Business & IT Alignment – BRM & the Dominos Effect

  Aligning IT with the Business seminar

On 19th October 2017 Sysop hosted an “Aligning IT with the Business” seminar.  The event was attended by 14 people representing 8 organisations across a mixture of the public and private sector.

Business and IT Alignment has been the number one priority for CIOs for 4 years running.  It is clear going off the initial input from the delegates on the seminar that progress is being made but there is some way to go here.  The group were asked how they would describe the alignment of IT Services with Business Strategy in their organisation.

Here is a summary of the responses:

  • Inconsistent overall, some departments work well with ICT but this results in “siloed” alignment & unevenness across the board.
  • This is an ongoing initiative across the last 2-3 years.
  • Appointed Account Managers and Business Development teams to support this.
  • Some areas are more mature than others – key business units are aligned with IT. Formal stakeholder engagement policy launched this year.
  • We are moving towards a converged strategy.
  • Challenging – the business has a number of meetings to cover the subject but we do not share sufficient information (in both directions) for this to be properly aligned.
  • As a managed service provider, the BRM is more relevant.
  • We are introducing business capability modelling.
  • It can be problematic due to being a local authority with changing priorities.
  • Needs improving from both sides. IT needs to make better use of the opportunities to discuss and share strategies with the wider business.

This feedback comes as no surprise given the delegates interest in the main topic of the day.

Further probing into how effective the IT Organisation is at meeting the needs of the business identified some interesting points:

How would you describe your IT Organisations effectiveness at meeting the needs of your business? (Tick all that apply)                                                                                                                                   
There is IT representation on the “top table” of the Business. 57%
We have initiatives in place to improve the relationship between the Business and IT. 50%
Our IT Strategy is aligned with that of the Business. 43%
It is a challenge to get Business buy-in to IT improvement initiatives to better meet their needs. 43%
As an IT Organisation we do what we believe the Business expects 36%
Digital Transformation is formerly cited as helping shape the future of the Business. 36%
Our organisation see IT as a strategic business partner – an enabler for business. 21%
We have effective communication between IT and the Business with the ability to identify customer needs and/or demonstrate value of IT services. 21%
We have clearly defined BRM roles to maintain an interface between the Business and IT. 21%
We can quantify the value provided by the IT Organisation to the Business. 0%

Only half of the candidates believed that their organisation was taking steps to improve the relationship between Business and IT and less than that considered that the IT Strategy was aligned to that of the Business.  If there isn’t alignment between the strategies and no real initiative to improve the relationship then where is the appetite for innovation and digital transformation?

Further responses also indicate a disconnect with regards to the potential IT has in driving the businesses forward – lack of buy-in for improvement initiatives, IT not seen as a strategic business partner and an inability to identify customer needs.

The Business Relationship Manager role is growing in importance to address many of these issues but yet only 21% of the respondent’s organisations have clearly defined BRM roles.

Perhaps much of this mis-alignment is understandable when you realise that none of the delegates felt that the value provided by IT can be quantified or demonstrated.  If IT isn’t able to clearly articulate the value it provides and the potential value it can bring then the business will never see them as a strategic partner.


The group were then asked what challenges are facing IT in Aligning to the needs of the business.  A summary of their responses was as follows:

  • Funding
  • Regulation
  • Innovation
  • Keeping pace with change:
    • Business
    • Technology
    • Customer Behaviour
  • Process Alignment
  • Standardisation
  • Being Agile in a Controlled way
  • Prioritisation
  • Competing Forces
  • Business As Usual versus New projects
  • IT should “Just do it”
  • New ideas
  • Lack of understanding of business problems
  • Throttling the demand pipeline.
  • Risk Management
  • BRM versus Stakeholder Management


The group were then introduced to the Business Simulation – “Grab@Pizza” provided and delivered by Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks.  Paul introduced the session by stating “70% of the IT departments are unable to demonstrate value to their business.” – this is in perfect alignment with the delegates responses of the day with regards to quantifying value to the business.

The group were randomly allocated roles in supporting a successful pizza franchise “Grab@Pizza”.  Sales figures for the previous 6 months had been below expectations and the group were tasked with implementing a recovery plan.  This plan was dependant on understanding business demands, translating them to IT strategy and organisation of IT Support, IT Operations and Change Management.

An initial round of planning and then implementation of the strategy began with the group uncoached on how best to align the IT services to the Business demands.  Without this guidance then a lot went wrong (feedback captured from the delegates):

  • Manic – pulled from all angles
  • Lack of role clarity and authority
  • Business
    • Worried
    • No Interface
    • No Governance
  • IT – no understanding of business impact and priority
  • IT & Business – Alignment needed
  • IT role clarity needed. What is difference between BRM and Service Manager

Paul led a facilitated session to improve business and IT alignment and resolve these issues as they prepared for the next round.

Improvement focus was given to Value Leakage & the role of Business Relationship Management.

Specifically, this broke down to a number of areas:

  • VOCR
    • By refreshing the ITIL definition of a service, the key characteristics of Value, Outcome, Costs & Risks could be considered at the centre of all activity.
  • Push back
    • It is generally accepted that the business does place unreasonable demand on IT at times but by speaking in the terms of VOCR will empower IT to have sensible conversations with the business when prioritising workload.
    • This dialogue will help the business also understand the need for effective strategic prioritization and decision making when there is strong demand and resource constraints (IT Governance).
  • BRM
    • The BRM can help translate business needs into VOCR and together with Service Manager translate this into ITSM capabilities, at the same time the BRM can translate IT and ITSM concerns and needs for the business.
    • Effective BRMs can help provide input to help Resource Planning and identify skills needs.
  • ITSM
    • IT processes were operating in SILO’s and were not aligned or integrated which is what many delegates recognized. The team explored the interfaces needed between ITSM processes.
    • We explore the needs of Incident management. What information do you NEED for effective resource planning, to identify skills needs and to prioritize work?
      • Trends on calls (growth per type)
      • Projected calls (based upon new business features and usage)
      • Business planning (what new business features are in the pipeline, have users been effectively trained)
      • Priority & impact of outages (per business unit & critical time periods)
      • Changes carried out and level of testing
      • Changes NOT carried out. E.g capacity issues, problems (these will maintain or increase these types of incidents).
      • Infrastructure upgrades

It was clear that processes can only be effective and deliver real Value when ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ information needs are aligned. Many of the business related information needs can be provided by BRM.

By applying this thinking into the planning phase for the next round then the group were much more successful with meeting the needs of the business and delivering a better overall performance. Financial growth targets were achieved, share price increased, there were no damaging articles in the papers affecting image and losing customers and new franchises. The team was thinking in terms of ‘business impact’ rather than servers, systems, upgrades and incidents.

The takeaways captured by the individuals at the end of the round demonstrate how the learning performance and indeed addressed many of the challenges identified at the start of the day.


  • It is important to know the strategy and the portfolio of business changes (SPM)
  • There needs to be effective priority & decision-making mechanisms at all levels
    • Strategic (Portfolio of business features, risk and compliance)
    • Tactical (Prioritisation of builds, releases, changes)
    • Operational (prioritization of incidents and problems)
  • We need to ask upstream and downstream to other processes and teams ‘what do you NEED from me to get your job done….This is what I NEED from you’.
  • Authority (It must be clear where decision making authority lies)
  • Business impact (All in IT must understand the impact of their work in terms of value creation and Value leakage. This helps answer the ‘Why’? question.
  • There doesn’t need to be a CAB meeting, there needs to be the right people engaged and involved to determine impact and to agree and authorize changes,
  • When the business has a high demand for new IT (across all business functions) we need to scale up the BRM capability.
  • Open honest communication between business & IT
    • Share Plans
    • Ask Why?
    • Give honest feedback
  • Role clarity with clear lines of communication (in Both Business & IT).
  • Asking questions, seek clarity, confirm understanding. Avoid assumptions!
  • Translate Capacity growth/issues into Business Terms
  • ‘value’, ‘Outcomes’, ‘Costs’, ‘Risks’. All must understand and use these terms to help balance decision making and allocating resources.
  • Use Business Language not IT terminology when discussing with the business
  • Reserve time (even in regular meetings) to reflect and agree improvements.
  • Break down silos – ensure end to end service


Thinking from the “Outside-In”

Ian MacDonald was able to bring his great experience to the seminar and explore Service Strategy from different perspectives Inside-Out and Outside-In.  In summary, it is common for IT Organisations to be inwardly looking out to the business with a focus on the internal view of services. Measurements and metrics are technology focussed – e.g. percentage availability of servers.  By developing an Outside-In perspective with a focus on customer needs helps to ensure services better meet the needs of the business with key metrics being more relevant to the business.

The Foundation for Convergence

Next, Simon Kent from Sollertis explored IT & Business Alignment “convergence”, Digital Transformation, and the BRM Institute qualifications.  Business Relationship Management plays a key part in delivering digital transformation and as a profession is increasing in demand.  Professional certification through the BRM Professional qualification provides an individual with a baseline of knowledge of the responsibilities required to be an effective interface between the Business and IT.


Seminar Feedback

The seminar was a great success, best demonstrated by some of the comments from the delegates:

 “Grab@Pizza was a good interactive session that showed rather than told.”

 “A day well spent!”

“A useful and thought-provoking seminar providing a useful vision of the needs and requirements to overcome common business operation.”

“So many courses omit the practical application of theories and/or best practice.  This course was the opposite and Grab@Pizza was a fantastic experience.”

“Thought provoking!”


The day’s outputs really demonstrated the importance of value in building a trust relationship between IT and the Business.  This is unlikely to be achieved overnight but will be eventually achieved with incremental steps in the right direction could lead to a “Domino” effect (no apologies for the Pizza pun)!


Developing a greater understanding of value from the business perspective is key to working towards meeting their needs.  If this value cannot be demonstrated by IT then it is no wonder that IT is not seen as a Strategic Business Partner.  Digital Transformation alludes to technology being the driving force behind business growth but this potential can only be realised once true value is understood.

Unexpected business requirements come along that impact IT and change the order of priorities.  The bad news is that this problem is unlikely to change, changing requirements come from the business and IT does need to adapt.  However, by having a true grasp of value then a trust relationship can develop that would enable the business and IT to have a sensible discussion about resource planning.  Talking in a language the business understands would encourage them to decide what can be dropped and/or what timescales can be relaxed elsewhere to cope with changing business needs.


The Grab@Pizza simulation used on the day clearly demonstrates the key components needed to bridge the Business and IT gap.  With this alignment being such a priority for today’s CIO then the simulation is a great way for IT to open up dialogue with the business and demonstrate the appetite to understand value.  IT Services can then be structured in an optimised way to best meet these needs leading to better support from the business and an improved overall relationship.

Business Relationship Management

The role of BRM is key to helping with Business & IT Alignment and is unfortunately one of the most over-looked processes in the ITIL framework.  The BRM Institute have formed to address this situation.  Their Mission is as follows:

“To inspire, promote, and develop excellence in Business Relationship Management across the globe, leading to outstanding business value for organizations and professional fulfilment of every individual member of the BRM community.”

The Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP®) qualification provides a comprehensive foundation for Business Relationship Managers at each level of experience.  As a Registered Education Partner of the BRM Institute Sysop offer this training from our public locations or as an onsite course.

Sysop are grateful for all the participants for their contribution throughout the day. A special thanks to Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks for delivering the Grab@Pizza simulation and Ian MacDonald (SYSOP) and Simon Kent (Sollertis) for their contributions on a very valuable day.


ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited, used under permission of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

BRMP® is a Registered Trade Mark of Business Relationship Management Institute, Inc.


Are your IT Services becoming stale?

I am sure that your organisation strives to offer your customers (internal and external) a consistently reliable standard of IT service – and why not?

The accepted usage of the word (Wikipedia) is as follows:

Consistent behaviour or treatment.

“the consistency of measurement techniques”

Synonyms: evenness, steadiness, stability, constancy, regularity, uniformity, equilibrium, unity, orderliness, dependability, reliability, lack of change, lack of deviation.

We certainly want to give our customers the feeling that they are dealing with a business that is dependable, orderly, reliable but not to the extent of being boring and perhaps too predictable.

But let’s look at that Wikipedia definition again – it includes the phrases “lack of change, lack of deviation”. Is that what we really intend? Static, not improving, not moving with the times?

The emerging methodologies of DevOps and Agile demonstrate an increasing requirement for us to deliver business benefit quickly. However, we do want to be consistent in the way that we deal with our customers.  They need to feel that there will be no negative surprises in the product, quality of service that we offer so that they will have above all that very desirable outcome for any customer or client – peace of mind.

This means that all those great qualities of which we are justly proud like service, product and above all quality should be taken as givens. This is why the well-established disciplines of ITIL® service management are so valuable. But we need to ensure that these disciplines are not set in concrete. The dynamics of today’s business drivers require swift, responsive adjustments to the way we work.

Modern, effective IT organisations do need to invest in the DevOps & Agile way of working. In doing so they will quickly appreciate that neither replaces the ITIL® disciplines – more they depend on them for underlying quality and direction.

The guidance given in the recent AXELOS practitioner publication goes a long way to squaring this particular circle. For our part, at Sysop, we have taken care to make sure that our Practitioner training course helps our students to better understand the need for a flexible approach whilst maintaining, indeed improving, service quality.

Positive change is a necessity of the modern IT organisation. Make sure your consistent approach encompasses a consistent desire to improve, change and innovate.

I am indebted, once more, to my good friend Ivan Goldberg for the inspiration for this blog (

Fifty Years – A Major Milestone

I don’t normally like admitting to my age – but this week I am celebrating a pretty major milestone – 50 years in IT. I’ve always considered myself particularly lucky to have begun an IT career when the industry was in its infancy, when we were fresh-faced, young and pioneering.

I left grammar school at 16 with a handful of ‘O’ levels and had been intrigued by computers for some little while. Luckily, for me, a neighbour friend was an IT Operations Shift Leader at Dunlop and suggested that I apply as a trainee operator. I took to it like a duck to water. Operating large mainframes which were tape-based was demanding work physically. The tapes were 3.600 ft zinc spools and some 100 tapes per shift needed to be mounted / demounted on the eight tape decks on each of the huge LEO III mainframes. Understanding what was going on came much more easily. I had a natural aptitude for IT and in that respect it has never been hard work.

I was just 19, when my boss asked me to set-up and run an offline job-assembly function. The goal (successfully achieved) was to improve consistency and reduce job-assembly errors. This work caught the attention of a senior colleague who head-hunted me to join him as Chief Operator at Halfords in the centre of Birmingham. The small ICT 1901 mainframe here was a step down from the sophistication of the LEO and, at the tender age of twenty, I had the challenge of supervising the operation of three shifts, job and data control.

I began to take an interest in the George II operating system and pioneered its implementation to streamline operations and reduce mis-operation. This led to a change of career as I learnt how to program in PLAN – an assembler language proprietary to ICT 1900 mainframes. I loved it and determined a short while later that I could earn much more money as a freelance programmer.

Very soon I was assigned to a major development project for Woolworth – all in COBOL. I hadn’t written a COBOL program in my life but I had, at least, covered the basics in a college course. My PLAN and GEORGE II experience stood me in very good stead and I quickly earned a reputation as the technical guru. I could understand diagnostic dumps when many of my colleagues found them perplexing.

I was a freelance programmer at Woolworth for nearly three years when the new Data Centre Manager asked me to join the management team and establish a competent technical and operations support department – again with the principal objective of improving consistency of service and reducing error.

Now I was really in my stride. I had some very competent technical guys but the challenge was to develop the operations support group, exploit the operating system and bring real business benefit to the organisation. This opportunity was enhanced when I led the project to migrate the George II workload to the newly launched ICL 2900 range under VME.

This was exciting pioneering written large! Woolworth IT developed a reputation for leading-edge technology and practices and I was often invited to speak at User Group conferences and joined working parties to help steer ICL development plans – most of them focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – a bit of a recurring theme here.

My responsibilities at Woolworth increased and I was given responsibility for not only the Rochdale data centre but also the data centres in Swindon and London. Life was certainly getting exciting!

In 1985 everything changed. A new IT Director changed the technical direction from ICL to IBM. Senior IT professionals with extensive experience of IBM operations were parachuted in and I was offered a very attractive package to go do something else – and that something else was Sysop.

The early days of Sysop saw an increasing fruitful partnership with ICL. We pioneered the development of storage management systems to exploit the capabilities of automated tape libraries – always looking at ways to help clients reduce cost, improve reliability, and improve storage management.

Then along came ITIL®.

In 1990 Sysop was one of only three companies who offered training in IT Service Management. The other two no longer exist – which makes Sysop the world’s longest exponent of ITIL. Sysop consultants have travelled the world, working with clients in across Europe, Australia, South America, USA, the Middle East and South Africa.

We continue to innovate and see ourselves as a new breed of IT educator. My team champions the alignment of IT with business, promotes the pivotal role of the IT professional and believes that the primary purpose of training and education is to change behaviour in the workplace.

Our mission is to provide a more creative and stimulating, world class educational environment that addresses vital areas of IT service management. Our training and education is designed to make ITIL more accessible, digestible and relevant for its clients, while its practical workshops can be tailored to the specific needs of the client organisation.

Our goal is still to help our clients improve their IT services focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – Now that does sound familiar?

Am I going to retire? Not while I’m having so much fun!

Stuart Sawle
ITIL® is a trademark of AXELOS Limited.

Service Management more than an Operational Discipline.

Once every quarter the ITIL® examination bodies release the statistics for examinations taken by geographic territory.

It’s good to see that the world-wide numbers of IT professionals taking service management exams is still increasing but I find it disturbing that so many do not extend their professional development beyond Foundation level. The total number of IT professional sitting the ITIL Foundation exam is ten times more that the total number of students taking Intermediate exams. This means that only about one in a hundred goes on to qualify as an ITIL expert.

I know, from contact with clients, that service management is far from a mature discipline. The operational processes (Incident, Problem etc.) are generally well established. But clients are still struggling to gain control over key processes like Change and Asset Management.

It’s very obvious from looking at the job titles of course attendees that the desire for ITIL competence is still very much skewed towards the operations support and technical areas. It is still pretty rare to see IT professionals who work in the design or transition lifecycle stages – let alone strategic management.

I am absolutely convinced of the value of sound service management processes. I know that client organisations can benefit enormously from the ITIL service management framework. We have to persuade designers and developers to take a greater interest in developing their service management skills?

BCS, itSMF and AXELOS have a key part to play here.

Stuart Sawle

Serving the Customer

I live in the foothills of the Pennines. Just a short walk from my house, up t’hill, is a pub/restaurant that has superb views of the Roche Valley and further beyond to Merseyside and East Lancashire. Not for nothing is it called the Fair View.

One summer evening, I decided to take some friends there for an early dinner. We walked in to an almost empty restaurant and asked if the upstairs facility (with better views) was open. “Not on Tuesdays” was the response. “OK”, I said, “we’ll eat downstairs”.

“Have you reserved a table?” I was asked only to be turned away from the almost empty restaurant when I said I had not. This was no up-market gourmet establishment. It was a cheap and (not so) cheerful family joint. Needless to say I’ve never been back. To this day, I cannot fathom what possessed them to turn away six hungry customers.

Sometimes I’m asked to summarise just what IT Service Management is all about. It’s a very difficult question to answer in just a sentence or two and the answer is likely to vary depending on the background of the person who is asking.

ITIL® provides a framework for the best-practice management of IT services. Its starting point is the shared understanding of what the business’s goals and objectives are and how IT can help in their achievement. It emphasises that IT exists to support the achievement of business objectives and that well designed and delivered IT services are a vital element of this.

When I’m speaking to service management students, I emphasise how crucial “good IT” is to the well-being of the business – how important are the skills and capabilities of the IT team.

At the same time, I emphasise that the IT team rarely generates direct revenue for the business. They don’t manufacture the products the business sells. They don’t achieve sales to the business’s customers. They aren’t in the supply chain for the business’s goods and services.

Their role is to support their colleagues that do!

For the most part, the colleagues at “the sharp end” cannot do their jobs of manufacturing, selling or delivering the products of the business without IT. It is up to IT therefore to ensure that the IT services are there, fit for use and fit for purpose whenever the business needs them.

And that’s where somewhere we go wrong, failing to see our colleagues as customers. We obstruct rather than facilitate. We cite the change process as the reason we can’t help expedite a change. We quote the SLA’s “agreed service hours” as to why we can extend them today.

Our processes need to be enablers of service to our customers not barriers. Successful IT service management is more about a customer centric service culture than it is about processes and targets. Let’s not let down those revenue earners that depend on us. They bring the pennies in – not us!

Stuart Sawle

Selling Change to the Team

Isn’t it amazing how we can use a simple phrase that would actually lead to our undoing – making it difficult, if not impossible, to actually achieve what we intend.

If your approach is to “sell” the idea of change to the team they will see right through you. The change becomes more about what you want; change is being imposed; those whose co-operation you seek will react with the smile that says “yes boss, no chance”. And that’s the best you can hope for – the more recalcitrant ones will actively work against you.
Change needs to be managed, people need to be understood and involved.

I well remember a reorganisation at Woolworth’s when a manager, I regarded as a fool, was appointed as my boss. He took the trouble to have a face to face chat with me. He allowed me to express my fears and concerns. He listened to me and sought to find ways in which we could work together. It worked. Not only did we develop a fruitful, purposeful relationship – we became firm friends and still are – some 30 years later. He even acted on some of my advice to downplay some of his traits that led people like me to dismiss him as fool!

If you think a change is needed quickly, take time out to assess whether the drivers are really that urgent. We can be so go-minded that we can overlook this simple check. Consider would a more relaxed time-frame still achieve your objectives? Would taking a little more time to consult and truly involve those affected make your decision more acceptable? Would the ideas and discussions allow you to improve the quality of the change?

As a senior manager you probably relish change and thrive on it. Be aware that the chief insecurity of most staff is change itself. Their first reaction will be to feel threatened.

Remember, like grief, there is a series of stages that people go through before they become accepting of change. From suspicion, through curiosity, to visualisation, acceptance and finally commitment, your team members need to be allowed the time, and your time, to explore, understand and respond.

Stuart Sawle