by Svetlana Sidenko
The business relationship is a relatively recent notion in today’s management practice environment. It was first defined in 2005, when ISO/IEC 20000 defined it as the process that focuses on “establishing and maintaining a good relationship between the service provider and the customer.” In 2011, the Service Strategy referred to business relationship management as “the process linking the service provider and business at the strategic and tactical levels,” while, in 2012, COBIT 5 defined it as “a formalized and transparent way of ensuring the achievement of common business and IT shared goals.”
In 2013, as a response to the pressing industry need for this discipline, the BRM Institute was established and business relationship management was defined not only as a process but also as a role, a discipline, and an organizational capability.
Bringing the Relationship to the Strategic Level
Nowadays, due to the digitization of business processes, IT departments are required to understand, anticipate, and support stakeholders’ needs for efficiency and effectiveness. The days of IT departments assuming the role of mere “order taker” are over, as the mission of today’s IT departments is to contribute to their respective businesses’ competitive advantage and become strategic partners for their customers. IT professionals now need to earn their colleagues’ and partners’ trust, and they have no choice but to take initiative and go the extra mile in building relationships with other structures and organizations.
It’s not easy to move from “order taker” to that of a strategic partner. A critical element that’s often overlooked is IT service excellence.
A mistake often made by senior IT professionals who sit at the table with business executives and interact with business customers at the program and portfolio management levels is ignoring crucial ITSM processes. What comes of overlooking ITSM? Failure to provide ongoing support, which leads to an unsatisfactory business and customer experiences, which causes a loss of trust and, consequently, credibility in the eyes of the business. In this context, the question you need to ask yourself is, how long will noncredible IT partners be considered strategic, if they’re considered at all?
What We Mean When We Talk About ITSM Excellence
If you ask senior IT executives to identify the components of proper ITSM, many of them will reference internal IT elements, such as service desks, incident management and request fulfillment processes, ticketing tools, change management and CMDB, user-oriented service level management, and service catalogs. When assessing the quality of the service management offered, one might check whether all the elements are present and whether the users appear to be satisfied.
This might almost seem fair, from the IT provider’s perspective, but the truth is that business units are not clear about service levels beyond the end-user experience and, because of the information clutter they’re laboring under and the constant struggle for priority on the backlog, have given up on understanding how IT measures availability and satisfaction. It’s no wonder that professionals outside the IT sphere don’t feel like they receive the support they need from their IT departments and are far from understanding what they should ask for or what they should do to close the gap and bring to an end the “us v. them” perspective.
With such uncertainty and a lack of transparency, it’s easy to understand why internal IT departments either aren’t trusted or are just partially trusted. Furthermore, this explains why companies often end up outsourcing part, or even all, of their IT services and spend significant percentages of their budgets on outside cloud-based applications without first seeking advice from their IT colleagues. Last but not least, if the company’s CIO has been recently replaced, it might be yet another issue springing from the same source: immature ITSM, which doesn’t deliver to business customers expectations.
Defining the Relationship Between IT and the Business
To gain the trust of their business colleagues, ITSM specialists need to expand their horizons beyond the traditional service desk, service operation, and service transition, keeping up with the organization’s growth and consistently taking initiative. What IT service providers need to acknowledge and accept is that they have to add service portfolio management and continual service improvement to their service level management and ongoing IT service delivery.
Service portfolio management is a cornerstone of strategic partnership and trust, but unfortunately it’s overlooked in many organizations. Once they’ve implemented basic ITSM processes and tools, organizations often fail to keep their momentum going. Blinded by the first positive results (“quick wins”) they get from ITSM implementation, they lose their drive to invest resources—efforts and funds—in implementing the strategic aspects of ITSM, namely service portfolio. The result is that, although operational efficiency is enhanced, relationships between the IT and business departments are not improved. The solution is to create a comprehensive customer registry as a first step toward building a service portfolio. Then, identify different levels of business units and run pilot service management episodes with the most advanced of them, to demonstrate the benefits and value of the strategic service portfolio management process. Once you start delivering results, the other business units will become more open to following the lead.
Service level management should cover technical, business and end-user services, as well as so-called professional services (e.g., project management). The key to success here is setting expectations via a service catalog. As contradictory as this may sound, many organizations are reluctant to define comprehensive service levels that are easily assessable, because they have a fear of not being able to deliver on their promises and meet their customers’ expectations. These ambiguous (or nonexistent) definitions lead to blurred expectations that confuse both the customer and the provider, and damage their relationship with the business units. The solution, in this case, is to start setting measurement criteria for service levels without establishing targets at first. For example, for the first three months of delivering new service, focus on service monitoring and benchmarks; involve the customer in drawing joint conclusions and, ultimately, set up reasonable, achievable service level targets. Taking things gradually is the first step to building lasting mutual trust.
Continual service improvement (CSI) is the final element. CSI ensures that business customers have a very clear understanding of the progress their organizations are making in dealing with challenges and implementing processes. This is usually accomplished through regular service reports, which focus on describing what the company gets from its IT provider. This information should always be communicated in the customer’s language. IT professionals have a tendency to get extremely technical, which can confuse business customer. The result is that communication between parties fails, which, of course, ends up affecting relationships. In such situations, the goal should be full transparency; the best solution is to ask the business customers what they want to see in the reports and to jointly work out suitable reporting templates that enable all stakeholders to understand and follow IT services performance.
If you’re a senior IT professional aiming to gain, or who has already gained, a seat at the business decision-making table, you should not overlook critical aspects of ITSM, as these are milestones which any organization needs to check.
If you’re a business executive, ask your IT colleagues about these aspects—you also need to be ITSM-savvy. Service portfolio management, service level management, and CSI are the major building blocks of efficient, strong, strategic relationships built on trust.
Svetlana Sidenko is speaking at Session 808: Seeking a Path to Better Relationships at the FUSION 16 conference.