Why ITIL Can Be Dangerous to Business Relationship Management Health
By Vaughan Merlyn
First, let me be clear—establishing robust Service Management discipline is essential ‘table stakes’ for an IT organization with low supply maturity (i.e., one that is not good at keeping the proverbial ‘lights on and trains running on time.’) If your Business Partners don’t understand or trust basic IT services, they aren’t going to invest their time and energy in developing a strong relationship with the IT organization. They aren’t going to look to that organization for the more strategic and higher value opportunities that might be made possible through information and IT. So, while Service Management is a crucial building block for any IT organization looking to improve their performance and value delivered, it is not the whole story. And ITIL® is an effective framework for establishing good Service Management discipline. However, it does not fully address the more strategic aspects of driving business value realization from information and IT.
ITIL®: Necessary, but Not Sufficient
Unfortunately, one aspect of the ITIL framework is referred to as Business Relationship Management (BRM). But the ITIL framework describes BRM from a mostly tactical and operational perspective—a woefully restricted flavor of BRM compared to that described by Business Relationship Management Institute and embodied in the APMG-International accredited Business Relationship Management Professional® and Certificate of Business Relationship Management® training and certification.
The Business Relationship Maturity Perspective
Business Relationship Management Institute’s Business Relationship Maturity Model defines five levels of relationship maturity between a Provider and the business organization it is servicing. ITIL focuses on reaching Level 3–Service Provider. This is appropriate to the IT Infrastructure domain, and certainly significantly better than an Ad Hoc or Order Taker relationship, but should not be the ultimate relationship ambition, and should not be the primary focus for the BRM.
Problems with the ITIL® BRM Perspective
Positioning the BRM to represent the ‘voice of the customer’ for Service Management leads to several shortcomings and limitations to the BRMs effectiveness:
- The BRM is seen as a member of the Provider organization, rather than as a bridge between the IT organization and Business Partner, or as a member of the Business organization (which is how many highly effective BRMs are positioned.)
The BRM is seen as the ‘go to’ person when there are Service Management issues. This tends to eliminate them as the best ‘go to’ person when there are business issues or opportunities. (Would you invite your plumber to perform brain surgery on your most beloved family member?)
The BRM is seen as a technical resource, rather than as a business performance resource.
As a Service Management resource, the BRM will not be a likely invitee to the proverbial ‘strategy table’. This tends to position the BRM as an ‘service provider’ which severely limits their opportunities to create significant value for the business, or to influence business value realization.
Once they have stepped into this tactical/operational role, the BRM will tend to become trapped by that role—the tactical and operational always seems to trump the strategic and transformational.
Leverage ITIL® but Don’t Be Trapped by it!
As I mentioned the the first paragraph, Service Management is essential for building a strong IT foundation and establishing IT credibility and trust on top of which the business can deploy capabilities that help them compete, grow and innovate. But when it comes to Business Relationship Management, establish the highest level of Business Relationship Maturity—that of Strategic Partner, and work towards that level. If you establish the BRM at the Service Provider level of Business Relationship Maturity, that is where you will get stuck, and the BRM role will not be sustainable.
Vaughan Merlyn is a management consultant, researcher, and occasional author. His primary focus for the last 35 years or so has been and continues to be the use of information and information technology (IT) for business value creation. Vaughan is an Executive Vice President with nGenera. In that role, he participates in multi-company research projects, consult with Fortune 500 type companies, and provide Executive Education. His blog can be found at http://vaughanmerlyn.com/.