Movers and Shakers

About this Blog: Martha Heller brings you career advice, job changes and best practices from CIOs in the trenches.

Movers and Shakers

Celanese CIO Discusses How to Develop 'Business Relationship Managers'

Celanese CIO Mike Jackson discusses his strategy for building a business relationship manager organization and establishing a simple process for post-implementation project review.

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How are you developing professionals who can function in a “business relationship manager” role?

A few years ago, we embarked on an IT transformation to improve delivery to our businesses, and our first official move was to establish a business relationship management (BRM) organization.  These are leaders who are assigned to our key businesses and functional areas with responsibility  for communication, shaping demand, and making sure we deliver against that demand.

To build the BRM organization, we started with the talent we already had in IT.  We focused primarily on the business analysts and project managers who had some ability to interact with our business partners, but they were not yet at the executive level.  Around the same time, we brought in a senior finance person, who could both act as a BRM for the finance organization, but could also model the BRM role for our more junior people. Since then, we’ve been following a dual track of bringing in more senior people who can do the job now, and developing our high-potential junior people into the more senior role.

The BRMs have a tough job.  They need the soft skills to deal effectively with senior managers, to communicate to a broad group of people, and to make our business partners feel a little better about some of the IT policies they don’t love.  We have found that the only way for our BRMs to build those skills is to put them into the role – where they work directly with senior business executives -- and give them plenty of coaching.   My job as CIO is to discuss their performance with the senior business executives, and give the BRMs that feedback.

What do you consider the primary responsibilities of a BRM?

·         Build and maintain relationships with their key business counterparts

·         Foster innovation both in the business they support and in the IT organization

·         Keep their business executives informed about day to day operational matters

·         Identify and deal with conflict

·         Organize and govern business projects with an IT  component

·         Collaborate with their business counterparts on building a business case for new IT investments

·         Manage our outsourcing partners

It is pretty tough to bring in an entire group of people who are fully loaded with these skills. The key is to realize how challenging the role is, set very clear expectations, and be patient as these people get their feet underneath them.

In our case, we were blessed with a few people who had most of the attributes we were after.  But we had to resist the temptation to load them up with all of the large, high visibility projects and miss the opportunity to give learning opportunities to our more junior people.

How do you know your BRM organization is successful?

I get some of that information through informal conversations with our business executives, but we also have a post implementation review process to learn whether our projects delivered on the value that we thought they would. But maybe more than anything else is the fact that in three years we’ve had several BRMs move from IT into roles in the businesses.

The majority of companies do not do post-implementation audits because of the complexity and time constraints of the process. How do you get around those obstacles?

When I came on board, we did not have a formal post-project audit process, and I knew we needed one, so I said to my IT finance manager, “Let’s not overthink this; just create a quick process with a few basic numbers to measure.  We’ll bring in the business sponsor and have a straight-forward dialogue about the benefits achieved versus what was in the original business case.” So far, this quick, simple process has been effective.

Do you have any advice to CIOs who would like to establish a post implementation audit process?

Start small.  Engage the business executives who are interested enough to be a part of the process. In our case, we went to the finance leaders of each business area and set the expectation that when we start the next project, a post-project review will be a part of the process.  Let them know that after the project is complete, you’ll be back, but that the process won’t be an onerous accounting exercise -- just a few people talking and coming back with a credible story that is simple and direct: did we get the returns – both qualitative and quantitative - we intended? And what did we learn?

About Mike Jackson and Celanese

Mike Jackson became Vice President and CIO of Celanese Corporation, a global integrated producer of chemicals and advanced materials, in 2010. Prior, he worked for Rockwell Automation where he spent seven years as CIO. Before Rockwell Automation, Jackson worked for Procter & Gamble as Vice President of IT for the Pet Health and Nutrition division.

Celanese Corporation is a global technology leader in the production of differentiated chemistry solutions and specialty materials used in most major industries and consumer applications. With sales almost equally divided between North America, Europe and Asia, the company uses the full breadth of its global chemistry, technology and business expertise to create value for customers and the corporation. Celanese partners with customers to solve their most critical needs while making a positive impact on its communities and the world. Based in Dallas, Texas, Celanese employs approximately 7,600 employees worldwide and had 2012 net sales of $6.4 billion.

Until next time, 

Martha Heller


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