The realisation that enterprise IT had to manage relationships actively with the business - a hateful term - was one of the main IT organisational consensus points of the past decade.
CIOs everywhere rushed to created CIO Mini-Me’s - business relationship managers acting as the interface between business units and IT. I know - I was one for several years.
In effect, these business relationship managers had three main functions.
First, as good cop: using their strong business relationships to understand current and future demand, ensuring central IT could deliver against it and shepherding projects through to successful delivery.
Secondly, as bad cop: looking out for business units trying to go solo with their own IT projects and bringing them back into line.
And finally: to be a single-butt-to-kick, or if you were lucky, a single-back-to-slap for business unit senior managers.
Old-style centralised IT
In the era of large, centralised IT functions this approach worked well. The business had no real choice about where to go for IT services. Any instances of them trying to go it alone could be brought into line relatively easily.
But what about now? In this age of bring-your-own computing, cloud and everything-as-service, how do CIOs need to evolve the relationship management role for the new reality?
Clearly, simply trying to prevent business units doing their own thing is a non-starter. The CIO and business relationship manager will simply be labelled, correctly, as SPOs - sales prevention officers. The agility that consumerisation and the cloud offer is just too good an opportunity for the business to refuse.
So what to do? I believe the business relationship manager remains relevant but the role must change. They need to be seen to be capitalising on the IT innovation happening in the business, not attempting to restrict it.
Facilitating business technology
Rather than managing an orderly funnel of business demand into central IT, they need to become facilitators of a more agile, dynamic and parallel fulfilment model.
Using their breadth of understanding of the wider business and IT community beyond, they can then create the linkages to other business units so that economies of scale are achieved and data, information and insight are shared and maximised. That way value is created not just in the business unit but across the enterprise.
Yes, the business relationship manager will still have to be bad cop on occasion, usually where security and compliance are concerned. But even then, the conversation needs to be about how the new solution can become sufficiently secure and compliant, rather than forbidding it.
In 2012, the business relationship manager role in any enterprise IT organisation remains essential. It’s just that they’ll spend less time managing demand into the centre and more facilitating the creation of value from a myriad different delivery partners.