As far back as 2006, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers knew relationships mattered. Our publication that year, “Relationships Matter: Customer Service Strategies to Promote Enterprise Services,” was an outcome of increased state enterprise IT consolidation and the resulting focus state CIOs were putting on the relationships they were fostering with their customer agencies.
Over the years, the state CIO role evolved to become more a broker of services than a provider of services, and in 2019 NASCIO once again published on this topic, with “Relationships Matter Most: The Evolving State CIO Role and the Growing Focus on Agency Customer Relationships.”
Today’s state CIOs find themselves at a crossroads. They are moving to a new operating model, which includes proactively engaging with state agencies, understanding current and emerging program and citizen needs, and maintaining market awareness of current and emerging trends and offerings.
A Shift to Business Relationship Management
NASCIO believes, as do many states we have talked with, that it is critical now to shift the focus on customer relationship management to business relationship management. BRM has been the focus of NASCIO President Denis Goulet’s presidential initiative and is the natural evolution of NASCIO’s past work with CRM and the development of a new CIO operating model.
NASCIO defines BRM as a disciplined approach to proactively managing working relationships with internal staff, agencies, vendors and partners. Instead of placing all the focus on the customer relationship, CIOs and their teams should also remain aware of vendor relationship management to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Several states have hired business relationship managers (often with different titles), but finding the perfect employee for this role is not easy. Ideally, business relationship managers should have domain expertise related to the agency they are assigned to, a technology background and relationship skills. While it may be hard to find a candidate that checks all those boxes, most CIOs we spoke with agreed that the most important trait was the ability to effectively build relationships — the rest can be effectively learned on the job.
Focus on Facilitating a Conversation
The BRM discipline, in practice, is still new for most states. Many state technology offices have a team focused on agency relationships, while an entirely different group (which often sits with procurement and acquisition) focuses on vendor management. When a state embraces this entire ecosystem of relationships holistically, there is greater collaboration among agencies.
When an idea is brought forth, the BRM function facilitates conversation with other agencies to elicit potential interest in a proposed project. This collaboration continues from project inception all the way through to the eventual retirement of a service, bringing state agencies together as an enterprise. This has many benefits, including better risk management, stronger rationalized investment, greater reuse, improved effectiveness and increased cost savings.
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Take an Enterprise View in State Government
When a state IT agency has a BRM function — not just a CRM and vendor relationship management, or VRM, function — the focus expands from asking only questions such as “What do agencies need right now?” and “When do we need to renew our contracts?” to “What should the service portfolio look like in the future?”, “What new things should we be doing?” and “What should we stop doing?”
While there is typically a lot of overlap among the BRM, CRM and VRM staff, the BRM team needs to take the lead. Ideally, its members hold an enterprise view of the organization (its customers, partners and capabilities)with which to guide the conversation.
NASCIO encourages state IT organizations to adopt the BRM discipline. All states could benefit from this broader enterprise focus