Special Discussion: BRM Role Clarity and Role-to-Mission Alignment

Posted | Category: Business Relationship Management Research | Contributed

Hosted by Ivy Remoreras

At Business Relationship Management Institute, it is our mission to define, inspire, value, and promote the key traits of effective Business Relationship Management. As such, we constantly seek to expand our knowledge and share what we learn with members of the BRM community. On this quest, we sometimes encounter opinions that we may disagree with, but we welcome such encounters as they help us to clarify our own understanding.

Today, I would like to present you the results of one such encounter—an interaction between Mark Smalley, our guest blogger, and Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk, BRM Institute Co-Founder and President. Mr. Smalley’s post is immediately followed by a response from Dr. Zhuk.

Mark Smalley is a self-employed IT Management Consultant based in the Netherlands at Smalley.IT and is specialized in ASL®, BiSL®, BookStore®, Application Management and Business Information Management. He is Ambassador-in-Chief at the not-for-profit ASL BiSL Foundation and works for the APM Group as ASL & BiSL Product Champion. He is also known as the IT Paradigmologist and has reached out to thousands of IT professionals at more than 50 events on 4 continents. Follow him on Twitter @marksmalley.

BRM – A Misnomer?

There are two sides to the Business – IT Relationship

By Mark Smalley

Mark SmalleyThis article is a response to ‘BRM’ often being used in a potentially misleading way to denote both sides of the Business – IT Relationship. Mark is convinced that a clear delineation of loyalties and responsibilities, and investment in better fulfilment of business-side responsibilities is beneficial for both the business and IT. Only when the business organizes its side of the Business – IT Relationship, can BRM truly flourish and help the business to get the most value out of IT.

‘Business Relationship Management’ only tells half of the story

While wholeheartedly agreeing with the excellent guidance that I have found at the BRM Institute, I can’t help thinking that the term ‘Business Relationship Management’ only tells (or implies) half of the story. So let me elaborate, using the IT context (although BRM isn’t restricted to IT) to illustrate my perspective.

If BRM represents IT, who represents the business?

In an IT context, Business Relationship Management (BRM) represents the IT organization and manages the relationship with their customer, the business organization. But relationships by definition involve at least two parties, so if BRM represents IT, who represents the business in dealings with the IT organization? Semantically and pedantically, it must be ‘IT Relationship Management’. But most organizations haven’t yet got around to naming and formalizing these activities.

Business responsibilities

But these activities do exist. Some business person negotiates the contract/SLA with the internal IT department or external service provider. Some business person monitors the IT services, the invoices, the contract/SLA and the relationship with the supplier from a customer perspective. Some business person defines (changes to) the business needs for information systems. Some business person signs off for acceptance tests, even if they don’t execute them themselves. Some business person… I could go on but you get the picture – there is a whole world of activities that are the responsibility of the business. Unfortunately, the business often struggles with these activities, leading to ineffective application of IT. More on this topic here.

You can’t outsource your feelings

Some of these business-side activities are transactional, others are relational. In this article I want to focus on the latter: the activities that are directed at achieving and sustaining a mutually beneficial relationship. While transactional activities such as acceptance testing can be delegated (while of course, retaining accountability), you can’t outsource your feelings. Only you can determine what you think about your partner. If the business is in a coma and incapacitated, then a guardian should be appointed to represent their interests, but the partner whom the business is dealing with is, by definition, excluded from this role.


This brings us neatly to my last topic: allegiance. If the BRM is employed by IT, it is naive to assume that the BRM will serve the business’ interests above IT’s interests. This is self-evident when we are talking about an external service provider. There is healthy tension between the customer’s interests and those of the supplier. But mature partners are able to negotiate a mutually acceptable balance. It may sound harsh, but the customer is ‘just’ a means to achieve the supplier’s goal.  Commercial organizations’ goals are always linked to the wealth of their owners, not the wealth of the customers. But there are also conflicting interests within organizations, between business units and internal IT departments. Think about limited resources that have to be shared across multiple business units. Not to mention organizational politics. I rest my case.


  • IT needs to invest in the relationship with the business – BRM fulfils this role.
  • The business needs to invest in the relationship with IT – ITRM (for want of a better term) fulfils this role.
  • BRM and ITRM have different loyalties and therefore (some) conflicting but resolvable interests.

It takes two to tango. Only when the business organizes its side of the Business – IT Relationship, can BRM flourish and help the business to get the most value out of IT. So it’s in BRM’s interest to nurture business-side ‘IT Relationship Management’.

BRM Role Alignment: A Balance Is Possible

By Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk

Aleksandr ZhukI want to thank our guest, Mark Smalley, a prominent IT Service Management expert, sought-after consultant, and popular blogger for his contribution. Mark’s concerns about the issues around the BRM role clarity and the closely related problems with role-to-mission alignment are well warranted. No matter what service provider a BRM represents—as I explain later, IT increasingly becomes only one of many—a balance in the BRM role focus (or, using Mark’s terminology, the BRM’s loyalty) is quite possible.

In July, we launched the “BRM Role Value Assessment” survey research project, which we will keep open for data collection until September 15, 2013, here. For some additional information on our research findings and an assessment of the future of Business Relationship Management, please see YouTube recording of our recent webinar “The Changing Business Relationship Management Role: Past, Present, and Future.” The preliminary results I am sharing here are based on the responses of 59 practicing BRMs from 14 different countries.

BRM Role Activities Primary Focus

Figure 1. BRM Role Emphasis.

Based on our findings to date, not only close to 37% of the BRMs reported that they were able to achieve the elusive balance of focus Mark talks about, but also as many as 32% have reported their “loyalty” be on the demand or business partner side. In other words, whether the service provider is the one who signs the BRM’s paycheck or not, those BRMs who reported favoring the service provider side represent a minority.

Second, while some of the BRMs have reported emphasis on one side or another, as any master relationship builder will tell you, ultimately, it is the reason for or the why of the relationship that they serve rather than any particular side of it. Think of a parent stepping in to help resolve a heated argument between his or her spouse and their teen child. Although the mediator may take one side or another, to be successful he or she must, above all else, keep allegiance to preserving the family peace and to showing love and respect toward one another. The why of the BRM role is maximizing the business value of services the business invests in. While it might appear that, at one point or another, a skillful BRM shifts his or her attention to focus on provider or the supply side of the relationship, just like an orchestra conductor, all that the BRM is doing is following the score of maximum business value realization—the score co-written in strategic partnership with the business partner and service provider.

I. BRM Role Clarity Improvement Resources

At Business Relationship Management Institute, we have long ago recognized that lack of organizational clarity can derail the efforts to establish, properly position, and achieve the benefits of having a BRM role. Our members can find a discussion of common organizational clarity issues along with suggestions on how to address them in our members-only BRM Interactive Body of Knowledge™ (BRM I BOK™). For the general public, a blog article we published in March 2013 might provide some helpful guidance. In July, we also held “The BRM Role and Organizational Clarity” webinar where we examined BRM interactions with other key roles, offered ways to clarify these interactions, and provided specific recommendation on how to increase organizational clarity around BRM role and beyond. The webinar materials, including a detailed agenda, full-screen and annotated slide decks, and full-length video recording, are available to our members here. Others can preview the recording and purchase a complete set of the webinar materials through our public Webinar Recordings ordering page. Last but not least, through our Confluence wiki-based BRM I BOK™ system our members can interact, exchange best practices with, and receive answers from several hundred other expert BRM practitioners and consultants representing some of the world’s leading commercial, governmental, and nonprofit organizations.

II. The Current State of Business Relationship Management

1. What We Know

The discipline of Business Relationship Management is not new. Vaughan Merlyn, one of our co-founders, has been developing and deploying BRM capabilities across the globe for more than 18 years and blogging about it since 2007. Yet, more and more organizations are becoming aware of Business Relationship Management only recently. In 2011, the existence of a dedicated BRM role and corresponding process was recognized and formalized as an ITIL® best practice and an ISO/IEC 20000 IT Service Management international standard requirement. In this flurry of new authoritative guidance and requirements, it is fairly common to assume, especially among those new to the discipline of BRM, that the ITIL® and ISO/IEC 20000 definitions of BRM are comprehensive enough to provide one-stop source of knowledge and implementation wisdom on the subject. Anyone who has already tried to use ITIL® guidance, for example, to implement a BRM role knows just how misleading and even dangerous this notion might be. Indeed, having carefully compared what the current versions of ITIL® and ISO/IEC 20000 say BRM is with what we, at BRM Institute, know it to be, Shakespeare’s famous words come to mind: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Please visit BRM Institute blog, beginning with our inaugural post, for a detailed discussion of the wider definition and the many aspects of the BRM role.

2. From BRM as a Good Practice to BRM as Good Business

The rapidly evolving discipline of Business Relationship Management already covers significantly more ground than just a process and a role “sandwiched,” with or without proper balance, between an IT provider and a business partner. Although 91% of our survey respondents are IT-aligned BRMs, Business Relationship Management roles have been also implemented to bridge business partners with the Operations, Finance, Training and Development, and other strategic business areas. At Business Relationship Management Institute, we believe that maximization of business value of service, the core competency of the BRM role, makes it equally relevant to all areas of business. Therefore, we expect that adoption of the BRM role beyond its “traditional base,” the IT services, will continue to gain momentum for years to come.

We would love to hear from you!

Dear Readers,

Both Mark and Aleksandr raised some interesting questions and, while each of our discussion participants provided a solid foundation to support his argument, we would love to hear from you! Based on your experience, can a BRM employed by IT really put the business’s interests above those of IT or, better yet, achieve and maintain the thought-after balance between the business partner’s and service provider’s priorities?

Although majority of BRMs currently work in IT, according to Aleksandr, there is a growing number of them, who are aligned with other strategic business areas including Operations, Finance, Training and Development, and others. It would seem then that, in the future, BRM role would become increasingly relevant to other areas of the business organization. Do you see any signs of this evolutionary BRM role expansion happening in your organization?

We welcome your comments! If there is a relevant topic you wish to discuss with us, in the context of a Special Discussion, please let us know as well! Thank you very much for your support!

Ivy Remoreras

2 Responses

  1. viswag says:

    Mark is correct in saying that “it takes two to tango,” and the image that comes to mind is that of pair skating (ice skating) with business and IT as the two partners.

    The concern that emerged in the mid-1990s when IT started becoming ubiquitous (almost like use of electricity in business) was the failure of IT engineers to understand business needs. The usual arrogance that comes with technical expertise added to this failure to increase the mistrust of IT by the business.

    Given that business always funded IT, historically, it became the onus of IT to deliver to business needs. Which meant, clearly understanding business requirements, translate that understanding into technical parameters and build applications to meet those requirements.

    Business was already engaged in trying to understand customers’ needs and deliver products / services to those needs. It now required IT to make that extra effort to deliver on the promises made by the business to its customers.

    The BRM function gradually became more and more important as IT organizations were setup as ‘shared services’ (especially in large organizations) and started dealing with business at arms length. At the other extreme, where IT is embedded into the business the BRM function did not require any special effort. Even when there is a mixed model – combination of SSC & embeddednes – IT needs to stretch out to understand the business.

    In conclusion, the BRM function continues to be important and remains the onus of IT. For IT to be a partner in pair skating, IT has to make that extra effort to understand business moves (vision and strategy). After all, the business continues to fund IT, including the BRM function.

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