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ITIL Business Relationship Management Vs Service Level Management

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Business Relationship Management Vs Service Level Management in ITIL

It is a bit like Batman Vs Superman, constantly fighting for good in their own right but also fighting against each other.

Or is it more like the caped duo Batman and Robin working together as a team against external forces?

Anyway, back to the real world, where do we start?

Probably first, saying that Business Relationship Management (BRM) and Service Level Management (SLM) aren’t the same thing.

There is a big difference between the two processes and the two roles, but there are some obvious areas of overlap.

Secondly, don’t confuse process with role.

The process consists of the activities that have to be undertaken in a set sequence, and the term role relates to those who take part in those activities and their various responsibilities.

The process of Business Relationship Management is also often confused with the business relationship manager (BRM) role.

This is because the role is high profile, and many customers identify the process activities with the person playing the role. And vice versa, the role of the BRM can also cause confusion about the process.

This is because the BRM often represents other processes when they are engaged in business relationship management business.

The same applies to the SLM role and process.

Business Relationship Management (BRM) is both a strategic and a tactical process, defined in the ITIL® Service Strategy book. It primarily focuses on establishing a relationship with the business at a strategic level.

The business relationship management process is a direct interface to customers and users.

It’s likely that the BRM will receive a number of different types of requests, which can range from requests for information about services to requests for training to requests for new services and changes to existing services.

In many cases, these requests can be dealt with through change management, request fulfilment or incident management – but some larger, more complex requests will need to be submitted to service portfolio management.

These include requests for new services, added functionality to existing services and performance improvements in existing services.

Whoever executes the business relationship management process (BRM or otherwise) should also be prepared to be responsible for documenting requests on behalf of the customer.

The primary measure of whether the BRM is effective and whether the BRM process targets are being achieved is the level of customer satisfaction.

Some would argue that the ultimate measure of success is business success.

Download our Business Relationship Management (BRM) Wall Chart, which provides an ‘at a glance’ view of the role and key interface activities.

Who's Likely To Be The Business Relationship Manager?

For many internal service providers - BRM is typically executed between a senior representative from IT (larger organisations may have many dedicated BRMs) and senior managers (customers) from the business units.

Here the emphasis is on aligning the objectives of the business with the activity of the service provider.

In external service providers - BRM is often executed by a separate and dedicated function of BRMs or account managers – each one dedicated to a customer or group of smaller customers. The emphasis here is on maximising contract value through customer satisfaction.

Service Level Management (SLM) is a tactical and operational process defined in the ITIL® Service Design book.

SLM primarily focuses on establishing SLAs and OLAs.

Service level management is responsible for defining and agreeing on the service level requirements for new or changed services, which must be done in a consistent manner according to practices developed cooperatively with design coordination.

They are also responsible for agreeing and documenting service level targets and responsibilities within SLAs and service level requirements (SLRs) for every service and related activity within IT.

If these targets are appropriate and accurately reflect the requirements of the business, then the service delivered by the service providers will align with business requirements and meet the expectations of the customers and users in terms of service quality and service targets are met.

Service-level managers can often be seen as a ‘spy in both camps’ and viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by both the IT service provider staff and the customer representatives.

This is due to the dual nature of the job, where they are acting as both an unofficial customer representative when talking to IT staff and also as an IT provider representative when talking to customers.

To avoid this potential ‘spy in both camps’ area of conflict, the service level manager should be as open and helpful as possible when dealing with both sides.

Also, customers and colleagues alike should also never be openly criticised.

Who's Likely To Be The Service Level Manager?

There may be a full-time service level manager who is the process manager for service level management and who also fills the role of process manager for the business relationship management process.

In a small organisation, part of the supplier management process may be performed jointly by the corporate procurement function (from a business perspective) and the service level manager (representing IT).

Managing this end-to-end service delivery role ensures coordination and alignment with IT and business needs. In a small organisation, the SLM may also own the service catalogue and the Continual Service Improvement (CSI) process.

Can One Person Carry Out Both Roles?

Of course, in small organisations, it often makes sense.

The problem with combining roles often comes with separation of responsibility and identifying conflicts of interest.

Unless the relationships between business relationship management, service level management and other service management processes are clearly identified, there is potential for confusion about the responsibilities and boundaries between them.

There are clear differences between the processes, and care should be taken that the people executing them understand when they are performing a BRM role based on building customer relationships and defining customer requirements; and when they are defining and coordinating the SLM tactical levels of performance of specific services.

It is also important, however, not to combine roles when there is a requirement for governance or compliance reasons to retain a separation.

This may be to ensure checks and balances within a critical activity or process.

In combined roles, some organisations refer to them as service-level managers, while others refer to them as business relationship managers, but does it really matter?

(While you are here, you might want to read this post about the job of being a service transition manager).

What Are The Challenges Of Having Separate SLMs And BRMs?

Organisations can have separate or combined process roles.

One of the biggest challenges where the roles are separated is effective communication.

The customer does not want to be repeating themselves to multiple people in the IT department.

Customers typically have a limited tolerance for how many people gather information about their service requirements.

The Key Differences Between ITIL Business Relationship Management & Service Level Management

Business Relationship Management

Service Level Management


To establish and maintain a business relationship between the service provider and the customer based on understanding the customer and its business needs.

To identify customer needs (utility and warranty) and ensure that the service provider is able to meet these needs.

To negotiate Service Level Agreements (warranty terms) with customers and ensure that all service management processes, operational level agreements and underpinning contracts are appropriate for the agreed service level targets.


Strategic and tactical – the focus is on the overall relationship between the service provider and their customer, and which services the service provider will deliver to meet customer needs.

Tactical and operational – the focus is on reaching agreement on the level of service that will be delivered for new and existing services, and whether the service provider was able to meet those agreements.

Primary measure

Customer Satisfaction, also an improvement in the customer’s intention to better use and pay for the service. Another metric is whether customers are willing to recommend the service to other (potential) customers.

Achieving agreed levels of service (which leads to customer satisfaction).

Which Process Is Best Placed To Identify Strategic Business Needs?

Both the business relationship management and demand management (if present) roles are critical sources of information about what customers need now and in the future, why they need it and how they will use it.

This information is useful, not only for defining the position and plans, but also for understanding the patterns of action that will ensure a successful business strategy and strategic alignment between the customer and the service provider.

Can We Live Without Business Relationship Management?

Without business relationship management services will still be delivered and will still meet delivery target, but it is difficult to quantify the value of the services, and there is no guarantee that the appropriate business needs are being fully met, that services are prioritised correctly, or that the customers the service provider meets with are truly representing the business needs of the customer.

Service provision without business relationship management is possible, but it is costly, erratic and filled with mistrust.

Download our Business Relationship Management (BRM) Wall Chart, which provides an ‘at a glance’ view of the role and key interface activities.

Should You Ever Outsource The ITIL BRM Or The SLM Role?

Simply the answer is no! Most outsourcing companies and managed service providers (MSPs) are not well-positioned or prepared to manage relationships with its customer’s customers.

This relationship is key to creating and delivering value and therefore only the business, not the outsourcer, is responsible and accountable for managing that relationship.

This means that neither ITIL business relationship management nor service level management should ever be outsourced. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that outsourcers shouldn’t have their own SLMs and BRMs.

I hope you have found this discussion of business relationship management ITIL useful.

We have a number of other blogs and free resources, and dedicated training courses for both SLM and BRM which you may find useful.

And you might also be interested in our ITIL® 4 Foundation training on this page.

About The Author

Steve Lawless

Steve Lawless

I've worked in IT for over forty years and spent the last twenty in training and consultancy roles. Since starting Purple Griffon in 2002 I've taught over three thousand individuals in a variety of subjects. I hold qualifications in all four versions of ITIL®, ITAM, UX, BRM, SLM, SIAM, VeriSM, and AI, and co-authored the BCS AI Foundation book. Outside of work, I enjoy skiing (or rather falling over at high speed), reading, science and technology, and spending time with my loved ones.

Tel: +44 (0)1539 736 828

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