Four areas of focus that will help CIOs adjust and thrive in the Age of the Customer. Part 2 in a two part series by Joe Topinka.

Part Two: Partner Like a Business Unit

Age of the Customer and the CIOIn Part One of our two-part series, we talked about the digital heat wave driving the need for companies and their IT organizations to become hyper-focused on customers and systems of engagement.

IT organizations that adopt an external customer focus see firsthand the moments of truth that shape customer engagement and brand image. We also talked about adapting agile methods and minimum viable product (MVP) techniques as a way to improve market responsiveness and nimbleness.

In this second part of the series, two additional concepts are discussed that reshape how IT is perceived by the C-suite and other business leaders in companies. The first reveals the importance of implementing IT Business Partnerships (or Business Relationship Manager – BRM function) and the second concept describes the importance of helping the C-suite view IT as a legitimate business unit within the company.

1. Wrap it Up in a Bow with Business Partnerships

Those of you who know me know that I have a business obsession with the IT Business Partnership function or, as the BRM Institute calls this function, the Business Relationship Manager (BRM). My obsession comes from the exponential results that the organizations I have managed achieved, largely due to the implementation of this impactful role. The IT Business Partner function is the chief liaison between IT and partner business units. It is this group’s responsibility to develop integrated plans that drive the investment roadmaps for business units and companies. These professionals not only understand company and internal department strategies, but they meet regularly with external customers and then marry the two together. This role will supercharge your digital strategies because of the hyper focus on strategy and external customers.

I think of this function as the chief collaborator role in companies. These individuals work across internal departmental lines and then with external customers too. In an age where changes are happening so rapidly, these bilingual IT business experts are able to see the future by connecting the dots and asking the necessary what-if questions that drive real business results. They are charged with working closely with sales, supply chain functions, finance, and every internal organization to ensure that customer driven solutions and internal business processes are linked for smooth operation.

Related Post: IT Business Partner Job Description

2. Get the C-Suite to Treat IT Like Every Other Business Unit

IT Business Partnerships by Joe Topinka

This is the final piece of the digital puzzle. IT is the central nervous system of every company and the digital wave dictates that all companies are now in the technology business, regardless of their actual products or services. The c-suite and IT gap is real. Too many C-suite executives lack knowledge of IT, are embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, or are intimidated by the non-business speaking IT crowd that roams the hallways of their offices. In the age of the customer, we have to help c-suite executives see the connection between company strategy and IT. We need to make sure they start inviting IT to the strategic planning process and stop going off on their own to build strategic plans and then handing them off to IT after the fact. This “big reveal” strategy process is antiquated because it doesn’t allow for the collaboration critical to thriving in the hyper-charged, customer-driven marketplace.

C-suite executives need to feel safe asking IT leaders to speak in business terms. They must treat IT as a business peer and hold IT accountable for results just like all the other business units. This is the c-suite’s first step to bridging the chasm between IT and the c-suite. And frankly, IT leaders have to speak the language of business, starting with measuring and articulating the business value of IT investments, just as routinely as the sales, finance and marketing departments do. C-suite executives should hold IT leaders accountable by challenging techno-speak when it occurs. IT and the c-suite must collaborate in the Age of the Customer because, as the research shows and common sense tells us, when they do, their financial results are better than their peer groups’. Failing to do so means leaving money on the table.


The digital heat wave isn’t a mirage. Companies and their IT organizations must begin to meet with external customers and adapt agile processes as we talked about in part one of this series. In concert with external customer engagement and agile processes, IT organizations must implement IT Business Partner or BRM programs to ensure investment roadmaps drive digital customer solutions and company strategy. And finally, IT leaders must help the c-suite by teaching them to treat the IT function just like every other business function. Collaboration between the C-suite and IT, especially linking strategy and IT, are absolute requirements in the Age of the Customer. There is much to be done and great opportunities to drive revenue. Good luck on adapting to the digital heat wave. Your company is counting on you as a leader to make the transitions happen.

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