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BRM and Virtuous Cycle of Trust Between Business & IT

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. ― Stephen R. Covey

I have been working in the field of Information Technology for 17 years. I remember that a decade ago, when I showed my business partners simple tricks, shortcuts, and cool functionalities in systems or devices – I was able to impress them. Those interactions were engagement starters for me that somehow lead to long-term relationships and multiple joint business-IT ventures. This approach will rarely work in today’s world, where our business partners, like us, are tech savvy users. On many occasions, business users are the ones approaching me about apps they are probing, about cloud-based solutions on trial they are analyzing or new devices and tools they have seen in conferences they just attended.

Technology is developing at a much faster pace. This exponential development makes technology easier to use and more accessible. We have gone from an era where only a few people have access to information and technology, to one where it is virtually in everything we do.

In business, this results in IT capabilities becoming more embedded into business capabilities. Organizations seeking competitive advantage need to learn how to harness that potential. Business leaders who want to compete in today’s market, and well into the future, have to lead their companies toward a true business and technology convergence. IT-business alignment is no longer adequate where business formulates strategies and IT aligns later. In today’s world, this is a reactive process. Business and IT need to work together to bring engagement upstream and convert solution based conversation into value and business based conversation. Business technology convergence is a journey that will take time and after a repetitive positive cycle of engagement between IT and business. The strategic speed of this convergence depends on three drivers: clarity, unity, and value creation. These are the components of the virtuous cycle of trust.

BRM Virtuous Cycle

Clarity

Senior managers in business and IT should spend time improving the clarity of their strategies, purpose, and operating model in order to achieve a shared direction. Clarity means being able to answer the question: “Where are we going and why?” We should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Who does what, when? – Role Clarity
  • How do we drive responsible, value creating behaviors around the use of products services? – Clarity of business outcomes
  • How do we engage each other? – Clarity of rules of engagement
  • How do we develop needed competencies – Clarity of talent development and continuous learning
  • What is our operating model? – Clarity of the level of business integration and standardization

Unity

Strategic success is going be tough to achieve if leaders and work teams won’t cooperate for the greater good. You’re dreaming if you expect this cooperation to happen all by itself; patterns of conflict amongst people and organizations occur naturally but aren’t eliminated naturally. There must be a concerted effort to achieve unity. Unity means that once business and IT are clear on where they are headed, they agree wholeheartedly on the merits of that direction and the need to work together to move ahead. The emphasis should be on openness, alignment, and collaboration. If these are the main drivers of unity, leaders need to foster a culture where internal competition, mistrust and turf wars are discouraged. Organizations can achieve unity of effort through (1) shared common objectives and vision, (2) a coordination effort to ensure coherency and common measures of progress and (3) ability to change course if necessary.

Value Creation

Value creation is about business performance and results from a dynamic balance between business demand and IT supply. To succeed, IT organizations need to cultivate a culture of value management. Start by engaging your business partners in clarifying how you can contribute value. Being a good BRM means that you have an intimate knowledge of how your company creates value. How does you company make money? What does your company value? How does your company compete? The virtuous cycle of trust between business and IT spins faster when value is being realized and intended outcomes are met. The best way to measure value is combination of two metrics “time to value” and “value over time.”

For example, one belief that I try to dispel many times at work is that a comprehensive platform of services is a prerequisite for creating value. I don’t believe it is necessary to “go big” in order to achieve anything of value all the time. Sometimes, depending on the business initiative, it can be smarter to start small and act fast. On the other hand, you also have to look at sustainable value over time and have to balance both. Especially in large investments, value over a long period of time has to be expected.

BRM Levers

In summary, I believe Business Relationship Management is the key lever of strategic speed for Information Technology organizations and the business. Business Relationship Managers are “the oil to the machine” that reduces organizational friction. Fast is not always about pace. It is about people and shared perspectives. When all areas or teams are working harmoniously, because rules and directions are clear, it is amazing how much potential value it can create. In faster and successful IT groups, the emphasis is on strategic partnership, flexibility, openness, innovation and continuous improvement as well as taking the time to reflect and learn. These are functions BRMs are expected to do in both the business and IT sides.

A Complicated Way to Explain the Importance of a BRM Role in an IT Organization

Don’t tell me I did not warn you. The only thing I can promise is that you’ll learn a thing or two from this one, so please read on.

I came across a predictive validity framework called the “Libby boxes”, popularized by Cornell Accounting Professor Robert Libby. This framework is used to examine the distinction between underlying constructs of strategic objectives and their proxy measures to illustrate causal models related to some objectives in an organization.  Another definition of “strategy” is as a hypothesis about the cause and effect of your objectives. Predictive validity allows you to measure and analyze how well the execution of your objective (cause) predicts your desired performance (effect).

Simple Business-IT Strategy

Now, to illustrate the importance of a Business Relationship Management (BRM) function in an Information Technology (IT) organization, let’s start by picking a Business-IT strategy to dissect. Let’s call it “Strategy A”.

Strategy A: “Create business value through better use of technology.”

Let’s start it simple and take an approach to illustrate cause and effect depict Strategy A using the model. We are going to be taking a very logical approach. The strategy here is— you believe that if you use technology better, you create business value. Let’s assume that technology is comprised of infrastructure and applications that enable the business or enterprise.

Simple Business-IT Strategy

Observe that Strategy A is too simple—or maybe exceedingly simple. Can we really say that if IT provides better technology, we create business value, in the form of profits or savings? Yes, no, maybe. How about this – it is because of better use of technology, we improve business processes of the company and therefore we create business value. In this predictive validity framework, the middle action is called, mediating variable. It stands between two variables and it is an effect of one variable and the cause to another. This brings us to iteration to our business-IT strategy. Let’s refer to this improved business-IT strategy as “Strategy B”.

Strategy B:  “Create value by improving business processes through better use of technology”.

Business-IT Strategy

So how do you interpret this strategy? As an IT organization, your goal is to provide the business with the technology, infrastructure and applications to enable efficient business processes. This will result to business value creation through optimized cost, profitability and strategic advantage. Whew! Follow all that so far?

I think this business-IT strategy works. If you run this, you have a good chance of successful outcomes. But your aim is not to be just good. Your aim is to be great. Your goal is to differentiate your IT department and to support your enterprise to be the best performing company in its industry or to be the best performing company (period!).

The Missing Component to be great

So there is a missing component to your strategy, a moderating component—a component that will have a multiplying effect from certain causes and effects coming out from the collective work that you do. In this predictive validity framework, it is called the moderating variable.  The moderating variable is a variable that determines how big an effect you get from a certain cause.

To illustrate, let’s say you want to improve your performance at playing basketball. By practicing basketball, doing drills and shooting, for sure it will improve your performance. This is a very simple causal model. You practice more and that, in effect, will improve your basketball performance. But think about this, is there a certain amount of practice that will allow you to be like Mike (Michael Jordan)? Most likely, no. Talent and perhaps physical capacities are the moderating variables here.  Sure, practice will improve your performance, but if you have a lot of talent, a little bit of practice goes a long way and will make you much better. If you don’t have that much talent, you’ll have to practice a lot to get just a little better. Talent in this case is a moderating variable.

Basketball Strategy

Now that you understand what a moderating variable is, let’s go back to our Business-IT strategy. Think about an organizational capability equivalent to talent that can potentially transition your IT organization from good to great—it is business relationship management (BRM).

Strategy with BRM

BRM in this case is a moderating variable. The BRM capabilities moderate the effect of improvement of business processes on performance, making it bigger (high Business-IT alignment) or smaller (in cases where it is lacking). Improved business processes doesn’t cause BRM capabilities, it just moderates the effect. How? BRMs (1) facilitate Business-Provider convergence, (2) ensure that use of IT services drives value and (3) facilitate productive and connections and mobilize business-IT projects and programs.

 

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.”

BRMs Fuel Faster Innovation Cycles

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.”

Innovation Cycle

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.

This article was first released as part of the BRM Update- a Monthly newsletter of BRM Institute to its members. Follow @BRMInstitute on Twitter.

The Art of Business Relationship Management: Shaping Business Demand for Your Services

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 Process Context Diagram

Business Relationship Management Process Context Diagram

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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.

Please click the picture to better read texts in the diagram

Please click the picture to better read texts in the diagram

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.

BRM Organizational Pyramid

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.

When Failure Is Or Not an Option

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.

Failure is not an optionWhile 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.

Because it's #throwbackthursday, I am adding this old photo where Romeo and I were presenting in our CEMEX Office in the Philippines. We invited our families for the weekend to visit our office and tour one of our cement plant.

Because it’s #throwbackthursday, I am adding an old photo from 2004. Romeo and I were presenting to family members of all IT employees. We invited them to visit our office, see our data center and tour one of our cement plants.

Why IT Should Use Agile Approach to Project Delivery

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.

Agile

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.

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