More and more companies rely on innovation as a central factor to successful business outcomes and the only reason to invest in its future. In today’s slow growth market, tougher global competition and commoditization, pursuing innovations more often is the only way to keep customers happy and their competitors at bay. One type of innovation that has been very instrumental to many businesses is through the use of technology – let’s call it technology innovation.
Others might think that technology innovation means always having the latest and greatest systems available in the market, or having the fastest computers and networks. This is a myopic view of technology innovation. Most large companies have now implemented a digitized platform using well-established ERP software, like SAP and Oracle. Further developments of those ERP platforms are available to those who have them as foundation systems. If those companies are in the same industry, there is a big chance that they will pursue the same business processes and best practices in order to offer similar product and services to the same group of customers. How do companies then differentiate?
The reality is that, it is no longer true that simply having the right digitized platform is a determinant of sustained success. It is how you use technology to transform your business capabilities in a fast and agile manner that gives companies competitive advantage. Success on these technology innovation initiatives relies on a person who has both technology and business knowledge to navigate and orchestrate shaping and execution of innovative technology and business ideas. Those individuals that fuel the cycle of technology innovations in the enterprise now have a name – Business Relationship Managers (BRMs). Companies’ focus on innovation has given momentum to the growing emergence of the BRM role and discipline. According to BRMI, Business Relationship Management (what BRMs do) is about “stimulating, surfacing and shaping business demand for a provider’s products and services, ensuring that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and communicated.”
Peter Lijnse, an IT management consultant, wrote the following in his blog entitled BRM is about innovation.
“IT Service Management people are often good at stating, ‘We need to talk to the business.’ But very few understand the business they work for.”
This is so true. One essential competency of a BRM is business IQ and that’s assuming the BRM is already a technology expert. Many BRMs tend to come from a supply organization, and therefore, they have IT background, but it is not always the case.
Innovation is relevant only when it creates value to the customer, hence the importance of customer insights as input to the innovation process. Another common misconception about innovation is that it means new things – new platform, new functionally, etc. Not all the time. Innovation can be about new business value, not necessarily new things. Hence, it is the important for BRMs to understand the business to which they provide services. BRMs are key facilitators of technology innovation and they fuel faster innovation cycles and better business outcomes.
I am delighted to share this article I co-authored with Ibrahim Jackson about the Art of Business Relationship Management. This was published today in the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network Website.
Here is an excerpt of the article:
For many years, IT organizations responsible for deploying technology systems to enable enterprise processes have had one goal in mind – namely, to assure business-IT alignment. Today, however, as IT capabilities become more and more embedded in business capabilities, and given the pace of technological change and the pervasive nature of IT, alignment is no longer sufficient. The goal today, therefore, is “convergence”. This has given momentum to the growing emergence of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role, which, according to the Business Relationship Management Institute (BRMI), is about “stimulating, surfacing and shaping business demand for a provider’s products and services, ensuring that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and communicated.”
Let’s examine Business Relationship Management from two perspectives: the functional and the organizational role. The BRM function provides the framework for how the IT organization interacts with peer business functions and departments. The BRM role is made up of an elite leader or group of technology managers that assume accountability for all technology solutions and services end-to-end – whether for a business area, brand, region, channel or division, depending on organizational design and technology capabilities. This role can be facilitated by an existing Chief Information Officer (CIO) in smaller, less complex organizations. For large enterprises, you may see multiple levels of BRM — BRM Lead, BRM Manager or BRM Analyst. Each role may vary in responsibility and all are accountable for the strategic alignment with the enterprise or organization.
BRMs, on a day-to-day basis, deal with technology, people and relationships. As such, Business Relationship Management is more an art than a science, expressing the “art” via application of knowledge, interpersonal skills and creativity. How a BRM best connects to his or her business partners varies, based on the BRM, their client, the business scenario, level of previous engagement and the rapport established with each relationship. Trust through confidence is the secret to success.
BRM Processes and Frameworks should be characterized by flexibility and a high variability of actions performed within the underlying processes. Within the BRM function, there is an inherent value to that variability. The nature of relationship management is fluid, dynamic, genuine and human.
Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk, Co-Founder of the BRM Institute, sums it up: “No one has ever defined a process framework that assures success in relationships. Think of marriage.”
You can read the full article by following this link: http://www.ssonetwork.com/business-partnering-customer-service/articles/the-art-of-business-relationship-management-shapin/
Business Relationship Management Frameworks – BRM Organizational Pyramid and BRM Process Groups and Competencies
I joined the professional group Business Relationship Management Institute in April this year. My friend, Vaughan Merlyn, is one of the Institute’s founders. Vaughan and I share a common interest. We are both active in the blogosphere and we write about IT, processes and technology management. Last month, within the BRMI collaboration space, I shared the BRM Process and Competencies Framework which I created. I got a note from Vaughan today that he will use it in his upcoming BRM Professional training. The framework has been a hit since I posted it in the BRMI collaboration space. I received notes that private and public organizations are already using it in their workshops. I am delighted about this and I would like to share this framework with all the readers of this blog as well.
Business Relationship Management Defined
Before I share the framework, let me first give you a background about Business Relationship Management as a role and competency. According to BRMI:
“Business Relationship Management is both an organizational role and a competency–one that can be held by business and service provider professionals whether or not they are assigned to a Business Relationship Management role. The concept of Business Relationship Management (BRM) is related to and employs the techniques and disciplines of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that focuses on all aspects of interaction an organization has with its customer. However, while CRM most often refers to a company’s external customers, the BRM typically deals with a company’s internal customers or an internal provider’s products and/or services. The BRM is a crucial role that bridges a service provider and the business that depends upon that provider’s services. The most common BRM represents an Information Technology (IT) organization, but BRMs can also serve Human Resources, Finance, Legal, Facilities and other shared services functions.”
BRM Framework – Competencies and Processes
The BRM competencies published by the BRM Institute inspired me to work on a framework that lays out the processes that are important to the operative function of the BRM role. The purpose of this framework is to identify the processes performed by the BRM role while matching them with the needed competencies.
I started by identifying the processes that are performed by the BRM role in the organization. The process groups are: (1) Aligning (2) Consulting (3) Enabling (4) Servicing & (5) Evolving.
Next, I identified the sub-processes or activities in BRM that are associated with the core processes identified. I must say, since my background and experience has been in Information Technology, this framework is defined based on this field.
BRM Organizational Pyramid
I thought that the Process and Competencies Framework was effective in laying out processes that are important to the operative function of the BRM role but did not clarify the overall context of the role from the perspective of the business. It only focuses on conveying the actions performed by the role and the needed competencies. So, I came up with the organizational pyramid.
The BRM Organizational Pyramid is the overview of the BRM Process-Competencies Framework. This framework will help:
- To have a context diagram showing the foundational relationship of the BRM processes all the way to the business strategy. I chose the pyramid structure to convey the interconnectedness of the foundation activities with the over-arching business objective.
- To highlight other support elements that help enable the BRM function. The previous framework mapped the processes with the competencies. I reckon that there are other support elements that are equally essential for the BRM in the performance of its role, such as: organization, knowledge base, methodologies, and tools/ systems.
- To show the hierarchical relationship from top (strategy) to bottom (processes). Before you perform the BRM role you start with strategic partnership, by aligning the role with the business strategy. The next level shows the structure of the partnership in a form of a business service partnership agreement and corresponding key performance indicators.
The aim of the pyramid is to clearly show the relationship of the five process groups to the Business Value Alignment (strategy), and then to the Business Service Partnership (structure) that defines the manner in which BRM is expected to be performed within set performance parameters. The support layer represents the enablers of the role– much of these are what the BRM Institute provide to its members.
I hope you find both these frameworks useful in creating, developing and improving a BRM function in your organization. If you wish to access more materials and collaborate with other BRMs, the BRM Institute is the right professional group for you.
In innovation, you aim to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. You could go right or could go wrong. Of course you do all preparations necessary to go right every time, but if you don’t, you take the lessons learned and be better next time.
Romeo Siquijor is a good friend and compatriot. He now heads Information Security in CEMEX in Mexico while I found my way to Houston after several stints in different countries. We both started as young IT managers in the Philippines. Our offices were adjacent. The thing I remember most was Romeo repeatedly telling his IT Operations team that “failure is not an option” — like it was their mantra. I did not disagree with him, but it was not the same message I would tell my team.
I headed the IT Business Processes group at that time. My department’s task was to enable and support IT solutions. For us, the mandate was to find new ways to do things, to innovate, and to test new tools with potential application to our business processes. Of course, I wanted my team to succeed but on the other hand, I did not want to have the fear of failure limit their quest for new things. I believe that sometimes the cost of finding innovation is failure – finding out what does not work on your way to finding out what does.
While working with our commercial department, we implemented a sales automation tool using handheld devices. Unfortunately, it did not fly when we piloted the project and we failed. We did not get the buy in because the tool was not user-friendly and robust. The sales managers simply did not use it. We explored another innovation we called mobile selling. Romeo helped design a simple technical architecture to run it. At the time, in 2003, text messaging or SMS was already big in the Philippines. It was a phenomenon and the use of it quickly became part of our culture. Our goal was to incorporate the use of texting to our sales process. We developed a tool that would allow our customers to request orders using SMS and they did just that. In just a few months, 60% of our sales orders were coming from our mobile channel. We were open to exploiting the best technology at that time by applying it to our sales process but we were not sure how our customers will react. We were willing to fail and so we took a risk and gave it our best shot.
When mobile selling was already operating, it became a mission critical application. The system was hosted by the IT infrastructure that my friend Romeo manages. In that perspective, I loved it when he told folks “failure is not an option.” I did not want any service interruptions to impact my mission critical applications. Romeo values productivity, availability and reliability. He wanted no failure and no surprises. He wanted things done yesterday, done better, faster and cheaper today.
My goal is to show you two different perspectives from two different functions in IT. “Failure is not an option” is a good mindset for day-to-day IT service delivery. Although, I would argue that this does not apply to areas whose mandate is to innovate. In innovation, you aim to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. You could go right or could go wrong. Of course you do all preparations necessary to go right every time, but if you don’t, you take the lessons learned and be better next time.
Agile methodology is particularly advantageous if you are selling an idea or innovation or if you need a proof of concept, a pilot implementation and early wins before you get the approval for the complete project.
Are you used to doing large-scale IT projects that require enormous investment of time and money? Normally, these projects are the ones that aim to deliver a “complete” business application package. IT managers start with the determination of project scope and feasibility, creation of a business case, blue printing, project planning, execution and delivery. Depending on scope and scale, such a project (from start to finish) could take months to complete and require a lot of resources.
How do you manage such large-scale projects? Typically, IT managers resort to the traditional sequential method. In this method, you determine all the business requirements in the beginning, agree to sign off with the business and move on to a lengthy development cycle. This traditional approach is characterized by work wherein each stage occurs in linear order and lasts a longer period. What’s the risk of such a method? At the end of a project, a team might have built the business application package it agreed to build and deploy. However, in the time it took to develop, test, fine-tune and deploy, business realities may have changed so dramatically that the product becomes irrelevant. In this case, the business has invested time and money to create a product that no one wants. Isn’t it possible to ensure that the end product is still relevant before it was actually finished? Isn’t it possible to divide the scale into smaller scope and deliver one product (smaller but value creating) at a time?
With the pressures of a limited budget and demand from internal customers for the immediate delivery of innovative solutions, one approach stands out– Agile Methodology. With Agile Methodology, you have a shorter delivery cycle and focus on delivering a “minimum value product”– the minimum scope that delivers the first set of products, functionality and value. You are not expected to deliver a complete solution with a host of value components. Agile development provides opportunities to assess the direction of an initiative throughout a defined roadmap. This is achieved through a smaller project cycle or iterations, at the end of which teams must present a minimum viable product.
The advantage of the Agile approach is the quicker visibility of results. This is particularly advantageous if you are selling an idea or innovation or if you need a proof of concept, a pilot implementation and early wins before you get the approval for the complete project. Also, you don’t have to request a huge amount of investment up front. You create, deliver and sell one value creation at a time. The challenge is to find the minimum scope that could deliver the first set of value and focus your efforts on delivering this first. Implement, test, evaluate and then move on to the next quick and responsive development cycle.
The industry sector that I work in has been badly hit by financial problems in the past couple of years. Obviously that affected IT funding especially on projects in a huge way, impacting our capabilities to deliver the same innovative outcomes from previous years. But the challenge for IT manager is managing the demand from the business partners who continue to request new IT solutions for their business. A lot of them obviously focuses now on innovation addressing how to win in this tough financial times, like profitability, process efficiency, and differentiation in customer experience.
It used to be easier to sell a huge multi-process, multi-business line and multi-year projects, for as long as you can prove the business value of your initiative– not anymore. What we do is sell an idea in a form a roadmap and focus on delivering the first minimum viable product– that’s when truly embraced agile methodology to project delivery.
Agile Methodology does not only apply to IT projects. It could apply to any other project with a large scope that potentially can be divided into small iterations of delivery. Some examples that I can think of are infrastructure projects and product development.
While on vacation, you don’t earn money… you spend them. Not my brother-in-law—he finds ways to earn a few bucks. He uses his smartphone and apps like Gigwalk. While in Las Vegas days before the New Year, he surveyed bars and restaurants in the city. He wasn’t bar-hopping or something, he was taking 360 degree pictures of restaurants’ interiors and sending them to Bing. It was a gig he acquired through Gigwalk. The rate for this micro-task is around $5 per picture. Think about this, if 50 of those photos he submitted were accepted, he earned $250. He also does work for big companies that like to employ a “mobile workforce” to check on prices and placement of their products in major supermarkets. He interviews shoppers to conduct designed surveys. The rate for this type of gig is about $10 to $ 20 each. Not bad, isn’t it? Pepsi is using crowdsourcing to promote their sponsorship of the Super Bowl halftime show. They have a contest where fans can submit their personal photos in the hopes that it will be featured in the introduction video. They are sending different instructions per day to fans for diverse types of pictures. I can’t wait to see the outcome of that in the Super Bowl halftime.
What is Crowdsourcing?
This is what crowdsourcing is about—collecting contributions from many individuals to achieve a goal—thus doing more with fewer resources possible. Just imagine if Bing would want to photograph interiors of full service restaurants in the United States and would be willing to employ full time workers to do so. How many workers and for how long? Bing has to consider that there are over 200,000 full service restaurants. Bing would need to contract hundreds of employees for many months to complete this and this would turn out to be a very expensive undertaking.
When you think of a crowd, you think of an unruly bunch of people gathered in a disorganized way. Traditional crowd manipulation is the intentional use of techniques to engage, control, and influence the crowd in order to direct its behavior to accomplish something. Many businesses and politicians have successfully employed that technique in the past. Crowdsourcing differs from traditional crowd manipulation by taking the significance of geographical proximities away from the equation. Nowadays, you can organize individuals from different locations to do what you want using technology. The development of mobile technology in both the application side and for devices (Smartphone) is helping push crowdsourcing to be more commonplace.
Many of us use crowdsourcing without thinking about it. I bet you have used products that came out of crowdsourcing or have participated in crowdsourcing in some way without even realizing it. If you are using Wikipedia, then you are using one example of a service that is a product of the collaborative work of a crowd—or to use a better term, of volunteers. Wikipedia has 24 million articles that were written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site, and it has about 100,000 active volunteers that contribute in this process. This is a classic crowdsourcing success story. If you have ever rented an apartment and used comments from previous tenants online to help you decide which complex to take; if you have made a purchase in Amazon.com and read customer reviews to help you decide which product to buy; or if you have used comments on TripAdvisor.com to plan a vacation, then you have taken advantage of crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing for Social Change
What can you do to contribute to changing the world? Of course, you can donate money to a good cause but beyond that, there are relatively new ways for individuals to shape social change through crowdsourcing. Prominent blogger Alexey Navalny’s site, RosPil.net, makes the most of crowdsourcing by using it as a mechanism to expose corruption in Russia. RosPil uses crowdsourcing to ask anonymous volunteers to report government anomalies in the form of tenders that are designed to generate kickbacks. From a recent HRB article, “Rospil claims, as of December 2011, to have prevented the granting of dubious contracts worth US$1.3 billion.
Married couple Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan set up the website iPaidaBribe.com in India as a unique initiative to fight corruption. They ask anonymous users to disclose the nature, amount, and recipients of bribes. The initiative provides statistics like heat maps and areas of government who have rampant corruption practices.
You don’t even need a specialized website to run crowdsourcing. Many of these initiatives happen in the internet seamlessly through netizens’ initiatives in Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media websites.
Smartphones are making crowdsourcing even more sophisticated. Smartphone use has been climbing steadily upward in the last couple of years. The simple capability of a smartphone to take a photo with location and time stamping is a major capability that is used to capture information easily. As the use of smartphones continue to increase, I foresee a proliferation in simple crowdsourcing initiatives – be it for business, social change or other purpose.
Photo courtesy of James Cridland.