In their groundbreaking book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, published in 1997, co-authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema argued that companies that have taken leadership positions in their industries have typically done so by focusing their strategy on one of three value disciplines, and optimizing their business operating models accordingly. They don’t ignore the other two value disciplines — they must meet industry standards in all three disciplines. But they lead in, and optimize for one value discipline, be it operational excellence, customer intimacy, or product leadership.
If we think of an internal IT organization in business terms, it becomes clear that IT infrastructure and operations are optimized for Operational Excellence, and that enterprise architecture and solutions delivery should be optimized for Product Leadership. This begs the question, what of Customer Intimacy?
How Can an IT Organization Achieve Customer Intimacy?
Many years ago (and even today in some companies) business leaders achieved Customer Intimacy with their IT capabilities by establishing their own, dedicated IT organizations. Over the years, as IT became an increasingly large chunk of business budgets, IT organizations transformed to gain advantages of scale by consolidating their IT capabilities into centralized shared service organizations. These tended to be optimized for Operational Excellence, consistent with the “lowest price and hassle-free service” promise associated with the business case for centralization.
For many such centralized, shared service IT capabilities, however, the Customer Intimacy value discipline was subsumed under the pressure to take out cost and be operationally excellent. The business customer of the IT organization could have anything they wanted, as long as it was consistent with the enterprise IT infrastructure and drew from the portfolio of standard enterprise solutions. In other words, as long as one size fits all! As business leaders stepped up to the competitive plate, trying to get ever closer to their customers, their IT organizations, in the name of defensible cost structures, were moving further away from their customers!
Enter the Business Relationship Manager!
In today’s leading IT organizations, the Customer Intimacy value discipline is being restored through the emerging role of Business Relationship Manager (BRM) — charged with driving business value from information and IT by getting close to their internal (and external) customers and, to paraphrase Treacy and Wiersema, by “delivering what specific customers want” and by “anticipating needs.”
All well and good — as long as IT infrastructure and operations live up to the Operational Excellence value discipline. When Operational Excellence is lacking, internal customers are typically reluctant to engage their BRMs in strategic exploration while basic operational issues (metaphorically, “lights on and training running on time”) are disrupting business operations. So, what is the BRM to do?
Plug the Holes, or Call for Improvement?
With many BRMs transitioning into their role from other IT disciplines, including Service Management and Project Management, there is often a strong temptation to step up to the plate and compensate for the deficiencies in Operational Excellence. There are several traps inherent in this strategy:
- When the BRM steps into an Operational Excellence role, they are taking time and energy away from their Customer Intimacy role — they tend to become part of the problem their role was established to address.
- When the business partner sees their BRM in an Operational Excellence role, the BRM may have a hard time either establishing or sustaining a relationship based upon strategic insight.
- By ‘masking’ the operational issues, the BRM is essentially ‘colluding with dysfunctional behavior’, potentially weakening the forces for operational improvement.
A Better BRM Approach for Addressing Operational Issues
Rather than falling into the ‘collusion’ trap, an effective BRM leverages their influence and persuasion skills and their competencies in organizational change management by stepping to the role of Change Agent for improved IT operations and infrastructure. They fearlessly call out process issues by:
- Gathering and presenting data that highlights process issues and their implications — always focused on the process, rather than the people.
- Offering to help fix the process issues — volunteering their business customer perspective, facilitation, process management, organizational change management, or whatever competencies they can bring to the table.
- Creating synergistic “foxholes” with their IT colleagues by establishing (or reinforcing) shared goals, common enemies (such as poor process, rework, dissatisfied business customers) and mutual dependencies.
Know and Lead With Your Customer Intimacy Value Discipline
When you get sucked into operational issues, you may find yourself in a role that is inconsistent with your main mission — it might feel good, heroic even — but it’s not what the BRM role is really about. Operational issues should be solved in those organizational entities that are optimized for Operational Excellence — IT infrastructure and operations.
Note: You can learn more about the techniques discussed here — and much more in my next on-line BRMP Certification course. This is being held across 3 Tuesdays—November 4, 11 and 18 . For details, please click here.