BRM: Is it time to disrupt ourselves?

Question: As the workforce becomes ever more tech savvy and accustomed to online and remote engagement is there space for AI and automation in our roles.

When it comes to thinking about the future I am always conscious of something that Chris Yapp once said – “the more certain you are, the more likely you are to be wrong.” I have said in a previous post that one of my rules for life is have small toes. That way no-one will stand on them. Another rule for life is to assume that you’re wrong until proven otherwise. Experience shows, going into a situation with this assumption means I have the mindset of a learner, the constant newbie, and can to see things from a new perspective.

The other thing I have found myself saying a lot recently is that models are great but their purpose is only to allow us to be “less wrong”. No model will make you right but they can help to find a path through the complexity and chaos that you may be encountering.

So it is when we come to think about the future of the BRM role, indeed any job. We can approach it from the perspective of the future of how we work. We could approach from the perspective of work to be done. I have previously worked with an organisation to develop a model for future thinking that took a technology or emerging trend and asked:

  • What impact could this have on the work that we do?
  • What impact could this have on the way we do our work?

The work we do takes the view of the customer, industry or business model we’re operating. The way we do our work is about our internal approach – the productivity of employees. The technologies that should be given the most time are those that have a significant impact on both those points.

If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, and I would encourage you to do so, then there are worse places to start than with Daniel Susskind. Daniel’s books: The future of the professions and A World without work both worthy of reading.

As for the BRM and the question posed then my answer would be that yes, there is space for artificial intelligence and automation but that this is the wrong way to start the conversation. Technology should always be about enabling something, about solving a problem, about being able to unlock a different future because of its benefits. Starting with the technology and seeing where we could use it isn’t a wasted exercise but we should be careful about pursuing it simply because it is an option.

To return to the strapline I’ve advocated for BRM’s to use – Surface, Stimulate and Shape demand – there is something at each of those points where AI could be doing something that would open up new possibilities. On their own, I’m perhaps less convinced that they are directly useful but they may be a component. If we can create a “digital twin” for our organisation and explore new scenarios, experiment with parameters and run early tests then that opens up new ways to generate ideas.

The other aspect for the BRM is being able to automate the lower order tasks that remain necessary to complete. We want to avoid being ‘order takers’ but on occasions, this needs to be done – here automation may be helpful. It should be an intentional and considered decision not just because the technology is there. The danger of automating a bad process, or automating too early, is that you force something through the pipe without the critical analysis.

To return to Daniel Susskind, he’s taken the view that original creative through isn’t necessarily the preserve of humans. I’m not convinced that this is true – if necessity drives innovation and curiosity opens new doors, why would a robot do this? In saying this I return to my rule – assume I am wrong here also!

The best thing about this question is that it has been asked. By asking the question we open up new options for discussion. The answer, and it is often the case, is less important than the conversation that takes place.

There are many other resources available but one that I came across this week and so is most recent in my mind is this Executive Primer on AI. It’s got some specific ideas that are different to many other perspectives I have taken and regardless of your views on McKinsey, it remains a good starter for thought and conversation.

As for the BRM then I doubt their future will be impacted by robots so much as the reshaping of the organisation in such a way the role is no longer needed because digital organisations understand how best to operate without the supplier-customer mindset in their internal operations. Our aim should be to do ourselves out of a job long before the machines take over.

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An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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