ITIL® and Softer Skills - the Need for Business Relationship Management

ITIL® and Softer Skills - the Need for Business Relationship Management

IT Service Management (ITSM) is often portrayed as being founded on a process-driven approach, and while processes are useful to organize activities the core of ITSM lies elsewhere. Soft skills are and will always remain relevant regardless of how many processes are defined. So where are these softer skills most relevant?

The answer is that the softer skills are vital in the whole ITIL (ITSM) environment and not just with the Service Desk and Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role. Of course the Service Desk is seen as a key area for business relationship management although some people working on IT service desks are not persuaded that they have a role to play. Take the example of BSMImpact MD, Matthew Burrows' question to attendees at a Service Desk Institute talk about the future of the service desk: asking whether the service desk should be involved in BRM, only three people put their hand up. As Burrows said at the time: "The service desk is already involved in BRM, even if they don't recognize it."

In ITSM relationships are vital and that requires softer skills alongside the expected, professional capabilities. In crude terms, some may see the work of the service desk as logging calls and queries. But, crucially, there is a person at the end of the line who needs help and support! The increasing shift to self-service portals where the business makes IT service requests without speaking to anyone, should be celebrated as we can now automate the mundane tasks. Making them quicker and easier for the users to resolve and allowing the service desk to spend time in areas where the human touch is needed.

Occupying that "single point of contact" role, the service desk needs to build strong working relationships with people across a business or organization and have a clear understanding of the strategic requirements driving the need for IT. Then, if something goes wrong, dealing with it and the people involved is a very different experience. This is achieved only when the service desk team spends time with the business and vice versa.

But is relationship building only the responsibility of the Service Desk and Business Relationship Manager? The answer is a big NO! It is important that the whole of the IT team buys into the idea that we are all part of the same business. The watchword here is "communication"; it's about building rapport and explaining why things need to happen or, alternatively, can't happen.

The ITSM relationship essentials

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Negotiation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Trust
  • A win-win attitude

All of the above come into play whenever you are dealing with your customers whatever your role. We can really provide a service and produce real value when we truly understand their needs and they in turn understand the way we in ITSM work. For example in setting customer expectations and setting service level agreements (SLAs). Your customers need to understand their SLA's, and if they are going to breach, communication is vital. They need to know that you understand their issue and have trust that there is a valid reason that the SLA will, at his specific time, breach.

For example, sometimes, at a particular point in time, their issue might not be as high a priority as they expect due to the context of other requests coming through. If there is mutual trust this is something much easier to explain and cope with.

While developing relationship skills is a responsibility for everyone working in ITSM, the specific role of "Business Relationship Manager" for organizations - suggested within the ITIL best practice framework - is focused on dealing with the relationship between IT and the business and formalizes the process of building rapport, understanding enterprise needs and satisfying them.

Thom Salo, executive consultant at the G2G3 Americas blog says that "If there's an absence of love between IT and the rest of the business" he advocates Business Relationship Management as the "Show the Love" process which "provides the link between the service provider and customers at the strategic and tactical levels". And he adds: "Having a Business Relationship Manager allows the business an outlet and a place to raise concerns...sometimes that's all it takes."

We have evolved from being an "IT person" to an "ITSM professional". And by adopting ITIL principles we are concerned with business alignment, the importance of effective business outcomes and making a difference to the organization. And, above all, the ITSM professional has embraced softer skills.

These softer skills, aligned with processes and a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities, escalation paths and the confidence that the processes are based on years of proven best practice will demonstrate that service management is integral to the fortunes of the business.

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