Can you tell our readers a bit more about your career history and your current responsibilities within OCS Group?
I’ve spent the last 16 years in IT supplier/business relationship management roles, having worked for both service providers and customers in the private and public sector. I believe that this gives me a balanced and pragmatic perspective in managing business relationships. Working for OCS Group, I manage a number of the strategic technology service providers including those in data network and communication, print and document management and software development and application management.
As an international facilities management provider offering more than 80 service lines, OCS needs to be able to respond quickly to evolving and challenging customer requirements. The facilities management services industry is a highly crowded marketplace. One of the major challenges OCS faces is to continually introduce service innovation that differentiates the business from its competitors, in addition to delivering the quality of service it is well known for.
What are the daily challenges you face in your role?
Knowing when to close the lid on my laptop! Business requirements tend to come from multiple angles, sometimes at short notice, and offer challenging deadlines for service delivery. The availability of standard business products can be a real challenge, particularly in the mobile devices arena. I’ve often been known to work my charm on service providers, calling in favours for expediting service installations and sourcing IT hardware and services.
What is the most important aspect to focus on in the Business Relationship role in OCS - demand or supply management?
IT departments can be seen as ivory towers. Maintaining regular engagement with key business stakeholders is essential to manage the project and demand pipelines, but I also find value in keeping in touch with my end business clients too. I’m fortunate to be able to work flexibly, and can quite often be found working at our various offices and client sites with my colleagues who have responsibility for delivering the services themselves. I’m not a great believer in email tennis, preferring to pick up the phone or meet face-to-face with my business clients, and the relationships I have within OCS have benefited from this approach.
What skills and competencies are, in your opinion, most important in the Business Relationship Management role?
I think being able to listen and take time to fully understand business requirements in their individual context, rather than focusing on component IT services is a skill that can be found lacking in some areas of IT departments. I believe that the ability to talk to people without resorting to jargon, focusing on their required business outcomes rather than the services themselves, is the key to building and maintaining successful business relationships. A business relationship manager can fulfil a number of roles ranging from negotiator to service delivery manager, or team manager to referee. Success in these roles is dependent on gauging the atmosphere of the room, knowing the desired outcome of the engagement and positioning yourself effectively.
What are the critical success factors to relationships with partners/vendors and that between IT and business?
I believe good relationships are built on a foundation of honesty, trust and a strong personal commitment. From a service provider perspective, you can buy similar services from many parties but it is the people that front the business relationship that make it work or fail. Being involved in the appointment of key service provider personnel at the outset of a relationship can save time and effort later on. I’d like to think I’m a good initial judge of character, and can sense when individuals are compromising service delivery and, as a business relationship manager, you should not be afraid to address these situations. Invariably a fresh pair of eyes on business services will restore enthusiasm and bring a fresh approach. Between IT and the business, a business relationship manager should be visible within the business environment on a regular basis engaging not only with peers but at various levels within the business. Being a business relationship manager can often mean having to deliver difficult messages, and trust is built by honesty in such situations. Take ownership of the relationship. It starts and ends with you.
What are the main difficulties in aligning IT needs with those of the business and ensuring efficient work practices and delivery?
Controlling and consolidating supply channels in diverse and sizeable organisations can be challenging. Some business areas may have ‘shadow IT’ functions with long standing third party incumbents that they are not prepared to relinquish. Such situations can involve extended consultation and gentle influencing but be prepared to put some time in to achieve the best outcome (which can sometimes be the unexpected). A strong project management office and change management process is invaluable in achieving effective service delivery. When it comes to timescales for the delivery of a specific service innovation, involving stakeholders for proof of concept exercises combined with new technology solutions is a great advantage. Dealing with any stakeholder concerns at the time of mobilisation can be a challenge and can be negated with effective and regular communication from the outset.
What is your most exciting project in 2017?
From a personal perspective, I will see the deployment of a completely new and improved data network and communications platforms by an incoming service provider, the services scope and commercial aspects of which I have owned and developed with my stakeholders for the past 12 months. A high performing, scalable communications and data network underpins much of the OCS business innovation strategy for 2017 and I am excited to deliver this to enable our success.