We often talk about the lack of alignment between business and IT. The cost of which is huge. Business does not get services that meet their requirements fully. Business outcomes are impacted. IT efforts are not seen as strategic in nature. IT is seen as a service provider rather than a strategic partner in achieving business goals.
What causes this? At its core, it is due to lack of an absolute clarity of the fact — why users would need a particular service to support their business? This understanding can come only with an outside-in view taken across a long term to find patterns among noisy details. Solutions need to be guided by business fundamentals rather than technical possibilities.
However, how do we do that? The answer lies in bringing focus right at the interface between business and IT. We need to develop an understanding of users and their business needs, far better. The linking of user needs to business outcomes, is the most crucial thing. Three key aspects of user needs to be considered to enable an empathic design-
User assets utilised to deliver services
Constraints on user assets
How value is perceived by business and measured
In order to do this, we need to invest in putting the right people who interface between business and IT. This is where the value of an existing service can be measured or one to be developed can be visualised. A thorough exploration of needs in terms of business outcomes pays for the efforts heavily. IT needs to understand and articulate user requirements expressed in their own language which may already be influenced by a solution, a technology, a vendor, a product or an architecture user believes in. It may also happen sometimes that business distrusts the service provider and attempts to dictate a solution rather than requirements. This leads to the need for a trusted advisor for business who has an understanding of IT. It becomes absolutely necessary for IT to develop this trust and relationship with business. A Business Relationship Manager (BRM) for IT is thus very crucial who would become business’s advisor, as well as advocate to the IT service organisation.
BRM’s main focus is to build the relationship with business. Communication is key towards the development of this relationship. BRM creates forums for ongoing, structured communication with his/her business partner. Becomes the link between business and service provider, interfaces with most IT service management processes and plays a pivotal role in articulating, communicating, and synchronising the business and IT service provider’s strategies and expectations. BRM thus acts as a check and balance and ensures that business is properly represented within the service provider organisation and that the service provider does not lose focus on the business requirements while striving for efficiency and ease of management. BRM also plays an important role in change management and brings forward collaboration between business and service provider to arrive at an optimum level of change through the formal process of change management.
BRM being the face of IT service organisation learns about complaints from users. These are the opportunities for improvements, and a proper handling of complaints is a must for developing positive relationships. BRM establishes a formal procedure for handling complaints and follows it consistently to demonstrate that complaints are given its due attention and actions are taken appropriately. A transparent communication and understanding between the business partner and BRM is the cornerstone for building great relationships. Sometimes BRM may also receive unsolicited positive feedbacks from users. These compliments provide unique insights into the real priorities and values as perceived by business. A proper handling of compliments goes a long way in motivating and encouraging desired behaviours in the service provider organisation. At the same time, a pragmatic approach should be taken in handling compliments to avoid any user expectations rising beyond sustainable levels.
No complaints do not mean everything is great. BRM thus needs to initiate measurement of user satisfaction which is most often executed through surveys. These regular surveys will demonstrate user’s perception of services delivered and if these have changed over time. BRM needs to analyse results and publish them; at the same time work with the service provider to develop and steer improvement plans as required.
In conclusion, misalignment between business and IT at its core is due to lack of a solid clarity of reasons for having a service to support business. A business relationship manager helps to understand why a service is required by defining the service in terms of business outcomes that are valued by users. Through communication and relationship building BRM gains trust of the business partner; represents business to the service provider and acts as a check and balance. Ensures that the business is properly represented within the service provider organisation and service provider does not lose focus on the business requirements while striving for efficiency and ease of management. This will result in a solid justification for IT efforts and link it to business outcomes. It will help build IT’s image as a strategic partner in achieving business goals rather than just a service provider. IT will grow up from the image of ‘Man behind the screen’ when BRM becomes the communication link between the two.
In the absence of business relationship management, services will still be delivered, and the delivery target will still be met. However, it is difficult to quantify the value of the services, and there is no guarantee that appropriate business needs are being fully met. Also if the services are prioritised correctly, or the business partners, service provider meets with are truly representing the business needs of all the users. Thus service provisioning without business relationship management is possible, but it is costly, erratic and filled with mistrust.