7 Threats to the Business/IT Relationship
Cultural challenges don’t have to hinder the success of an enterprise’s business relationship managers.
by Christine Neff
With technology now crucial to all aspects of business, organizations must find ways to build strong relationships between IT people and their colleagues in the rest of the enterprise.
In an attempt to resolve this age-old problem, the role of business relationship manager (BRM) has emerged. At some companies this is a dedicated role, while other organizations task everyone in IT with the important work of collaboration. With either approach, some organizational challenges can hinder the success of the BRM function.
Dr. Robina Chatham, a research associate at CSC’s Leading Edge Forum, describes seven cultural challenges that can have a negative impact on the work of BRMs in an enterprise — and how to overcome them.
1. Inconsistent messages
As go-betweens for IT and the other business units, BRMs often receive conflicting messages about priorities and constraints. “On the one hand, a business unit may be given to believe that IT should be able to deliver anything that is wanted, whereas the message given to IT is to work within a limited budget,” Chatham says. Successful BRMs will seek to resolve this conflict by asking for clear direction from the very top of the organization. They will promote a culture of open and candid conversations and prioritize demand according to business objectives.
2. Difficulty collaborating
Beyond having the tools to collaborate, employees need the will to share ideas and work toward a common goal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. “Employees must be generous with their time and resources and be prepared to sacrifice departmental advantage for the greater good of the organization as a whole,” Chatham says.
3. Fear of failure
Success today relies on innovation and forward thinking — and that often requires taking a risk. When employees are afraid to make a mistake or do something wrong, new ideas can be stifled, Chatham says. “You need a culture where there is no fear of failure and where mistakes are viewed as an opportunity to learn,” she says.
4. The IT stereotype
IT folks are a little geeky, too analytical and more comfortable with computers than with people, right? Well, even though that’s not true, BRMs should make a conscious effort to dispel the myth by emulating the behavior of their business partners, Chatham says. “It’s about being seen first and foremost as a businessperson who just happens to be focused on IT-related matters,” she says.
5. Little access to business partners
Having the right people on your side can make all the difference to the success of a project, but this is sometimes easier said than done. BRMs may have trouble getting access to the right leaders, especially if that person has a higher title or status, Chatham says. “If you don’t have that access, you might not be able to get your job done,” she says. This poses more of a challenge in the United States than in the United Kingdom, according to Chatham’s research.
6. Elephants in the room
A challenge that’s more common in the United Kingdom than in the United States is a desire to avoid “taboo” subjects or forbidden conversations, even when those issues desperately need to be discussed. “We end up having elephants in the room: zones of uncomfortable debate,” Chatham says. BRMs must learn to raise issues in an acceptable way — depersonalizing them can help — to solve problems and facilitate change.
7. Lack of diversity
Enterprises can fall into the trap of hiring and promoting people who seem to be “clones” in terms of their personal backgrounds, job experience and personalities. Doing this can limit innovation, as employees look at problems through the “same set of eyes,” Chatham says. Instead, organizations should strive to build teams with people from diverse backgrounds, work history, cultures and so forth. “The more diversity you have, the more likely you are to come up with great ideas,” she says.
While many organizations are saddled with these seven challenges, they can be overcome. Chatham recommends opening employees’ eyes to the cultural roadblocks by recruiting a small, catalytic group — at first — of people willing to challenge the status quo, authority and accepted wisdom.
5 Surprising Traits of Successful BRMs
Not everyone is cut out to be a business relationship manager (BRM). In fact, some of the most high-achieving IT employees have trouble mastering this role. Dr. Robina Chatham of the Leading Edge Forum offers these five traits of successful BRMs:
“You need to exercise a degree of humility in dealing with people, but this needs to be coupled with a fierce resolve to make a difference,” Chatham says.
A likable personality can help BRMs develop important business relationships. We tend to listen to and spend more time with people we like and who give us energy than with people we don’t like and who drain us of energy.
A successful BRM needs a positive, “can-do” attitude.
With technology advancing at a crazy pace, BRMs need to always be open to change and curious about what’s next.
Being a Misfit
The oddball, the outsider, the generalist, the person who doesn’t quite fit in — he or she might make an ideal BRM.
Christine Neff is a content editor with CSC’s global content team.