Business Relationship Managers Need to Adapt to IT’s New Outside-In World
As new technologies continue to originate outside the enterprise, IT is already adapting. But one key group needs to pivot its role to make the outside-in world a reality: business relationship managers.
Today, BRMs operate under a number of job titles — they may be called business partners, local business advisors or development managers. They don’t typically develop the business case for IT projects; that’s the role of the business analyst, who is usually a member of the central IT staff. The BRMs’ main job is to work with business colleagues to understand needs and opportunities and develop completely new ideas for IT projects — ideas that will eventually lead to the projects later considered by the business analyst.
IT is undergoing a profound shift to a new outside-in mindset, and that means the role of BRMs must shift with it, says a recent report from the Leading Edge Forum (LEF), CSC’s global research and thought-leadership community. Entitled “Outside-in BRM — Turning Relationship Managers into Digital Leaders,” the report calls for BRMs to become front-end consultants for central IT, working with partners from outside the enterprise to develop new strategies and solutions.
“I’ve been interested in bridging the gap between the two cultures of IT and business for a long time,” says Kirt Mead, an LEF senior consultant, and with Alex Mayall, co-author of the report. “The BRM role is where that happens.”
Until recently, most IT innovation came from within the enterprise. But today — with the advent of mobile, cloud, social, wearable, machine-to-machine and other connected technologies — external resources are the driving forces of change. BRMs who adopt this outside-in mentality, the LEF report says, will need to think first of solutions that can be sourced directly from third parties over the Web.
“Central IT no longer has control of technology in the company,” Mead says. “That loss of control raises the specter that the business might just get its technology on its own from some other player, and IT might not even be invited to the table. So the outside-in BRM needs to be an advisor able to build strong-enough relationships so that when things need to be discussed [about] technology, the businessperson’s first instinct is to call the BRM, and not the other vendor.”
New Skills for a New World
Surprisingly, many of the skills required by outside-in BRMs are not technical, but personal. They need to be able to have a different kind of conversation with their business partners. “Business people take risks, make decisions and gamble,” Mead explains. “By contrast, techies are analytical, have methodologies and carefully follow processes. The most effective BRMs have insights and instincts for the human side of things, the relationship side.”
More specifically, as part of their transition to an outside-in IT environment, BRMs will need six new skills, the LEF report says:
Relationship and “soft” skills: The ability to build empathy and trust with key players so that the BRM is “in the loop” and included in early meetings both inside and outside the organization.
“Fingertip feel” for the IT ecosystem: Understanding both how service options are evolving and which capabilities matter to both the organization and its partners.
Technology understanding: Instinctive feel for which emerging technologies are likely to prove most important for a given challenge, as well as how they will likely affect the overall ecosystem.
Business understanding: Deep knowledge of how the organization and its partners make money — and how IT can strengthen the competitive position.
Political understanding: Knowing how to get things done, both inside and outside the organization.
“Personal power”: The ability to remain effective and influential in fluid situations where strategies are still evolving and competitive tension is the norm.
To help companies develop these skills, the LEF offers BRM training programs that focus on what Mead calls “experiential” learning. For example, trainees might be presented with a real business problem, then given 40 minutes in a breakout group to come up with a solution. As the LEF trainers role-play management, the trainees pitch their solution. “When we play the management role, we’re difficult and even demanding,” says Mead, who also leads the LEF’s BRM training program. “We have the attention span of a fly. If you can’t catch our attention on the first slide, you’ve lost us.”
Big Challenges, Bigger Benefits
But new challenges and risks abound, too. Security in an outside-in world becomes more precarious than ever. And regulations, already onerous in many industries, will likely become more numerous and far-reaching. “BRMs need to understand security in terms of risk,” Mead says. “It’s no longer black and white, where you’re either secure or totally insecure. Now it’s shades of gray. You’re managing for risk, not eliminating it.”
For organizations in which BRMs succeed at making this outside-in transition, tremendous new opportunities should arise. And for enterprise IT, there are new opportunities to move beyond mere IT management and instead play a key role in the organization’s digital leadership. In this new role, CIOs and other IT leaders will anticipate changes, assess implications, prepare responses ahead of time, and take action in the marketplace. They will also work with groups outside of the organization — including vendors, service providers and partners — to guide the use of technology.
Ideally, in this new outside-in world, BRMs will engage both IT and business leaders in a series of dialogues that involve such questions as: How do we want to change the business? What should our IT priorities be? And how will this affect the customer?
“There’s a whole culture and style around the new IT,” Mead says. “A digital leader is comfortable with that and is at home in that world. It’s really a cultural thing.”
PETER KRASS is a contributing writer to CSC’s digital marketing team.