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Changing Business Context, Driving Business – IT Convergence

February 18, 2018 2 comments

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.  – Victor Hugo

Vaughan Merlyn started working on the concept of Business Relationship Management (BRM) in 1993. BP engaged Vaughan to develop a training program for their new BRM role with Profs. Michael Earl, London Business School, Chris Edwards, Cranfield University and Neo Boon Siong, Nanyang Business School, Singapore. I was introduced to the concept of the BRM role in 2009 while collaborating with Vaughan through our blogs. The time of the BRM idea, nurtured through the years, has come. Many companies are deploying the capability in recent years largely due to the effort of the BRM Institute co-founded by Vaughan, along with Aaron Barnes and Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk in 2013. The BRM Institute has created the BRM Body of Knowledge (BRMBOK) that has since been used as standard for BRM role certifications worldwide. I had the privilege to work with Vaughan, along with other BRM pioneers globally to publish the first version of the BRMBOK in 2014.

Changing Business Context

I was working with a global building materials company at its operations in the Philippines when I started my career in 1997. We deployed a website in 2002 so that our customers can order Cement online. We faced major hurdles in convincing our customers to go online to order. One day, I drove with one of our sales representatives and accompanied him on sales visits. It was on one of our interactions with a customer in a small business location that one store owner asked: “Why can’t I just text my cement orders, why do I have to go online?”. This was the question that led to a simple mobile selling application that we built and deployed later that became more successful than the website. This solution eventually processed around 70% of customer orders. With this crude B2B solution, we also pushed payment reminders to customers and sent warm birthday greetings. As additional context to this successful deployment, during the early 2000s, SMS or Text Messaging became a phenomenon in the Philippines. Literally everyone was texting. The use of SMS technology became pervasive.

Today, we are doing beyond SMS. Information technologies (IT) such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), mobile computing, data analytics, 3-D printing, virtual reality, and robotics are transforming industries, economies, and lives around the globe. The number of formerly successful companies being driven to obscurity by agile, tech-savvy competitors and substitute products grows daily. This exponential development of technology also made 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.

Critical Role of the BRM in Business and IT Convergence

From my experience, the BRM role is one of the hardest roles to explain contextually. When I was interviewing for my current job four years ago, one of my interviewers, a senior vice president of the company told me later that he selected me from among candidates because I was the only one that explained the BRM role clearly to him. The most critical role of a BRM is to facilitate the convergence of business and IT. Because of this context, the BRM role performs responsibilities with the business organization and with the IT organization. The BRM diagram attached in this article is the most effective way I have been able to convey the clarity of the BRM role from my personal experience. I realized that the best way to explain it is to provide perspectives of the BRM role from the two converging sides. It is important to note that concepts in this diagram was derived from two of the earliest frameworks we worked on at the BRM Institute: BRM DNATM (Develop, Nurture, Advance) or the BRM Competency Model and the BRM Metaphors.

 

BRM Role Clarity

 

Facilitate Business-IT Convergence (BRM as Navigator) – BRM supports business leaders in the facilitation of business technology strategy and business capabilities road-mapping. In turn, these business / technology strategy and roadmap will guide Enterprise Architecture, Portfolio and Program Management.

Drive Value from Provider Services (BRM as Connector) – BRMs as connectors are responsible for optimizing business value of IT. Value creation is about business performance and results from a dynamic balance between business demand and IT supply. BRM is not limited to IT Demand Management but rather Demand Shaping by raising IT Savvy of the business.

Orchestrate Key Provider Role (BRM as Orchestrator) – With the business organization BRM is the single point of focus in mobilizing programs and business technology roadmaps. This is very different from the old paradigm of single point of contact. From the IT organization, BRM can also play key provider roles. For example, in my current organization, I also play the role of Business Process Management. This provider role may vary based on business need.

Now the question is, how can a BRM perform this role effectively to drive business IT convergence? The answer starts with the BRM Competencies Model. This six BRM competencies describe the knowledge, skills and behavior needed for successful performance of the BRM Role. The following are the key BRM competencies:

  • Masters at Strategic Partnering
  • High Business IQ
  • Excel at Portfolio Management
  • Excellent Knowledge of the Provider Domain and Service Management Discipline
  • Skilled in Organizational Change Management
  • Powerful Communicators

An Invitation

I believe Business Relationship Management is the key lever of strategic speed for Information Technology organizations and the business. BRMs are “the oil to the machine” that reduces organizational friction. Fast is not always about pace. It is about people, shared perspectives, shared risk and rewards.

If you want to know more about the BRM role, there is an upcoming opportunity for us to engage. I am excited that Vaughan Merlyn, BRMI Co-founder, and I are hosting the first of the #IamBRM series this Feb 22, 2018. This will be the first in a series of webinars leading up to BRMConnect 2018. We will talk about two core models, BRM DNA™ and House of BRM™, that underlie the Business Relationship Management role, discipline and capability. I collaborated with Vaughan Merlyn and the BRM Institute years ago when we started developing these models! Please register through this link to join us in this webinar sponsored by the BRM Institute.

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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 and enablement of new business capabilities on performance, making it bigger (due to converged business-IT strategy) or smaller (in cases where it is lacking). Improved business processes and enablement of new business capabilities doesn’t cause BRM capabilities, it just moderates the effect. How? BRMs (1) facilitate Business-Provider convergence, (2) ensure that use of Technology that drives maximize value and (3) facilitate productive and connections and mobilize business-IT projects and programs.

Value of BRM Role

 

For many years, IT organizations responsible for deploying technology systems to enable business capabilities 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.”

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