How business relationship management maximizes the value of IT

Business relationship management (BRM) is an important and growing movement, inside and outside of IT. Conceptually, it has existed for years, but now, energized by formalized process, digital transformation, and the continued blending of IT and business practices is helping maximize the value of IT spend within the enterprise.

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I had the pleasure of speaking with Joe Hayes and Jim Brusnahan on the topic of business relationship management (BRM). Hayes is the CIO at Prudential’s Group Insurance business unit, and Brusnahan is the Director of IT Business Partners at Johnson Controls. Both of these individuals are extremely knowledgeable and supportive of the BRM as a capability, discipline and role.

Before highlighting my discussion with Joe and Jim, I’d like to begin by describing the conceptual underpinning of BRM. According to the Business Relationship Management Institute, BRM is (courtesy of the BRM Institute):

“A BRM capability is designed to stimulate, surface, and shape business demand across all functions (business units, sales, marketing, technology, HR, finance, etc.) and ensure that the potential organizational value from that demand is captured, optimized, and recognized. A strong BRM capability converges cross-functional teams and eliminates value-depleting organizational silos. It strengthens collaboration and drives a culture of creativity, innovation, and shared ownership across the enterprise, so that holistic, innovative, and value-driven strategies are created and deliver their intended business value results.”

In essence, BRM is a formalized approach designed to converge and foster a strong peer-to-peer relationship between IT and business functions across the organization. Business functions leverage their BRM capability because they are partnering with IT in a way they understand and can help shape the technology they leverage. IT leverages BRM capability to provide an approach to partner with their business partners from both a business and technical perspective at the same time.

I asked them each five questions related to BRM and would like to share their answers:

1. What is your personal definition of BRM?

Hayes: It is a set of skills that provide a way to collaborate in a way that maximizes the value of discretionary IT budget. It also fosters a deeper two-way appreciation between IT and its business partners because of the transparency as to how the company’s technology investment is spent.

Brusnahan: Strategic leadership focused on producing true business value by stabilizing, maturing and converging the IT and business teams into one high-performing team.

2. How does BRM help in optimizing IT’s value to the overall organization?

Hayes: BRM helps move IT from being an order taker to becoming a true strategic partner.

Brusnahan: It helps guide IT on what is most valuable to the organization’s top- or bottom-line impact. It also helps IT better communicate the implications and value of technology in terms that business leaders can understand.

Question 3: How have you advanced your BRM capability within your organization?

Hayes: We began our BRM implementation by first studying and gaining an understanding of BRM concepts. We then used this newfound knowledge to help us build trusted relationships with our business counterparts at all levels of the organization. The reason for building these trusted relationships was to transform IT from being “technology order takers” to becoming a valued strategic business partner. Also, BRM leadership must start at the top, you, as the CIO, must be the Chief Business Relationship Manager and support it throughout your organization. 

Brusnahan: First, we built a team of people with the capacity to learn and become strategic BRMs and worked on training and mentoring them. Next, deployed the BRM to quickly access the current state of the relationships and functions they own to gain an understanding of people’s different starting points and unique situations. Then, focused on areas within the company where the BRM could quickly establish value in the eyes of the business leaders.

Question 4: What advice that you would like to give other CIOs on advancing BRM within their organizations?

Hayes: When hiring people into the business relationship manager role, select those who have a wide variety of skills, knowledge and experience, including project management, client service, business knowledge of the area they are supporting and very strong interpersonal communication skills. Then with your team in place, provide the training, tools and support needed to maximize their potential for success. Next, start small and learn. Find a business area truly in need of BRM support and begin your efforts within that group. Once successful, it provides an internal case study illustrating the value of BRM while simultaneously building momentum toward future projects.

Brusnahan: The toughest challenge I’ve seen is how to have senior leadership understand the tremendous value and potential of BRM. My suggestion is to reach out to those who have succeeded in gaining BRM buy-in from their senior management and ask them for advice on how you can follow in their footsteps. Having a mentor of this type will be of great value to you as you work to change your IT and business culture toward BRM related concepts.

What I have experienced is that if a leader has had a winning BRM team, they do not want to live without it and will continue to invest in BRM advancement. If they have not seen the value of BRM, it may be hard to explain its power, especially if IT has a very traditional internal culture. 

Lastly, be willing to invest in the right people. You need very capable talent with a broad array of technical and business experience and knowledge. Investing in the right people to lead your BRM initiative is a crucial component of its success.

Question 5: Are there other BRM items of importance that you think would be value to other CIOs?

Hayes: Having a strong relationship with your business partners must include not only the priority and investment in business needs, you must also address the business/technical needs of IT. This includes projects that reduce technical debt, maximize the infrastructure’s reliability and flexibility, and positioning IT both technically and organizationally to meet the future needs of the organization. In BRM-speak we call this “portfolio shaping,” and it truly elevates the collaboration among IT and functional leaders. It fosters a joint prioritization process to ensure that optimized business value is recognized from every dollar spent. Anytime you can take a very subjective process and make it objective, both parties are a lot more satisfied with the result.

Brusnahan: To truly optimize the value of IT in the organization using BRM concepts, you must:

  • Work with IT leadership to continuously improve IT processes (designed towards speed of business vs. cumbersome governance).
  • Ensure value recognition is being tracked and realized.
  • Help create and converge business strategy and IT strategy road maps.
  • Lead the “demand shaping” of IT project portfolio to coincide with proper strategic priorities.
  • Be the voice and representative of IT to explain the why behind decisions, process changes and other activities with business teams.
  • Coach IT leaders and team on how to report out, communicate and engage business leaders and teams.
  • Ensuring proper team dynamics for IT projects, for example, that the business is engaged and feels project ownership.
  • Lastly, after building credibility with business leaders, grow the relationship so IT is respected as an equal.

In closing, I would like to thank Joe Hayes and Jim Brusnahan for their time, insights and advice. I would also like to thank Aaron Barnes, CEO and Founder of the BRM Institute, for his insights and for accelerating the development of the BRM discipline.

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