Summer 2017 IT BRM/IT Business Partner Forum – Findings and Recommendations


IT BRM/IT Business Partner Forum

On Friday 9th of June the 5th IT BRM/IT Business Partner forum took place in central London.  The session was a mix of debate, presentation and business simulation via Grab@Pizza.  In terms of the debate this was a panel discussion hosted by James O’Driscoll of Gilbert Scott Associates on the top challenges facing IT Business Partners today.   The challenges were derived from a survey commissioned by Jon Baxter of Baxter Thompson Associates specifically for this event and the full results can be reviewed below.

The panel for the debate were as follows:

  • Katie DeLay – Head of IT (Corporate Functions) – Rolls Royce Plc
  • Mark Lenton – VP IT: Industrial / Electronic Divisions – RS Components Ltd
  • Joanna Goodrick – Head of Business Architecture and Strategic Alignment – Cambridge Assessment

We’d like to thank all the panellists and delegates for their input in this session, which is summarised below.  A special thanks must go to Joanna Goodrick who stepped in at the very last minute.

Managing the risk presented by Business Functions going direct to suppliers without consultation with IT

According to our survey this is the top challenge facing IT BPs today and was therefore the one we spent the most time discussing.  What is clear from the discussion is that realistically this will never be fully resolved as a challenge, nor should it be.  If IT had complete control, IT BPs would simply be the front door of the department and therefore be seen as blockers and the function that says no.  This will impact IT BPs ability to build long term relationships and ultimately impact the effectiveness of the role.  Instead IT BPs need to accept and expect stakeholder’s/business functions to go direct to suppliers from time to time.  The below are the various recommendations from the panel and delegates which can be of use to overcome or at the very least manage this key challenge.

  1. IT BPs need to have a “grown up” conversation with the stakeholder/business function to understand why they want to go direct or have gone direct.
  2. Once this is understood (and assuming you’ve caught it early enough) assure them you are more than open to new ideas and you’re not looking to take control. Provide other options they’ve not considered, ask to be involved in their vendor selection process, highlight any risks and issues they might experience with all the options on the table.  Build that relationship so you become a trusted member of the selection process whatever they decide.  If you achieve this, you’ll not only be involved at a much earlier stage in the next selection process but you’ll have more chance of influencing them to your preferred option in the future.
  3. If the process has already been completed follow a similar process to the one described in point two. Highlight other options, risks etc., make it clear you’re keen to be involved next time and assure them you’re not going to be a blocker.  The IT BP also, in this situation, needs to help the stakeholder/business function implement their selected solution.  Remember, relationships are built over time and IT BPs need to play the long game.
  4. If the stakeholder/business function does agree with your suggestion make it your priority to get it delivered. Getting some quick wins at the start would also help here.
  5. Consider establishing and communicating guidelines that cannot be changed. Once they are in place the IT BP need to use their influence to ensure the best solution is selected, within those guidelines.
  6. Use legal, data protection, security, supportability etc. as leverage.
  7. Build strong relationships with procurement and IT vendor management colleagues.
  8. Be practical. If it doesn’t fit within the core IT strategy does it really matter if the business function goes outside?  However, again assure them you want to be involved.  Help them with their vendor section, highlight any risks or issues etc.  Always be building your relationship with that stakeholder/business function.
  9. Consider how to use budgets and finance to your advantage. Delegates have had success gaining greater control when IT budgets are managed centrally, rather than with the business units.
  10. Having more flexibility in your platforms can allow your stakeholder/business function(s) to have greater choice (including if they wish, their preferred supplier) without impacting core IT.
  11. All stakeholder’s/business functions believe their department is unique. IT BPs need to prove, with concrete evidence, that this is not always the case.  If this is achieved the IT BP has a greater chance of the business function picking the best solution (which could well already exist within IT, could be shared solutions with other business functions etc.).
  12. Expect and allow your stakeholder/business function to “window shop” but try and make sure you’re shopping with them.
  13. Understand and respect your stakeholder/business function are experts in their field. Use this expertise and encourage them to find out what is available in the market.

Role Conflict – overlapping responsibilities or lack of clarity

This was our second most popular challenge and again the panel and delegates came up with a number of recommendations that have been utilised and produced positive outcomes within their own organisation.  However, it should be noted that all organisations are different and therefore all IT BPs will experience different conflicts.

  1. IT BPs need to ensure their role is clearly defined. An in-depth job specification with specific details around roles and responsibilities will certainly help.  IT BPs should also ensure they are continually educating their stakeholder/business function in terms of what their role is.  Organisational charts, plan on pages etc. can help with this education piece.
  2. Some delegates went a step further and used playbooks, a more in-depth roles and responsibilities framework using different scenarios, different projects etc. They found this helped to provide even greater clarity.
  3. Ensure the core interface areas for the IT BP function are clearly defined.
  4. IT BPs need to accept there will be overlap of roles. However, there should be a core for each position that needs to be clearly described.  Outside of the core, IT BPs need to have the mind set to not get involved in a “territory war”.  Remember the role of the IT BP is to facilitate.  If colleagues outside of the IT BPs want to take over a flex element of your role, this should be encouraged.
  5. Be practical. If a member of the IT function has the perfect skill set or competency to complete a specific task, ask yourself what value do I bring by getting involved.
  6. Ensure the IT BP is correctly aligned to the relevant stakeholder/business function. There will always be conflict if, for example, your IT BP is a strategic thinker but your stakeholder/ business function only really operates at a tactical level.
  7. Make sure you hire the right people (for example if you hire a very delivery focused IT BP this is likely to cause conflict with the project management function). IT BPs are generally born not made and 50% of their skill set is focussed on the soft skills such as influence, relationship building, strategic thinking etc.  A competency framework specific to the IT BP role will help here and ideally should be used for both the IT BP being recruited in (whether internal or external) and their key stakeholder/business function.
  8. IT BPs need to encourage the stakeholder/business function to approach them in the first instance to suggest the best person for a particular task. However, this needs to be managed carefully.  The IT BP needs to ensure that once that introduction has been made they remove themselves from the day to day duties of the task by influencing the person assigned to take the lead, but at the same time not give the impression to the stakeholder/business function they are being “palmed off.”  It is accepted this process is easier when introducing the stakeholder/business function to a 3rd party/outsourcer.
  9. IT BPs should be trying to use their influence to ensure their department sits at a senior management level within the overall organisational structure.
  10. Ensure the right governance frameworks are in place.

Support / sponsorship for the IT Business Partner role in the organisation

Whilst fourth on our list, this challenge was the next one to be discussed, as there seemed to be a lot of synergies with the previous challenge.  A number of recommendations were made, including;

  1. Ensure the CIO is also the Head IT BP. Influence the individual to ensure they are introducing the IT BP function at the very start of any initiative.
  2. Ensure the IT BP sits at a senior management level within the organisation. If it’s not, influence the relevant people to get this changed.
  3. IT BPs must know the business area they’re working with. This will improve the perception of the IT BP, which will lead to a greater level of trust and respect from the stakeholder/business function.  Some delegates found hiring from the business (outside of IT) can help here.
  4. IT BPs must be communicating in a business language, not an IT language. If the IT BP can demonstrate commercial acumen (bottom lines, P&Ls etc.) the perception of that individual will be far greater.
  5. Again, hire the right people both from a skills perspective (especially the soft skills) but ensure their strengths align with the competencies of the stakeholder/business function.
  6. Ensure the projects/programmes you’re involved in get delivered and more importantly demonstrate what value you brought to the project/programme being delivered.
  7. When things do go wrong, accept that your brand will be damaged in the short term, but have processes in place to limit this damage and the tenacity to start re-building those relationships immediately.

Value Management

According to a survey commissioned last year by Baxter Thompson Associates, value management is the area least practised by IT BP community in the UK.  Sadly, we only had 10 minutes to cover this topic but there was some very useful input, which is summarised below.

  1. Benefits realisation is key within value management and needs to be undertaken at the initiation stage.
  2. IT BPs need to ensure the process is continually going up stream, using the cost of the complexity and opportunity cost as your tools, and keep on asking why. By doing this you will be able understand what the real problem is (think brown chairs or books).
  3. IT BPs need to demonstrate the value of the initiatives that are taking place. Various tools are available via the BRMP® course that can help here.  As an IT BP you need to be able to join the dots from business outcome to technology solution.  If you cannot then the initiative should not take place.  It is the role of the IT BP to make this visible to the stakeholder/business function and by doing so (and in this example halting the initiative) the IT BP has demonstrated their value as they’ve saved the organisation time and money.
  4. Getting the stakeholder/business function to take ownership of benefits realisation, not the IT BP, is also key. IT BPs need to facilitate the process but ownership needs to be with the stakeholder/business function.
  5. Some delegates have had success by using their influence to ensure all board reports by management include benefits realisation.
  6. Another interesting idea was around benefits bank. So for example, if you deliver benefits on a particular project (monetary being a good example) then this monetary benefit can be allocated to other projects in the future.
  7. For more information on benefits realisation the author Joe Peppard from Cranfield Business School is a useful source of information.

Other points of interest from the session.

  1. Those companies in a state of change/transformation are more likely to see the benefit of IT BPs. Those in BAU are by definition more day to day, which is not where the IT BP is most effective.
  2. IT BPs must realise that the strategic level you’re able to operate at will, to some extent, be dependent on the maturity of the organisation. The more mature, the more likely IT BPs will be able to have the strategic conversations.

Links and events of interest

Based on our findings and recommendations those in the IT BP community may find the below links and events of use.

  1. A white paper written by Baxter Thompson Associates on how IT leadership should respond to shadow IT in the short term and how shadow IT affects the role of IT leadership in the organisation –
  2. In Jon Baxter’s most recent UK IT Business Partner Buzz he discussed role conflict. Those in the IT BP community are more than welcome to listen to this discussion, however due to the in-depth content you’ll need to register here beforehand –
  3. The next UK IT Business Partner Buzz will be discussing value management and takes place on the 19th of July. To register your interest please go to –

Next steps

Due to the continued success of the sessions more are planned, with the next event taking place on Friday 24th of November (venue and content to be confirmed).  If you are interested in joining this session, please get in touch with James O’Driscoll from Gilbert Scott Associates or Jon Baxter from Baxter Thompson Associates

Email – &

LinkedIn – &

To keep up-to-date with everything BRM and information on upcoming forums, please join the Gilbert Scott Associates IT BRM/Business Partner LinkedIn group –