The rise of the interim IT Business Partner
Over the last few months I’ve seen a steady increase in the number of companies advertising for interim IT Business Partners. What has always confused me (and still does) is why organisations would want to hire someone in that particular role on a short-term basis?
Clearly interims are an integral part of the IT landscape and offer many benefits such as reduced time to hire, the ability to hit the ground running from day one, their flexibility, etc. They are utilised for many reasons, including:
- To meet short-term skill or capacity demands
- Upcoming demand is uncertain
- To undertake a specific task
- To work on a discrete/political project
- To avoid headcount issues
- The urgency of the project of work necessitates an immediate starter
However, now consider the role of an IT Business Partner. They’re a facilitator or the glue between IT and the business. They are someone who has oversight of many projects and pull the strings in the background. They use their influence to ensure the right projects are initiated and help ensure these projects are completed on time and in budget. They do all of this without having the ultimate mandate. And how do they do that? Through forming and retaining many relationships throughout the business and IT, which takes time.
This last sentence takes me back to me original question, why are more and more companies looking to hire interim IT Business Partners? A huge part of an IT Business Partner’s skill set (most say 50%) is around the soft skills and a significant element of that 50% is relationship and trust-building competencies. You are simply not going to walk into a meeting room (or even get a meeting) with a senior stakeholder and operate at a strategic partner level (or in fact anything above order taker) if that stakeholder doesn’t know you and more importantly trust you. IT Business Partners need time to build such a relationship (say 12 months) in order to operate at a strategic level, which an interim simply doesn’t have, as the expectations on them are far more time-constrained (i.e. interims come in on day one and get stuff done). Plus, consider the fact that if an interim is in place they will, at some point, leave and presuming they are replaced with another interim or permanent person; the relationship has to start again. That is clearly frustrating for both parties and, presuming the stakeholder has initially been happy to spend the time building such a relationship, there must be a danger they could lose any interest to do it again. If that happens the likely outcome is whoever takes over ends up being stuck lower down the maturity model, without any real chance of moving up the ladder.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not against interims in any way as I strongly believe they offer many benefits. I also know of a number of very good IT Business Partners who only work in this space, but I’d always assumed they were the exception to the rule (most come in to establish an IT Business Partnering function). Finally, I do appreciate that permanent staff also move on and whatever relationship they have formed will go with them. However interim are just that, interim. They are definitely going to leave at some point in the near future and due to the nature of the IT Business Partner role, where the IT Business Partnering community wants operate at (i.e. strategic partner) and the time it takes to form a strong relationship that allows someone to operate at that level, surely the two just don’t fit very well together.
Your thoughts and comments are, as always, very welcome.
James O’Driscoll BRMP®