breaking-barriers-300x225My regular readers (yes, both of them – my brother and my cat) will have noticed that I’ve been posting more about the Business Relationship Manager role lately.  It seems that there’s a surge (resurgence?) of interest in this crucial and challenging role.  I’ve been wondering why this is, and thinking about the reasons why the role is so challenging?

Why the Business Relationship Manager Role is Gaining Traction

I have several theories about the increasing interest in the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role:

  1. BRM as a product of Service Management standards.  IT Service Management standards (e.g., ITIL® and ISO/IEC 20000) formalized the dedicated BRM role as a new best practice and IT Service Management standard requirement. As I’ve posted before, this is a mixed blessing – one the one hand it is creating awareness and legitimization for the BRM – that is good.  One the other hand, it positions the BRM rather tactically – a champion for IT service management rather than a strategic channel for creating business value from IT.  Yes, I acknowledge that IT Service Management is an important enabler of IT business value, but it does not reach the highest points in the value chain. If that’s all the BRM aspires to (or is seen as) then the value of the BRM will be constrained, and sooner or later, they will be seen as ‘overhead.’  The analogy that comes to mind is general education – yes, K through 12 provides a critical and foundational educational experience, but it won’t in of itself ensure a career path beyond minimum wage.  For that, you need either higher education in some specialty that is in demand, special talents, or an amazing amount of luck!
  2. BRM as the Silver Bullet!  After years of attempts by CIOs to get their business partners to love and value the IT function, the deployment of the BRM role perhaps might be the missing bullet!  At the very least, it’s the next intervention to try – what harm can it do?
  3. The Emerging BRM Success.  Some BRMs are emerging naturally (even without that formal title or role.)  A typical scenario is that the CIO begins to notice that the relationship with supply chain, for example, has improved by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.  Thinking about the reasons behind this, the CIO recognizes that general improvements in IT infrastructure services have helped – but these have also helped the other business functions and processes, so that alone does not explain the new found happy relationship.  She also recognizes that the ERP deployment, painful as it was, is now through the worst, and is starting to deliver on its supply chain improvement promises.  So this is a factor, but the ERP contributed to other key business processes, and while it has helped lift the relationships with the executives responsible for those processes, they still aren’t showering IT with accolades!  Then there’s the frequent positive messages the CIO keeps seeing and hearing about Samantha, the IT executive that led the supply chain ERP implementation, and seems to spend a lot of time with the supply chain business teams.  The CIO knows they love Samantha, who’s clearly seen as a champion for them, and as the ‘go to’ person for things related to (and sometimes unrelated) to supply chain IT.  The CIO realizes that Samantha is managing the IT-supply chain relationships.  “Bingo,” thinks the CIO.  “Samantha is a ‘business relationship manager’ and maybe I need to formalize that role and create more of them!”

So, What Can Derail the BRMs Success?

Just about everything!  First, it’s important to realize that BRM is often in a role that wields significant influence, but actually has no authority over any of the many individuals and groups necessary for the BRMs efforts to pay off.  For example:

  • The Service Management Glitch.  If basic IT services (email, helpdesk, mobile support) are less than excellent, the BRMs business partner is going to complain. And here begins the vicious cycle – the BRM intervenes, uses her relationships and relationship skills to escalate the problem and pulls off a minor miracle.  Two bad things follow – first, the problem was solved though heroics – the heroes are celebrated and the idea that heroes keep the lights on and the trains running on time (metaphorically speaking!) gets reinforced.  Second, the business partner begins to see the BRM as the go-to person for IT operational problems.  When that BRM wonders why she was not invited to the metaphorical ‘strategy table’, the reason is clear – why would anyone invite the janitor to help formulate strategy?  (With all due respect to the hard working and effective janitors out there!)
  • The Solution Delivery Gulch.  If solutions delivery does not perform with excellence – somehow meeting never-ending business demand, delivering solutions that work the first time, on time, within budget, preferably in less than a month from initial request – then anything the BRM does to stimulate and surface demand is going to backfire.
  • The Maintenance and Break-Fix Gotcha!  If solutions maintenance is not responsive, proactive and prescient, and business process are interrupted, the BRM is going to get dragged into the fray – and again lose their license to be strategic.

The Subtler Sources of BRM Failure

In many respects the bullet points above are obvious – though that does not make them any less real or easy to deal with.  But there are some more subtle unintended consequences the BRM faces, and I’ll cover these in Part 2 in this 2-part series.

Image courtesy of Ruthida Namubiru.com

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