Business Relationship Management is NOT about services or customers
By John Krogh
The industry is waking up to Business Relationship Management as a formal capability.
The Business Relationship Management Institute (BRMI®) is the de-facto go-to source for developing BRM organizational capabilities and Business Relationship Managers. Membership to BRMI is growing by leaps and bounds and there are now well over fifteen hundred individuals certified with the Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) designation worldwide.
The market is clear. Organizations are trying to figure out how to make technology an enabler of overall strategic intent. They are looking at technology to enable them to create differentiation between themselves and their competitors, or to give them access to markets they wouldn’t normally have access to. Organizations have leveraged the innovative application of technology to disrupt the market and to gain huge amounts of market share, or even to create new market demand. Even when there is no competitive advantage of the use of technology, the technology needs to be secure, reliable and available based on organizational requirements.
This comes back to creating value from technology while reducing value leakage. This is where Business Relationship Management becomes very important.
Organizations that succeed gaining a competitive advantage, through the innovative use of technology and people, all have one common trait. They have a profound and strong relationship between the IT department and the business departments. Organizations that still foster an us-versus-them relationship, or a service provider / customer relationship, are struggling to keep up. It is no surprise that organizations all over the world are assigning accountability to individuals to improve the relationship between the business partner and its “service providers”.
But what is wrong with the traditional “Provider / Customer” model so long sought after by ITIL® pundits?
ITIL is used by many organizations to get the supply-side of the house in order. By isolating themselves as distinct business units (operating IT like a Business), these “Service Units” have gained control over their services. Through strict discipline they build and govern over their services with rigorous (but restrictive) standards. They Define Services, define Service Levels and Manage to those Service Levels and then Target Improvements. They build a rigorous and dependable service infrastructure that is notoriously difficult to make innovative change happen in. At this level of maturity, the provider begins to gain the trust and the respect of the business. The provider operates reliable services. But the challenge here is in evolving to a provider that can also be a strategic partner.
The ITIL competencies and capabilities that the Service Providers success is built on, becomes an obstacle to improving the relationship. The Service Provider relies on a set of IT Goals that they attempt to align with business goals. These goals take a long time to propagate out in terms of processes, skills and metrics. While this makes for good, dependable services, it stifles innovation and more important it impedes the successful path to become a strategic partner.
The path towards strategic partner
Lets look at this problem by taking a brief look at the relationship maturity model of the BRM institute. This model describes five levels of maturity. If the ultimate goal is to become a strategic partner for the business, the organization must evolve through these levels.
- Ad-Hoc – (Loudest in – First out)
- Order Taker – (Misperceived, distrust, reactive)
- Service Provider – (Routine, challenge of innovation)
- Trusted Adviser – (Cooperation, respect and understanding)
- Strategic Partner – (Shared goals, maximizing value, innovator)
This evolution has two paths:
The first path is to initially focus on becoming a competent service provider, this path has a supply-side focus. Centred on building internal processes, gaining control and predictability. ITIL is the de-facto framework leveraged by organizations to achieve this. The focus is on a culture of structure and compliance. Organizations have a tendency to see the service provider maturity level as the objective. They climb a peak, only to realize that the real summit of strategic engagement is still ahead of them.
To embark on the second part of this journey, these organization need to change their culture dramatically. Evolving from an internal focus of rigorous standards, stability and predictability to an external focus of business enablement, agility and responsiveness. This kind of organizational change often fails and organizations find themselves unable to evolve further. The ITIL focused Service Management leaders in the organization may view it as a systematic deconstruction of all their hard work.
The second path is to focus immediately on becoming a Strategic Partner. At this moment the IT department can no longer operate and think as a distinct business unit. The value of IT investment and the associated risk must all be managed in business terms. IT begins to contribute to the business strategy at all levels, while maintaining organizational requirements. It will need to become more agile and responsive and able to take justified risk. The summit of Business/IT convergence is the target.
For organizations taking this second path, ITIL is still useful but it must be applied in the context of the goals of strategic partnering and business enablement. This means ITIL practices need to be vetted by asking if the behaviours being introduced are the behaviours of a strategic partner. Certain processes from ITIL will be useful in becoming a strategic partner, others might have to be abandoned or adjusted to get to the right results.
Take Service Level Management as an example. Many organizations look at Service Level Agreements as a way for the service provider to defines what they “will not” do for the business. It becomes a document that stands between the business and the provider. IT Change Management is another process that is notorious for adding unnecessary bureaucracy and is often viewed by the business as an inhibitor to innovation and value.
Focus on value
As a service management discipline, ITIL focuses on the “Services” and then defines the “Value” of the service as an attribute. When you are a Strategic Partner, the focus needs to be on the targeted “Value” and the “Enabling Assets” become an attribute of the value.
If you want to be a strategic partner, your BRM capability must be able to stay focused on value. You need to be looking from the outside-in. The natural tendency for Service Providers is to be looking from the inside-out.
In our consulting practice we help organizations to leverage the Business Relationship Management Body of Knowledge with just enough ITIL to make sure you can become a strategic partner with other business groups. We create this value chain reaction for you, so you can reach the strategic partner summit.
Do you want to “feel” what it is like to be a strategic partner? Ask us about our business simulation (Grab@Pizza).
Contact us for more details.
BRMI®, BRMP® and Business Relationship Management Professional® are registered trademarks of Business Relationship Management Institute.
ITIL® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited, used under permission of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.