I’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.
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