Structure Lever: Dedicated BRM

From Chapter 5 in The Levers of Embedded IT:

At this point, the pace was staggering.  I had many leaders reaching out wanting to be a part of The Tech BuzzKill series.  In my wildest dreams I had no idea that the topic would peak that much interest.  It was at this point, that I had two of the more fascinating interviews.

The interviews came within a week of each other.  One of the interviewees was a CIO at a major financial services organization.  The other had the unique title of “Vice President of Customer Facing Services.”  These two interviews together gave an excellent view of an Embedded IT perspective on the dedicated BRM function.

The CIO came first.  She outlined her ways to structure for business relationship.  She talked about BRM functions and how she provides for those in her structure.  Somehow the conversation migrated to ITIL.  This is when she was most blunt.  “Although I appreciate the ITIL focus, I avoid leaders that are too enamored with the methodology.  They seem to get too passionate and design BRM to serve the methodology, rather than designing the function to serve the business.”

In her short statement, this CIO articulated how many feel about methodology zealots.  She also captured the entire point of this book, and that is that cookie cutter plans and formulas are not applicable once you arrive in an organization.  What is needed is a tailored relationship plan, and that is led by the CIO.

This interview excellently complemented the following interview with the Vice President of Customer Facing Services.  His title itself is so uncommon, I went into the interview having no idea what to expect.  When I asked, I learned that he was tasked to lead a group of services that were viewed to have the greatest impact on the customer.  Those services were: field support, help desk, equipment support, and business relationship managers.

He had asked for this structure and to lead it, and designed it because he saw them as properly grouped together.  He felt that controlling those functions under one leader helped coordinate the interface with the business and make significant impact for the customer.  In essence, he was creating a business relationship department.

The four components he chose make up the front lines to the business.  Field and equipment support relate to hardware and other network elements.  Although these are infrastructure dimensions, a poorly served business team member with their computer on the fritz reflects poorly on IT.  Also, help desk is where the business has its incidental experiences with IT.  So, if it serves well, then IT’s perception is all the better.

Finally, he had a dedicated BRM function.  These team members were there specifically to interface with the business to ensure their needs were served, help them advance strategy, and help the business innovate.  The structure dedicated these team members to being full time partners with the business.

The model just described is the Holy Grail.  Consult an ITIL best practices textbook and you will see this described as the ideal implementation.  The textbook also defines BRM as doing the following:

  • Maintain Customer Relationships
  • Identify Service Requirements
  • Sign up Customers to Standard Services
  • Customer Satisfaction Survey
  • Handle Customer Complaints
  • Monitor Customer Complaints

Although the definition is clear, both the VP of Customer Facing Services and that CIO from those interviews tweaked BRM in their respective organizations.  The VP purposefully took it out of the services organization because he felt it was getting lost there.  He said, “BRM needs to live to their title and their activities should accentuate that: BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP.”  When BRM lives in the services organization, he thought it was too far in the background.

The CIO tweaked it to match where most of her business knowledge was, and that was in the applications tower.  Both ventured from the textbook specifically because it was not practical in their organization.  Additionally, it did not define the most important aspect of Embedded IT, and that is BRM needs to be a part of the future strategy of the business.

All BRM, especially dedicated BRM, needs to facilitate IT’s “seat at the table.”  If you look at the above definition, the only bullet that comes close to strategic is bullet #2, which is Identify Service Requirements.

Embedded IT doesn’t happen simply by identifying requirements.  Customer relationships aren’t built simply by being an order taker.  Both are facilitated by being visionary with the customer.  The business avoids IT professionals that can’t think forward with them.  They see them as obstacles.  When this happens IT receives requirements that have been defined around them, and not with them.  This is not the result needed for Embedded IT.

The CIO that creates a dedicated BRM structure has taken a significant step.  When a CIO puts the BRM label on a dedicated part of the structure, it serves as a beacon.  That beacon invites scrutiny, and the rest of the organization can begin to perceive the dedicated structure as an investment over and above what IT should cost.  Therefore, it will be judged.  The CIO needs to be vigilant on certain aspects to ensure it is successful and serves Embedded IT.

First, the CIO should make certain that the majority of their BRMs are talented and difference makers.  Nothing kills a structure faster than inadequate personnel.  It does not mean that there cannot be some mid-level members on the team, but the majority should be high level.  Additionally, they should have strategic planning experience.  This is key.  Embedded IT happens when IT is seen as benefiting the future, not benefiting the feature.

Second, the CIO should not mistake BRM for business analysis.  In Embedded IT terms, they are two different positions.  A business analyst is concerned with systems and technologies and the processes they know.  An Embedded IT BRM is focused on those things too, but contextualizes them into an overall strategic focus.  They are concerned with the future value opportunities, and think out of the box to help the business see that too.

When this happens, the business sees IT as embedded.  It may not be defined structurally, but it does not have to be.  The strategic insertion is all that is needed.  Embedded simply means “to be essential.”  If the business sees IT as essential, structural definition does not matter, because informal necessity trumps formal structure.

CIOs should consider employing a dedicated BRM structure only in the later stages of business relationship maturity.  It should not be used to recover from “historical debt[1].”  Those CIOs who have already established some credibility with the business will have the team to make dedicated BRM valuable and will also have the horsepower to get the concept through.

Finally, CIOs should have a defined career path for their choices for dedicated business relationship managers.  This should be a step to a vice president position or into the business itself.  The CIO will only get the right talent in the position when this is in place.  Also, the term Business Relationship Manager should be tweaked to show their stature in the organization.  The term ‘manager’ can lead many seasoned and excellent professionals to see the role as too low level.  It should be titled and compensated equivalent to a Senior Director level.

[1] A concept noted in an earlier chapter.

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