The Road to Convergence: BRM’s Role in Making IT a Strategic Business Partner
When the subject of IT comes up in conversation — where it is today, what the future holds, etc. — one of the first topics that arises is the difference between IT as an “aligned” organization versus IT as a “converged” organization.
It’s no secret that the relationship between IT and the rest of the business has changed substantially over the past few years. Technology has become increasingly central to the smooth operation and success of businesses on a global scale. Increasingly, IT sits at the heart of the business, not at the sidelines.
This shift means that IT can no longer afford to be a reactive, back-office support provider. Instead, IT must strive to become a proactive and highly sought-after strategic partner to the business. That transformation begins with moving from alignment to convergence.
Alignment vs. Convergence: What Does It Mean?
IT “alignment” refers to IT’s historical tendency to align reactively to the demands and needs of the business. From this position, IT plays a supporting role in an organization—decisions that affect IT are made among executives and CEOs in a vacuum, and IT is expected to simply align and execute.
Convergence, on the other hand, has a totally different flavor. Instead of back-office support, converged IT steps into a position of front-office advising and leadership. Rather than reacting to demand from the rest of business, IT proactively shapes demand. Going from IT alignment to IT convergence essentially means transforming into a strategic business partner.
To begin this journey, IT needs an internal advocate of sorts. That person is the Business Relationship Manager.
BRM as the Linchpin to Converged IT
Instead of back-office support, converged IT steps into a position of front-office advising and leadership. Rather than reacting to demand from the rest of business, IT proactively shapes demand.
So how do you form a converged IT organization that functions as a strategic partner to the rest of the business? It starts with building strong relationships between IT and executives, VPs, and other departments across the business. This type of relationship building requires a strong BRM, which brings us to our next question—what makes a strong BRM?
To begin with, a strong BRM must be equally conversant in both the language of business and the language of IT and technology. The BRM must be able to communicate the emerging needs of the business to IT in a way that makes sense from an IT standpoint. At the same time, the BRM must know the language of business well enough to translate the needs, ideas, and initiatives that arise in IT to stakeholders who have little or no familiarity with IT.
A strong BRM must also have the ability to understand the business from a holistic point of view. This means knowing both IT and the business inside-out, and understanding which investments should be prioritized to propel an organization into growth.
Lastly, the BRM has to know how to advocate for the new value of IT and its importance in the success of the modern business.
Getting There: BRM Best Practices for Driving Strategic IT Convergence
Going from aligned IT to strategically converged IT is not an overnight battle. It takes persistence and deliberate effort. As an aspiring BRM, though, there are some basic tips and tools you can begin cultivating now to prepare for your IT function’s strategic transformation.
Below are some best practices culled from the experiences of BRMs who have successfully transitioned IT into a converged organization. Study these practices closely—they’ll serve you well in your own journey.
Develop Relationships with Leadership at Your Company
Get to know the key decision makers in your business. Find out their needs. Express your long-term goals around driving convergence and articulate why this shift is critical to your business’ success. Begin to create cross-departmental partnerships where you understand the needs of fellow leaders, they understand your needs, and efforts on both sides can funnel into making everyone successful.
Master Three Types of Thinking
Dot-Connector Thinking: Train yourself to see the business holistically. As you begin to understand initiatives happening departmentally across the business, think about how these initiatives connect to activities happening in IT. Look for ways to transform traditionally siloed activities and initiatives into collaborative opportunities where everyone benefits
Futuristic Thinking: Know the business, know IT, and know the market. Where are things now? Where are they heading? Are there investments in IT or elsewhere that you can encourage today that will help your organization thrive in the face of future change? Are there proposed investment initiatives that could help now, but hinder later? As you get to know the direction and future of the business better, you’ll become a trusted barometer for evaluating new proposals and how they fit into your company’s long-term plans.
Relator Thinking: Practice relating with stakeholders at your company. You’ll serve as a liaison and translator, constantly switching from “business speak” to “IT speak” and back again. If a decision or proposal doesn’t make sense to you, strive to understand the reasoning behind it—ask questions and learn how to put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues so you know what they’re thinking when they come forward with an initiative.
Find Technology That Helps You Manage Relationships
As you step into the role of BRM, you’ll need a tech solution that enables communications and help you manage multiple touch points. An ideal solution provides visibility, helps to create automated workflows, allows for simple enterprise ideation, and allows you to track, document, and report the value of IT easily. Tools like ServiceNow are ideal for this type of service management.
Technology is rapidly changing the way business works, and there’s no sign that this transformation will slow down anytime soon. IT must make the move from passive support to active, converged strategic business partner or risk falling behind. As BRMs, we hold the key to facilitating this change.
Jeannine McConnell is a supporting member of the Project Management Institute, with certifications in Program Management, Project Management, as well as the IIBA with a certification in Professional Business Analysis. Jeannine also holds a Six Sigma Green Belt with a focus on transactional activity, and is ITIL certified. More recently, Jeannine has become a contributing thought leader to Business Relationship Management Institute and holds a BRMP certification. She is also a contributor on some of Microsoft Press’ best-selling publications on software engineering. She currently holds the role of Executive Strategist at ServiceNow, where she supports enterprises who want to change how their employees work.
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