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New NASCIO brief explores evolution of ‘broker’ role

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Written by Benjamin Freed

As more state chief information officers settle into serving more as “brokers” of IT services rather than fix-it technologists, state IT offices should focus more on a practice known as business resource management, a philosophy that encourages managers to nurture effective relationships between internal staff, agencies and the vendors that supply tech services, a new publication from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers argues.

Business relationship management, or BRM, sits at a nexus between longstanding CIO mantras like customer relationship management and vendor relationship management. And according to NASCIO, it’s an increasingly useful practice as more state governments move toward managed IT services provided by a wide array of private-sector entities.

“States will need to manage the different channels and supply chains for reaching services as well as the relationships that must be in place to effectively orchestrate an emerging and highly complex service portfolio,” reads the brief published Wednesday.

NASCIO has for several years been advising its members that contemporary technology governance is more about providing customer agencies with IT services procured from across the industry, rather than developed in-house or sourced from a single vendor. And while this “brokerage” model has encouraged active CRM programs — 36 states reported having such an initiative in NASCIO’s 2019 survey — it’s also evolved to the point where states need IT managers who can shuttle between the government offices they serve and the companies from which they obtain hardware and software.

“The office of the state CIO is a trusted advisor to agencies and is a key member of the strategy team,” New Hampshire CIO and NASCIO President Denis Goulet, who’s made BRM a priority during his leadership of the group, said in a press release. “Now, more than ever, state CIOs have the opportunity and responsibility to build relationships among agencies, private sector partners and other key players.”

NASCIO also recently joined the BRM Institute, a professional development organization that trains business relationship managers. Some states, the report says, already have robust BRM programs, especially those where the state CIO has been performing as a broker, including Texas, Louisiana and Virginia.

It’s not an easy practice, apparently. BRM mangers are responsible for gauging agencies’ needs, ensuring vendors complete projects and massaging all parties’ expectations in an effort to deliver customer satisfaction, according to NASCIO.

“Some states have a clear delineation between vendor relationship management, customer relationship management, project management and enterprise portfolio management,” the report reads. “In other states, the BRM manager is really in the middle of all these kinds of activities as an orchestrator, or co-orchestrator, to ensure the necessary relationships sustain the characteristics of open communication, trust and collaboration. Relationships with private sector partners are forward thinking, anticipate emerging challenges and risks, make course corrections early and continue to learn.”

One state CIO quoted in the report said BRM managers — who are often government employees, but sometimes outside consultants — have the “hardest job in the world.” The ideal BRM manager, the brief continues, needs familiarity with a customer and their technology goals, an ability to educate that customer and an understanding that “the tools for today are not necessarily the tools for tomorrow.”

The NASCIO paper makes a few recommendations for its members interested in embracing BRM, especially as more IT offices shift to a broker role. Among the suggestions is identifying agency leaders who will support a new practice, expanding the existing roles of customer and vendor relationship management programs and applying BRM first to the CIO’s highest-priority projects.

“This will essentially be a starting point toward a full enterprisewide BRM discipline,” it reads.

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