ITIL’s approach to the Business Relationship Management role and, especially, the practical applicability of the corresponding BRM process has been a topic of lively debate among Business Relationship Managers. The BRM Institute’s position on this has been that, while ITIL provides a solid framework for establishing the BRM role and taking it through the initial phases of BRM-Business Partner-Service Provider relationship maturity, the process-focused ITIL framework must be used with caution and full awareness of its inherent limitations. A framework, however comprehensive it might be, is just that—a model, a simplified representation of reality. Bearing the distinction of a “best practice” does not change the fact that a model inevitably distorts, sometimes significantly, the subject it is meant to describe.
The practice of Business Relationship Management is an excellent case in point. Whenever BRMs describe their jobs, the terms they often use have more to do with strategizing, communicating, persuading, earning trust, and influencing others—the many tasks an effective business leader would be expected to perform. BRMs meet with project and portfolio managers, they consult with or become members of Change Advisory Boards. What BRMs should not do is limit their work to strictly following a set of predefined routines to interface with similarly algorithmic Project Management or Change Management processes.
Business Relationship Management is a dynamic act of co-creation involving the BRM, the Business Partner, and the Service Provider.
In his excellent book The Connected Company, Dave Gray writes:
While processes are designed to be consistent and uniform, services are co-created with customers each and every time a service is rendered. The difference is not superficial but fundamental. A process has only one customer: the person who receives the final result. A process is rule-bound and tightly regulated. The quality of a process’s output can be judged by the customer at the end of the line. A service, on the other hand, is at its core a relationship between server and served. Service is work performed in support of another person. At every point of interaction, the measure of success is not a product but the satisfaction, delight, or disappointment of the customer.
The ITIL Service Strategy, 2011 Edition manual points out: “business relationship management is primarily responsible for ensuring that customers are satisfied with the service they receive.” There is, however, a crucial aspect of customer satisfaction, which even the most flexible linear process chain of inputs-outputs cannot address. It requires a relationship artist engaged in a collaborative act of value co-creation with the business. In an ideal world, maximum Business Partner satisfaction is always achieved, whenever IT delivers maximum business value and every request the business makes always guarantees to produce the absolute best return on investment in IT. In reality, the Business Partner is not always asking for what is best for the business. To fulfill his or her duty to maximize the value of business investments in IT, the BRM sometimes must confront the business by questioning the value of a requested service and helping guide the Business Partner toward a better return on investment. To succeed, the BRM must play an active peer role of a trusted advisor or strategic partner, avoiding the trap of turning into an obedient, but ultimately powerless order taker.