Putting the Business into Relationship Management


An article by Mark Sykes, Principal Consultant at Fox IT. ‘Putting the Business into Relationship Management’ explores what Business Relationship Management typically means to an IT Organisation.

 

Introduction

Business relationship management (BRM) has immense value in building closer ties by reassuring the business customer that the IT organisation (ITO) not only understands their challenges but that it is ‘as one’ in meeting them, thus helping to achieve better business alignment. Having effective communication and a mature BRM process is critical for any ITO in their overall service delivery responsibilities.


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In this paper I’ll take a look at what BRM typically means to an ITO, drawing on my many years as a consultant to highlight the practices that need be employed when nurturing the relationship between the business and IT.

For those organisations considering or seeking ISO/IEC 20000 certification, this paper will also provide useful information for when you come to tackle this particular subject area.

What is Business Relationship Management?

Whilst an objective statement has been removed from the 2011 edition of ISO/IEC 20000, earlier revisions of the Standard provided this as an objective:

“To establish and maintain a good relationship between the service provider and the customer based on understanding the customer and their business drivers.” ITIL® also provides the following statement: “Business relationship management is the interaction between the IT service provider and the business.”

The BRM process has the following key objectives:

  • Developing a relationship that is beneficial to both parties and which ensures a full understanding of the customer and their business drivers and strategies.
  • Maintaining an understanding of the customer viewpoint of service delivery and facilitating effective prioritisation of services and service assets.
  • Ensuring that customer satisfaction levels attain or exceed targets as stipulated in relevant service level agreements.
  • Proactive identification of business changes that may impact the services being delivered.
  • Ensuring that the customer’s business needs are being addressed.

For me, the main point above is ‘beneficial to both parties’. BRM is a two-way process involving the service provider (or ITO) maintaining regular dialogue with the customer at a strategic and tactical level, such as holding regular review meetings to discuss past service performance and future business requirements, as well as reviewing any relevant SLAs or other appropriate contracts.

Another key aspect of this process is the measurement of customer satisfaction and also the recording and handling of any customer complaints (and compliments). I’ll take a closer look at some of these aspects in the next section.

Whilst this provides a structured approach and methods for engaging with customers I believe BRM is much more than this! It is about managing expectations, building trust and developing rapport between those involved. BRM provides a point of coordination and, where appropriate, provides a single point of contact for queries and requirements.

From the ITO perspective the process is supported by the role of the Business Relationship Manager, whose main responsibility is to be a knowledgeable point of contact, not only during service review meetings but also on a daily basis, and is someone who forms a bridge between the customer and the ITO. This role is also responsible for managing any issues that may arise and of ensuring that customer requirements are recorded, and that the register of these is maintained and monitored.

Also, this role must constantly be aware of the changing business needs of the customer in order to respond in a timely manner.

Practical Examples of Business Relationship Management

So in practical terms how can we apply BRM to the ‘real world’? The following are key aspects that need to form part of any successful ITO’s operations.

Service Review Meetings
Service review meetings are a good forum for recording topical points of shared interest.

The agenda for these meetings may vary but should include at a minimum:

  • Discussing business strategies and drivers.
  • Identifying new service requirements or changes to existing service requirements.
  • Reviewing new or changed services that are being created or have been delivered to ensure that they meet the originally stated requirements.
  • Service performance.
  • Complaints and compliments.
  • Customer satisfaction analysis.

Reviews will take place according to a regular schedule that both parties feel is appropriate to achieve the desired outcomes.
In larger organisations it may be necessary to divide the review meetings to accommodate the needs of global customers or to address the situation of where a single Business Relationship Manager interfaces with more than one business division, e.g. Operations, HR, Marketing, etc.

Annual Service Reviews
An annual review provides the opportunity for a more reflective view and will include discussions on:

  • Any changes that may be required to the scope of the current service that is being delivered.
  • Any changes that may be required to service level agreements (or other similar agreements) such as a re-defining or re-negotiating of service targets.
  • Any changes in business needs and circumstances.

Additional business and ITO stakeholder involvement will add appropriate input depending on current and future business direction, e.g. service level management, procurement services, development teams, subject matter experts, etc.

Periodic Service Reviews
These reviews, typically monthly, focus more on current service performance including:

  • Reviewing the ITO’s service delivery performance, in particular against any service targets that are contained within service level agreements.
  • Discussing significant achievements and issues in the period under review (e.g. major incidents).
  • Checking on-going actions and plans (including updates on actions from previous meetings).

As with annual reviews, don’t be afraid to invite other stakeholders as appropriate. For example, if a major incident has occurred during the period under review, then it may suitable for the Major Incident Manager to attend the meeting to discuss how the major incident was handled and any improvement lessons that were identified.

All service review meetings should be minuted to provide an accurate audit trail. It is also important that the Business Relationship Manager monitors and tracks any actions arising from these meetings (maybe via a continual service improvement plan) in order to provide progress updates at subsequent review meetings.

Ad Hoc Service Reviews
Ad hoc service review meetings can take place as and when required. This may be as a result of new service requirements being proposed outside the timeframe for a service review meeting, or maybe on receipt of a serious complaint. Also, these meetings may occur when other processes require the input of business or customer representatives, or when it is deemed better for specific process activities to be handled by the Business Relationship Manager.

Notwithstanding the type and frequency of reviews, a key responsibility of the Business Relationship Manager is to maintain a regular dialogue with their customers so that any issues are identified promptly and dealt with swiftly – better this than waiting until a monthly service review meeting and being caught off-guard!

Complaints and Compliments
Whenever Fox IT® implements a complaints process we always ensure that information is captured for compliments as well as complaints. Whilst it is obvious that any complaints need to be dealt with in order to restore customer confidence that the root cause has been identified and will not be repeated, it is also important that positive comments are fed back to any named individuals or teams. This strengthens good practices, improves morale and may link to performance incentives and rewards.

The important thing to remember is that they do need to be recorded. It may be an ‘old chestnut’ but a complaint should really be looked at as an opportunity for improvement. With a core principle of providing a bridge between the business and ITO, an important quality of a Business Relationship Manager is to take a reasoned view of complaints and not become entrenched in arguments; rather mediate to find an appropriate solution that’s agreeable to all parties.

It is also useful to agree upon the definition of a customer complaint. What one person thinks is a complaint may be viewed completely differently from someone else; so it is important to have this clearly defined. Ideally this definition should be included within your service level agreement.

Customer Satisfaction
As with complaints, monitoring satisfaction is something that all ITOs should be doing.

Customer satisfaction measurement mechanisms can vary across (and even within) organisations. However, it is the collation and analysis of the results data by the Business Relationship Manager, together with prepared responses for discussion during service review meetings that are key.

When looking at customer satisfaction though, it is important to take a wider view than just the statistics produced via your service management and systems management toolsets. An ITO can be meeting all of their service level targets, but the customer’s perception of service performance may still be that it is not good enough. Remember, with high levels of service quality come higher customer expectations.

Summary

If BRM is to be effective as a process, then over time the relationship between the ITO and the customer should mature and grow in tandem so that the two parties work together in partnership rather than just as customer and service provider. The Business Relationship Manager needs to maintain an on-going and up-to-date awareness of the customer, their wants and needs, their changing environments and business perspectives, strategies and drivers, new competitors, etc.

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