Technology’s role in a constantly evolving enterprise: the evolution of BRM into DBL

As nations and enterprises went into lockdown overnight, the IT organization stepped up and implemented the necessary changes to enable employees to work remotely and enterprises to continue serving customers as best they could. From provisioning equipment and remote services, increasing capacity and connectivity, through to ensuring the continuity and resilience of critical services, IT made it happen. If executives were ever in doubt about the value of technology and IT’s contribution to operational performance, the need for a bigger conversation about the role of technology and the IT organization is now much clearer.

There are currently at least two taxonomies describing executive education programmes designed to achieve the aspirational goals and desired end-state for the effective use of technology within a large global enterprise: Business Relationship Management (BRM) and Digital Business Leadership (DBL). Both are designed to help executives understand technology’s role in a constantly evolving enterprise.

To help executives decide when and where to invest in them, they should first ask what these programmes have in common, and what change it is hoped they will accomplish. This change is usually an aspiration and/or requirement for IT to play a bigger role in the enterprise, for example:

  • FROM: IT needs to be more effective in delivering business value to the enterprise, beyond its traditional custodial responsibility of running a cost-effective, secure and stable IT platform for the business.
    TO: The IT organization can best deliver value by providing an outside-in perspective on the art of the possible for IT-enabled change in business and operating model transformation, optimized agility, security, and economic effectiveness in reducing operational and IT costs.
    HOW: IT learns to provide leadership in defining and managing the execution of these value propositions.
  • FROM: IT staff need to develop more sophisticated business acumen and fundamentally change the way they engage with the business in terms of language and behaviour
    TO: IT leaders need to learn the ways of thinking, language and behaviours of the business executives and rely less on IT-centric concepts and terminology when engaging with the business.
    HOW: They develop the ability to listen more effectively to understand what the business needs and is expecting, and to communicate more effectively what value technology could deliver.
  • FROM: The IT organization needs to step up to a leadership role and take responsibility for upgrading its technical skills from the traditional enterprise platforms.
    TO: The enterprise needs to embrace technologies that are evolving and being adopted in the consumer markets as well as developments in AI, IoT, 5G and virtual and augmented reality.
    HOW: The enterprise upgrades its business management skills in new operating models as these new technologies are increasingly delivered through public cloud-based applications and infrastructure instead of traditional ‘Enterprise IT’ estates.
  • FROM: IT is a Provider and Promoter of technology
    TO: The enterprise needs a better technology understanding across the executive ranks of the company.
    HOW: The enterprise raises its technology ambition through executive development and encouraging IT to operate as a Partner and Peer, particularly to those business areas at most risk of future disruption.

In order to understand the differences between BRM and DBL, we define their distinctions in terms of the evolution of the business, the IT organization and the external environment, rather than as a dichotomy of fundamentally different agendas, skill sets or course content:

  1. The concept of BRM is older than DBL and was an initial step in bridging the gap between ‘the business’ and ‘IT’, which for a long time were seen as distinct entities. The term came into common usage in the very early stages of the ubiquitous adoption of consumer technologies within the enterprise. DBL programmes emerged as the IT organization achieved a level of respectability with the business, and where there is a more sophisticated understanding among the business and IT leadership of what effective IT looks like.
  2. BRM programmes have traditionally been embraced most effectively in IT organizations that were immature in their evolution from Provider to Peer capabilities, with the preponderance of their activity in the Provider mode. A symptom and consequence of this immaturity is reflected in the common theme we hear from IT: “We just can’t get no respect.” DBL programmes are most common in mature organizations where there is a more balanced distribution of activity, with at least some Peer leadership in place, and where a higher level of respect for IT exists.
  3. BRM programmes are most frequently initiated by IT organizations that aspire to gain more respect and a greater leadership role in the enterprise, with business support. DBL programmes are frequently sponsored jointly by IT and business leadership, who recognize the value IT can bring and want to partner with them to up their game.

While the drive for the two programmes is the same, different taxonomies and sets of modules will be more suitable depending on the maturity of the organization and staff, their history and culture, the current imperatives and business objectives, the leadership, and external factors that are driving change. One size does not fit all.

Over time as we move increasingly to the Matrix era we can expect DBL increasingly to supplant BRM as a taxonomy and formalized education programme. Given the magnitude of the challenge enterprises face and the diversity of maturity in IT organizations, the two will certainly co-exist for some time.

If ever there was a time for IT leaders to seize the moment, then this is it! In our experience, every organization needs an approach that is contextualized for its situation. This includes the level of disruption in its industry as well as the state of IT modernization that has been completed. LEF can help the leadership team in shaping this approach, through our vast experience in BRM and more recently DBL. As organizations constantly evolve, so must this discussion; and we encourage every organization to play a part.


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