Digital transformation…disruption…here we go again! Is it just fake news?
The camera pans out to show a jet bridge with passengers boarding an aircraft. The scene fades out and then fades back in, this time showing a cockpit and a plane cruising…
Day 1: A KLM Boeing-777 cruising at 37,000 feet somewhere between Amsterdam and Washington.
The CEO of Grab@Pizza sips his gin and tonic. He puts down the financial pages of the newspaper he was reading, now in a dark mood after examining the latest share price and reading an unfavorable article about his company. “Fake news!” he grumbles.
He opens the document map in front of him in preparation for his meeting with his business and IT team in Washington. It contains an exorbitantly priced consulting report about digital transformation, which keeps rattling on about “disruption.” It also includes the results of a COBIT audit report, criticizing IT capabilities and how they negatively impact growth.
“We do pizzas, not servers…you can’t eat a server. Yet servers seem to be eating away our share value!” he mutters. The final one-page briefing is from the CFO, who wants to outsource IT and start all over again, complaining about IT ‘culture’ and citing the following as evidence. (As usual, it’s composed with annoying bold letters, italics, and underlining for emphasis):
Evidence Item 1: 2013 – “The IT talent problem” – is still relevant!! In this article, executives were asked, “If you had a magic wand, what one talent problem would you solve?” More than 70% said, “Give business skills to their technologists…they do not understand the business context of their technology work, nor can they have a meaningful discussion with the leaders of the business areas their technology supports.”
Evidence Item 2: 2015 – “Communication between IT and non-IT workers in a state of crisis,” which revealed “…that IT teams lack the talent to communicate. This results in a state of crisis between IT and non-IT employees, which could prove disastrous in this era of unparalleled digital disruption.”
Evidence Item 3: 2017 – Gartner CIO Agenda reports that of the top barriers to successfully showing the value of IT, talent is the number one issue, citing “business knowledge and acumen.” Worryingly, these are the same issues that CIOs cited four years earlier in the exact same study.
The briefing finishes with a hand-scrawled “BRM???” (whatever that means), followed by the words “Brave this Ridiculous Mess / Business Relationship Management?”
Bing! The CEO is jarred from his thoughts as the aircraft hits a patch of turbulence. “Sorry folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for a while,” the captain’s voice announces.
“You can say that again,” the CEO says to himself, thinking about the digital transformation journey that lies ahead.
Day 2: Gaylord Convention Center, Washington, D.C: the annual BRM Institute World BRMConnect Conference
The Grab@Pizza Simulation Workshop
A group of BRMs file into the room, each one carrying a cup of tepid coffee. Many have determined looks on their faces—perhaps they’ve read a recent “compelling story” on the Internet, and decided, “It’s time for IT to become a strategic business partner.” (Brave ambitions, not to be taken lightly!) They have taken their first step by attending the BRM Institute World BRMConnect Conference to gain new knowledge, skills, and competences.
After two days of inspirational BRM sessions, they take up the challenge of translating their theory into practice in an experiential learning workshop. Global BRM champions Peter Lijnse, Suresh GP, and Leif Andersson facilitate the session.
The delegates take their seats, not knowing what to expect—and they are suddenly immersed in the fictional Grab@Pizza organization. Their competitors are global giants like Domino’s Pizza, New York Pizza, and Papa John’s. Delegates play both business and IT roles within the Grab@Pizza company, challenged with helping to turn the company around by harnessing the power and potential of IT.
The CEO’s State of the Union Speech
The game facilitator (me) playing the role of Grab@Pizza CEO sets the scene…
“Welcome,” says the CEO, with a disgruntled look on his face. “Did any of you read the financial pages of the newspaper this morning? I read them on the plane on my way over here.”
He is met with confused looks and shaking heads.
“So you haven’t seen that share prices are dropping? We failed to meet our financial targets for the second quarter in a row!” He pauses for dramatic effect and adds, “Our franchise growth is slowing considerably. Franchises are leaving due to poor IT enablement and delayed order deliveries…we are losing to our competitors in customer experience and digital enablement! Our business intelligence predictive capabilities are losing us money! What do you mean you haven’t read this? I thought you wanted to be strategic BRMs! How can you be strategic if you don’t know our strategic concerns?”
A few of the delegates look at the BRMConnect agenda to see if they can sneak out into another session—one in which the CEO isn’t wagging his finger at them.
The Communications Chasm: the Second Round of the Simulation
The CEO decides to walk around and see firsthand if a business and IT gap is real—and if so, how bad is it? A meeting is in progress to discuss IT changes in relation to the portfolio of business initiatives.
“Explain to me what this change is?” asks the CEO.
“Er…that’s for the sales server upgrade…so that we can ensure we have enough capacity, “ explains the IT operations manager.
“Capacity for what?”
“Transactions across the network.”
“We’re seeing a spike on the server and it’s exceeding capacity thresholds. It’s also causing increased incidents.”
“I”m not convinced!” says the CEO, thinking to himself, “I haven’t got a clue what he’s talking about.” Out loud, he proposes, “Let’s push through business change instead!”
“Er…” begins the IT operations manager, seeing his change being swept off the calendar. “If we don’t do this, the server will be overloaded.”
“We won’t be able to process all the transactions.”
“Er…transactions related to business project #1.”
“And what was that supposed to deliver?”
“…More sales transactions.”
“There you go again,” the CEO snaps. “You’re talking in bits and bytes, servers and transactions, throughput and delays…I want to know what that means in business terms! Let’s go back to the start of the day. What did I say about the news? Share price, franchise growth? What did the BRM tell you about our business initiatives?”
He is met with silence. It’s clear that there is a chasm between business and IT in terms of communication and business IQ. Just like reality!
The CEO remembers the banner he saw on the jet bridge when entering the aircraft: “culture shock, here we come.” This has clearly been a shock. He sees that the IT people are dedicated, hard-working, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and energized professionals…yet do not understand the business, its priorities, or how what they do makes an impact on business value.
The team takes a time-out to reflect on BRM competencies and assess what they know in terms of business IQ. They then try again.
The IT operations manager stands at the change table and states, “We need this change, the reason being that you…er…we have rolled out web-based ordering to all franchises, as well as mobile solutions to attract a younger generation of customers. If we don’t do this change, the franchise holders will complain, and there will be a loss of revenue, mobile users will start a Twitter stream of complaints, and we may get in the press again. Negative press could damage our reputation and impact share price and growth.”
The CEO is frowning. “At the same time,” the IT Operations manager continues. “This change is required in time for the Super Bowl. We want to reduce any risk, as this is our biggest revenue generator for achieving our financial targets.”
The CEO jumps in. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place? So this change supports both value creation and prevents value leakage, and it can directly impact our strategic initiatives?” The business divisional directors look smug with themselves. “How much thave we lost due to downtime?” the CEO presses.
“Er…” mumbles the service desk manager.
“Who knows the business impact of outages to the production lines and loss of sales?” The CEO asks, looking at his business directors.
“We do,” says the sales director, sounding superior.
“How come IT doesn’t know this information?”
“They never asked us,” the finance director answers, grinning from ear to ear, waiting for the CEO to chastise IT.
“Why didn’t you tell them?” the CEO demands. “Who here is responsible for value leakage? Your job isn’t to throw all of your value creation projects and features over the wall, insisting that everything has the highest priority. Your job is to protect against risks and value leakage!”
“To me, this sounds like a governance issue,” the IT manager volunteers. “Governance is all about value creation, which is about balancing benefits realization with risk optimization and resource optimization.
“Who is responsible for ensuring effective IT governance?” asks the IT director.
The CEO blinks. The BRM adds, “This sounds like a BRM capability that is missing a value framework. A BRM capability facilitates a value framework, which ensures innovation and value optimization, balanced with risk mitigation and resource effectiveness. A BRM capability working cross-functionally with disciplines across the organization.”
Voiceover: That is the latest true story in the business and IT saga. And now back to reality and the real-life conclusions we can draw from this…
(Conclusions roll up the screen like a cast of characters at the end of the film)
- CEOs around the world are recognizing the increasing importance and criticality of business relationship management to enabling business growth.
- Current IT skills, talent, and capabilities need to transform to fulfill the strategic partner role that is required from IT.
- Business and IT alignment is still a top concern in industry surveys, primarily defined by the poor relationship between business and IT. Furthermore, it is time to break away from “business & IT alignment.” The goal should be business and IT convergence.
- BRM is a sorely missing link to the elusive business and IT problem, yet many organizations are unfamiliar with what BRM really is—instead, they mix it up with customer relationship managers, business analysts, and account managers.
- Many BRM functions are currently tactical and struggling to become strategic, hindered by issues relating to trust and credibility. This is often a result of mis-aligned ITSM capabilities and skills.
- BRM should be a strategic capability—not limited to a person or role but a complete change of attitude and behaviors within all levels of IT and the business.
- For fifteen years, “IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority” has been a top-scoring ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) workshop held globally with more than 4000 organizations. The BRM core competences of business IQ and communication remain two of the biggest issues those of us in IT struggle with (as can also be seen in the articles in the briefing the CEO was reading).
The business simulation was an eye-opener to many, bringing the BRM theory and models alive and allowing delegates to translate their theory into practice within the simulated environment. The simulation is an instrument for bringing end-to-end stakeholders from business and IT together to help realize business and IT convergence and break out of the “alignment” way of thinking that is holding us back. At the same time, the simulation demonstrates the value of the BRM role and capability to both the business partner and IT function.
What next? If you recognize the issues above, you can carry on doing what you do to “brave this ridiculous mess (BRM),” as Peter Lijnse describes it…or you can take your first steps in creating a real business relationship management (BRM) capability.
Read the first installment of this saga again to help you decide. The choice is yours: what would your CEO expect you to do?
Paul Wilkinson has been working in the IT industry for 30+ years, with a focus on business-IT convergence. He is the owner of GamingWorks, which developed the renowned Grab@Pizza business and IT convergence simulation game, commonly used to explore the role of the BRM.