I have good news, and I have bad news!

The Good News…

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) 2011 edition and the ISO/IEC 20000 standard for IT Service Management formalized the existence of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role and corresponding Business Relationship Management process as a new best practice and international IT Service Management standard requirement.  This is good – for professional BRMs around the world, for the IT profession in general, and for improving the business return on IT investments, as technology becomes ever more deeply embedded in business processes.

The Bad News…

(And I know I will get hate mail and lose readership for saying this, but…) As defined by ITIL, the BRM role comes off as somewhat tactical – not something to get business leaders salivating over their new partnership with IT, nor hungry to innovate business products and services!  Let me be clear – the ITIL vision of BRM is necessary – but from my experience, it is insufficient to drive real business value beyond a certain point.  It will help an IT organization with poor service quality get better.  But it will not help an IT organization with good service quality to excite and delight their customers with the new business capabilities that are enabled by information and information technology!

Business Relationship Manager Role

I’ve posted extensively on this role in the past – the BRM is a bridge between the IT organization and its business clients (just as a good CIO is a bridge between the IT organization and corporate leadership).  As such, it both represents the business clients to IT, and IT to the business clients.  This role has surfaced over the last 10 years or so and Gartner predicts that the fraction of IT personnel dedicated to Relationship Management and Change Leadership functions will reach as much as 15% by the end of 2013 and grow up to 20% by 2016.  LinkedIn hosts two groups dedicated to the BRM role.  One group – IT Business Relationship Management – currently boasts over 1,800 members.  The other group, Professional Business Relationship Managers currently has over 2,600 members!  (In the interests of full disclosure, I co-manage the latter group.)

I’ve conducted a significant amount of consulting, assessment and training in the BRM space, including designing and leading BRM training and development programs for global companies with over 100 BRMs (as well as for those with fewer than 5 BRMs).  From that experience, and from my ongoing activity on the LinkedIn groups, I’ve seen two distinct ‘flavors’ of BRM – “Tactical” and “Strategic.”

BRM and Business-IT Maturity

To help understand “tactical” and “strategic” BRMs and how they’ve come to be, I’ll use my Business-IT Maturity Model (BITMM).  I’ve posted at length about the BITMM.  In its simplest form (see graphic below) the model represents both business demand maturity (highlighted in red to the left of the learning curve) and IT supply maturity (highlighted in blue to the right of the curve. These never move completely in tandem – sometimes demand is slightly ahead of supply, other times it is slightly behind.  If demand and supply get too far out of whack, there’s usually a change of CIO (or a turnover of the IT organization to an outsourcer!)


The number of maturity levels is arbritary, but for simplicity let’s use three – business efficiency, business effectiveness and business transformation.  Where a company is at any point in time is a function of factors such as:

  • the industry it’s in
  • current business leadership
  • competitive and regulatory forces
  • quality of IT leadership
  • quality of service delivery

For example, the financial services industry tends to be highly information-intense, so is generally demonstrated higher business demand and IT supply maturity than say, manufacturing companies, which have traditionally been less dependent on information.  All that is changing, of course, as businesses and governments everywhere become increasingly digitized.

The ITIL Connection

Improving service delivery quality is where ITIL focuses.  According to its current owners (The APM Group Limited) ITIL is “the most widely accepted approach to IT service management in the world.”  Originally developed under the auspices of the UK Office of Government Commerce (OGC), ITIL is becoming a popular approach to service management.  Often loosely, and occasionally rigorously followed, ITIL documents processes and practices for service management.  This focus on service management is crucially important in moving IT supply maturity up from low Level 1 to mid-Level 2.

The Tactical BRM

The graphic below crudely cuts the BITMM in half.  The lower half is what I refer to as the “tactical” BRM space – focused on business efficiency and effectiveness.  The conceptual dividing line between these spaces is important.  Around the mid-point of Level 2 maturity, the learning curve changes direction.  This is also a common “sticking point” (see my earlier posts on “sticking points”) where IT organizations often become trapped and their efforts at performance improvement taper off.  In some cases, they actually fall back in performance.


So, in the pursuit of service management quality, the BRM has an important role, establishing a strong business relationship with the customer by understanding their business and customer outcomes.   But the focus is service management, as opposed to the strategic possibilities for IT capability to enable new or improved business products and services.  Service management applies most to ‘steady state’ IT services – not to transformational projects and programs on behalf of business units.

The Strategic BRM

The upper half of the BITMM is the “strategic” BRM space – focused on business effectiveness and transformation.  While an IT organization must be careful not to slip back on IT service quality and customer satisfaction, simply delivering ever-improving services will not transform IT into a respected, value-producing business partner. Sooner or later, IT service management efforts reach a point of diminishing returns. Something quite different is then needed to further improve the business return on IT assets and investments.  While the “Tactial BRM” tends to focus on IT supply management processes and activities, the “Strategic BRM” focuses on business demand management – stimulating, surfacing and shaping demand for services, activities and initiatives with the highest potential business value.  The “Strategic BRM” works closely with her business partner to ensure that IT investments and capabilities yield real business value.

Leverage the Standard Frameworks – But Don’t Get Stuck

The message here is that it’s ok to leverage standards and frameworks such as ITIL, COBIT and TOGAF – but essential to do so with intelligence!  They have their place – and a context for which they were intended – that often being UK government entities.  Nothing wrong with that, but it tends to be a context of control – not innovation.  Control can help you get from low Level 1 to mid-Level 2 – but not to Level 3.  What kind of IT capability does your business need – controlling or innovating?

Thoughts on a postcard, please!

Graphic courtesy of giffconstable.com

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