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.

Advisor

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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