there is typically not just one executive that represents a given business unit or function – there are many.

Taking the friction and noise out of these types of many-to-many business-IT relationships is crucial.  Clarity of the BRM role, their ownership of a given business-IT relationship, and an effective means of capturing and managing the myriad needs and activities are essential mechanisms for a healthy, productive business-IT relationship.

Tools such as Semantic Wikis and Customer Relationship Management solutions such as Salesforce.com can be effective enablers of many-to-many relationships such as those between business and IT, capturing all interactions and facts about the relationship.  Considering the size of IT investments and the business value that is on the line, investments in better managing business-IT relationships seem well-placed!

How clear is business-IT relationship ownership in your organization?  How well does it work?  Could better clarity around relationship ownership and rules of engagement improve the business-IT relationship?

 

Graphic courtesy of SmallBusinessFriends

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