The Account Manager BRM
It was one of the first interviews I had for the Tech BuzzKill. The person on the other side of the table was a leader in his company. With over 25 years in IT, he certainly had the experience. I asked him the typical first question of all the interviews “How do you structure for alignment?”
It took him 15 minutes to set the table for his answer. Then he said it: “For each business unit, they interface with IT through one person, and one person alone, for everything.”
“Why?’ I asked. He replied candidly, “Because the IT department is not deep enough to have more than one point of contact.”
After 15 minutes, that matter of fact statement was all that was needed. In 16 words, this leader communicated what he could not synthesize in the prior 15 minutes.
As I thought back on that particular interview I realized that the leader was verbose to open the interview because he could not muster enough candor to say what the real issue was: a lack of talent in IT.
He communicated what many IT departments face. There is a real issue that must be addressed to progress with the business. It is the fact that many IT departments aren’t built to be on display to the business.
Let’s face it, IT departments have a challenge in working with the business. Often the business team members that work with IT are the visionary leaders, the performers, or the accomplished executives themselves. They know their business, and that is why they are chosen to help form the next level of automation or determine the next features.
IT departments don’t often enjoy the same opportunity to recruit into their ranks team members that model the business leaders with whom they interface. Depending on where the organization is located, or the resource is needed, often times there are only so many candidates, and it is very common that only technically focused people join the team.
This creates a barrier to alignment, as the business will see these team members as “techno-crats.” A long term solution is to replace or retrain them. However, for those leaders who need business alignment in the short term, the BRM Account Manager model is an option.
The BRM Account Manager model is created by choosing a team member in IT with leadership authority to work with the business unit. This team member is chosen for their savviness and ability to convey confidence and business knowledge.
This model is typically used in an IT department that has not previously aligned with the business. It is used as a stepping stone to more mature models of BRM. It has pros, such as the ability to hide the less sophisticated. Since it relies on one team member, there is an ability to control how IT is presented.
However, there are not all pros. There are disadvantages that must be considered . A single point of contact can become a single point of failure as well. BRM models that leverage multiple points of interface to the business can absorb conflicts, divides, and issues better. A single point of contact that gets in a tense situation with the business, makes it so that all of IT is tense with the business, because that is the only person the business knows.
Secondly, a single point of interface is a bottleneck for the business. Often times the business will respond positively to the direction to work only with an IT team member that is talented and knows their business. However, they quickly see that the IT person has only so much bandwidth. Therefore, the IT demand management function is especially hindered. IT just is not in a situation to consume the business demand. The BRM Account Manager model is not scalable as a result. The business ends up getting frustrated, and will often turn to outsource vendors or cloud solutions as a result.
It is recommended to use this model as a short term solution. It should be a bridge means to a future end. A larger strategic plan should be at work. This model is great at stopping the bleeding of an IT department that is losing credibility with the business rapidly. However, it is not a growth model, and will get stale for the aforementioned demand management reasons.
The model is not difficult to implement. The CIO should look within their organization and determine which team members have business facing talents. A mapping should then be completed to assign the best team member to their respective business unit.
Finally, the CIO should create a substructure that supports the BRM Account Managers. Most notably, there should be a substructure to handle help desk ticket management, and other non-strategic issues. They can report into the BRM so that progress or issues can be directed, but this substructure is mostly important to ensure the single point of contact does not get swallowed up too fast. This helps the BRM stay focused on strategic items as well, and this is a must for an IT department trying to rise from order taker mode to strategic business partner.