I reviewed Martha Heller’s last book, The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership back in October 2012, because I thought it was an important book for my typical blog readership, the IT community. When Martha invited me to review her new book, I jumped at the opportunity because:

  1. I respect Martha’s perspective—she is both an IT executive recruiter and a contributing writer on CIO.com since 1999.
  2. I like that Martha speaks with hundreds of CIOs and IT leaders each year. She understands the real world of the CIO, is a skilled interviewer (I’ve been on the receiving end of her probing interviews!) formulates perceptive insights and offers pragmatic recommendations.
  3. I loved the book title, “BE the BUSINESS“. This resonated with a concept that Professor James Cash at Harvard Business School introduced to me back in the early 1990’s—the need to move beyond business-IT alignment (which most CIOs were struggling with back then) to convergence, which has become a mantra for Business Relationship Management Institute and a guidepost for leading Business Relationship Managers (BRMs) today.

CIO as BRM; BRM as CIO

Let me begin with the one issue I have with this excellent book. It is written as though the CIO is the key agent of change in the shift to the “New Era of IT,” a reference to what is sometimes referred to as ‘digital leadership.’ This misses the fact that this new era is seeing the CIO role fragmenting and dispersing throughout the enterprise in the form of the emerging BRM role. I make this point not so much as a criticism of the book, but as a recommendation to BRMs to read the book and not be misled into thinking that the book is primarily about and for CIOs.

The “New Era” brings with it an important shift in IT leadership, with the CIO becoming more of a Business Relationship Manager (regrettably, not a term that Martha uses in this book, though she does discuss the concept of “blended executives”) and as Business Relationship Managers move important aspects of the CIO role closer to the business—in fact, often deeply embedded in the business. This is, for me, a crucial aspect of what it means to “BE the BUSINESS” and is part of the reality of business-IT convergence.

Packed With Quotes and Examples

Martha leverages her experience talking with CIOs to illustrate her point with quotes and examples that make the book both readable and relevant. She has probed her CIO contacts about how their roles have changed over the last 5 years, and how they have upgraded their IT Operating Model, reorganized their teams, and how they are removing traditional boundaries around their organizations—a key reason the BRM role is emerging.

Ideas and Opportunities for the BRM

Here are some of her findings that I believe are highly relevant to Business Relationship Managers.

Managing the White Space

Martha examines how CIO’s manage the “amorphous operational layer where CIOs must create change when they are not necessarily anointed to do so.” She suggests, “going on the assumption that business process change is your mandate and actively applying your end-to-end view of the business, before you even get to a discussion about technology.” For the BRM (and the CIO) I’d modify this to the assumption that business value realization is your mandate and actively applying your end-to- end, idea-to-realized-value view of the business, before you even get to a discussion about technology.

Martha surfaces the importance of Business Architecture as a means to achieve agreement on a standard set of processes. This is very consistent with my emphasis on the important of the BRM-Enterprise Architect relationship and rules of engagement, and my concern that many companies effectively outsourced their business architecture capability when they implemented Enterprise Resource Planning software such as SAP.

She observes that BE the BUSINESS means “bringing people together who have always thought vertically and asking them to think horizontally. This reflects the increasing (and BRMI-recommended) practice of aligning BRMs to major end-to-end business processes rather than, or as a supplement to alignment by functions, business units or geographies.

Step into the Digital Leadership Void

Martha recommends establishing relationships with marketing leaders—a frequently underserved but increasingly important community for leveraging emerging technologies and “big data.”

She suggests that CIOs (and by my inference, BRMs) be “a catalyst for a ‘Digital Center of Excellence’ and observes that there are often pockets of digital activity dispersed across the enterprise. The BRM can help surface these pockets and bring a more holistic focus to digital strategy and leveraged capability, spanning social media, mobile apps, websites, devices, sensors, data analytics, and more.

Dismantle the Iceberg

Martha introduces a great analogy, with the “tip of the iceberg” being 10, 20 or even 30% of the IT budget, but with the rest of the IT infrastructure “lurking below sea level” where only the CIO and IT team can see it and know what investment it needs to support the future. She quotes veteran IT leader Ralph Loura:

“I think of it as shifting left and right. You shift left toward the business, working collaboratively to create something new and ignoring cost and scale. But you can only do that if you’ve got a function that is constantly shifting right by applying techniques to remove debt, streamline, and automate.”

 

This nicely describes the BRM role as having two types of key stakeholder—their Business Partners and their IT leader and provider relationships, constantly stimulating high value demand across the business and the IT capability to satisfy that demand.

Martha also discusses “Big Application” problem, and how Amazon, Netflix and Google were changing their development processes with the emergence of the DevOps movement. Quoting Ambit Energy CIO, John Burke:

“People were talking about an edict that Jeff Bezos gave to his development team at Amazon when they hit their own ‘big application’ problem,” Burke says. “Bezos told them, ‘You need to take your own piece of the large application and rip it out from the rest. As long as you provide APIs to the large application, you can write your own piece in any language. But your little interfaces have to always be working.’ ”

 

Turn IT Consumers into Coinvestors

I loved this headline, and the many concepts and suggestions Martha includes in this section, overcoming the “IT is free” mentality, and shifting the conversations from IT cost to business value. Included in the wisdom Martha shares here, is the mantra “No more IT metrics” referring to the typical metrics tracked by an IT organization, and the shifting emphasis on business value metrics, with a shift in rewards and recognition based upon business value rather than business satisfaction with IT activities.

Becoming the “What” CIO

Martha makes a great distinction between “what” people who make decisions about what a company will do, and “how” people who figure out how to deliver on those decisions. These are, of course, two sides of a coin—”what” and “how” have to ultimately meet in the middle, and the BRM plays a key role in ensuring that the “what” is fully informed by IT possibilities, and that the “how” is fully bringing the “what” to fruition.

She discusses the needed competencies for the “what” CIOs, and comes up with a list of qualities that closely match BRMIs BRM DNA competency model. I was especially pleased to see Change Agent included in the list—a key competency we introduce in the BRM Certifications, BRMP® and CBRM® and Storytelling, an aspect of a BRM’s Powerful Communications competency.

Grow Blended Executives

This gets to the BRM role and the creative approaches companies need to find and develop these superstars, including opportunistic rotation, one of the topics that was nicely covered at the BRMConnect conference in Portland last year by my former client and friend Terri Jacklin.

My Conclusion

This is a great book for BRMs—not just because of its wisdom about “CIOs in the New Era of IT” but because BRMs are become key aspects of the emerging dispersed CIO role in this new era. Well worth the read and the many reference sources the book provides in its illuminating anecdotes about progressive CIOs and how they are helping move their companies towards the “New Era of IT.”