Winter 2018 Strategic IT Partner Forum – Findings and Recommendations


Strategic IT Partner Forum

On Thursday 22nd of November 2018 the seventh Strategic IT Partner forum (previously known as the IT BRM/IT BP forum) took place near Heathrow.  In our opinion the content of the day was our best yet and offered those in the IT Partnering community an opportunity to network and attend various talks, including:

For the afternoon the organising committee chose three themes that ran as separate tracks. As part of the pitch and choose session in the morning, all delegates received an insight into what they were about and then selected one.  The three themes were:

We’d like to thank all our panellists and delegates for their input in these sessions, which is summarised below.

The role of Strategic IT Partners in Digital Transformation by Liam Hogan (


Digital Transformation requires complex changes encompassing culture, operating model, organisational structure as well as business and technical strategy. Ever higher customer service expectations and emergent business models make digital transformation a must for most, if not all, organisations.

The role of Strategic IT Partners is critical to the transformation process. With the right skills they are well placed to deliver business value through advice, guidance and above all – action! This discussion explored the role of the IT Strategic Partner in transformation, how it has evolved over the last 15 years and considers what the future might hold.

Key takeaways by James O’Driscoll (

  1. The future is now. Digital is being discussed at the board level.  Your customer’s expectations are far higher (seamless engagement, lots of value added services etc. are now the norm).  Strategic IT Partners need to embrace this change, understand it and make sure we know how it effects our business.  Once we have this understanding we need to educate our senior stakeholders on the impact and try to ensure we exploit it to its full potential (or our competitor(s) will).
  2. Technology is the easy bit. Strategic IT Partners need to understand the opportunities technologies such as Cloud, XaaS, IoT, AI, Data etc. can offer to assist with digital transformation.  However, we should also realise that it is the organisation not technology that will offer the greatest challenge.  Are the benefits of the transformation understood at the very top?  Will the attitude to risk change?   Can you move away from a big bang to an incremental approach?  Can the culture become more collaborative rather than top down?  If the organisation is not ready, a successful digital transformation is highly unlikely, despite whatever shiny kit you buy.
  3. A new landscape. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  We need to move away from our legacy ways of working and embrace the digital landscape.  Think Agile, DevOps, automation, collaboration, focusing on business outcome etc.
  4. Changing of the guard? Are Product Managers in this new digital world the next generation of Business Relationship Managers?   There are certainly similarities between the two roles as both should have a high level view, own the overall roadmap and manage the senior stakeholders.
  5. Living in the real world. As with all IT methodologies we need to use the techniques that work for us, at that particular time.  For example, if most of your software is off the shelf, embracing a full Agile/DevOps environment might not work but you can utilise the elements that will.  Automated testing for example.  Moving away from big bang etc.
  6. Try before you commit. Clearly we cannot abandon all controls and rush headlong into something.  It is about making smaller investments which probe an area of opportunity.  Some will work, some will not.  If it is the latter, they will at least be cheap and quick mistakes.

All Strategic IT Partners know that the IT landscape has changed.  Digital is everywhere and offers huge opportunities.   Moving from a legacy to a digital environment is not easy but we need to embrace this change and exploit it to its full potential.  If we do not, someone else will.

For those interested in exploring this area further, Liam highly recommends the book, The Age of Agile (

A CIO’s Perspective on Delivering the Technology Vision by Ian Golding (


Ian used examples from his current and past positions to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities in bringing to life a technology roadmap to the executive board of the company. He also dived into some of the tips he’s found useful in making it a reality in the organisation.

Key takeaways

This session was conducted via Chatham House Rules so we’re unable to share our key takeaways.

Exploring Cross-Silo Responsibilities and Priorities by Matt Ballantine (


More often than not, new industry trends such as digitisation of services, cloud computing as an example mean the interactions between corporate departments are ever more complex and at times frustrating.

Matt led a thought provoking and interactive session on understanding the priorities and responsibilities through the use of playing cards! The purpose was to help broker more meaningful dialogue about activities, where they are done and who is responsible for them.

Key takeaways by James O’Driscoll (

  1. Tinkering is a good thing. We work to live, not live to work.  There is no reason why tinkering and play should not be part of our daily working life.  In fact, tinkering leads to greater innovation, something all organisations strive for, so should be encouraged.  You don’t have to be a Calvinist.
  2. What’s the point of this meeting? Remember a full diary does not necessarily mean you’re generating value; it just means you have lots of meetings.  If it has to be a meeting, make it more playful to allow greater innovation.  Use visual prompts such as artefact cards ( and CxO priority cards ( to open up conversations.
  3. It’s good to talk. Business functions don’t generally talk to each other and this is a big problem.  It is crucial to break down these silos and as this doesn’t happen in most organisations, why shouldn’t this be facilitated by Strategic IT Partners?   Think about the service(s) you provide and consider if you are engaging with other business partners (HR, finance, marketing etc.).  If you are not, start facilitating the process of working more collaboratively.  We’re all undertaking similar roles (remember the Ulrigh model) and by working together as one partnering department, we can all become more effective.
  4. Embrace your imposter syndrome. We can get away with more than we think.  Have the confidence to make up the rules as we go along (as long as it’s not in an objectiveless way).  Become the facilitator for change and break down silos.   Use visual aids to generate new ideas.
  5. Lego.  Just Lego.

Organisations are demanding greater innovation but want to keep on working in IKEA mode.  Whilst we, as Strategic IT Partners, cannot change everything on our own, we can be the facilitators of change.  By taking the first steps to encourage a closer working relationship with our business partner colleagues, to question the point of “that” meeting and to introduce more tinkering, will at the very least start the process of becoming a more collaborative and creative organisation.

Developing the BRM Maturity Model for the British Council (case study) by Deborah Meredith and Richard Coldwell (


Deborah Meredith and Richard Coldwell presented their experiences of developing the BRM maturity model, to help establish the IT business partnering team at the British Council.

The second half of the session split was into two groups to discuss where participants saw themselves on the maturity scale.  The aim of the interactive discussion was to link up and share insights between those who have made it to performing at a strategic level and those looking to move upwards.

Key takeaways by Richard Coldwell (

Recognise where you are – You can use building the Maturity Model to get consensus amongst your team.  What does really mean to be operating at a strategic level?  Honestly discuss how do you think you are performing right at that moment and reflect this as a baseline position on the model.

Breaking out the standard BRMI maturity model into themes allows the team to recognize where quick wins might be possible in some areas.  Other areas might require support from the wider IT team, such as Architecture and Portfolio Management; these can take longer to improve.

Set realistic targets with simple measures – Using the maturity model to check in with the team every 6 months and linking improvements to personal development objectives helps to keep the targets practical and grounded.  Better to give a sense of progress!

Practical examples from the creation of the business partnering team at the British Council:

  • Relationships – We started with a poor understanding of stakeholders.  The business didn’t know who to talk to in IT.  Performing some stakeholder mapping, targeted 1:1 engagement and attendance at key business meetings where possible was the first step.
  • Planning – IT strategy was loosely associated with business objectives through the corporate plan.  Consistent involvement in major programs and new demand management process was the first step towards presenting more meaningful view of IT strategy to business units.
  • Decision Making– Little or no means of prioritising with the business.  Start by building a bottom up view of what is important with key stakeholders and holding back anything reactive.
  • Benefits – Little or no visibility of costs of existing services at a level relevant to business unit.  Presenting costs and defining benefits in a consistent way was the first step.

Sharing some success – By focusing on key senior stakeholders, we started to build trust by ensuring agreed priorities were delivered.  We started to establish processes for continuous improvement, as major programs wrapped.  This created a more prominent role for business partners in change management.

Challenges we still face – Maintaining a balance between being helpful and getting overloaded; being firmer on funding for project management and analyst resourcing to initiate new work.  We are part of a supply chain… not free!  Continuing to push for “technical” programs to include change management resources.  Fostering closer working relationships with the Architecture team to introduce a design authority concept across lines of work.

Innovation Case Study& Workshop by Luke Radford ( and Zach Arundel (


As part of its shift from IT provider to Digital Peer, DfTs Digital Service created an Innovation Lab as part of its new capability in May 2017.

In this session, Luke and Zach shared the highs and lows of this journey, how they have started to stimulate, surface and shape demand for digital, data and technology and the impact this has had on the way the profession is viewed internally.

In the second part of the session, there was an opportunity to experience one method they have used to develop ideas and build consensus in their teams.

Key takeaways by Luke Radford (

  • Showing people what is possible with technology and being used elsewhere can help them start to ask better questions for their own areas
  • Focus on generating lots of ideas at the start of an innovation session and then build them up rather than think of blockers
  • Use “yes and” to continue conversations and build on others ideas
  • Make commitments as a group when selecting ideas, be clear what has been decided and what happens next
  • The role of the BRM is to stimulate, surface and shape demand and innovation sessions can be a great start to this filter
  • Start big (make something ten or 100s times better) before adding in design constraints
  • Work together to solve business problems linked to real outcomes

Managing Expectations by Jon Baxter (


Expectations, both implicit and explicit form part of the “customer journey” with our business peers. Perception, the way we feel the service has been delivered, can often have more of an impact on our relationship rather than the actual outcome itself. Jon guided participants through the use of a template that helps set and manage expectations both on what work we do and HOW we work together on an ongoing basis. The session covered a brief overview of the template followed by an interactive workshop.

Key takeaways by Jon Baxter (

Sales people recognise the importance of customer relationship management systems and the rigour required and maintaining the data in them to decide who to call, what products to offer, what angle to take that benefits most their clients, and manage the customer engagement consistently on an ongoing basis.

People who have the responsibility of relationship management likewise, need also to be consistent and rigorous in their contribution of management information to enable consistency. I would argue that is most people who have touch-points with stakeholders outside the IT organisation – not just the BRM or the IT business partner.

My experience with clients on this matter is that there is no consistency and very little done in order to manage this information. Typical excuses on why this information are not managed are that practitioners are too busy delivering. Q.E.D. Based on his experience of advisory, training and coaching I have developed a tool which is meant to be as simple as possible to implement yet also deliver tangible measurement information.

The premise is simple: a client’s expectations are typically out of sync with those fulfilled by the supplier. This is called the “expectations gap” and progress can be demonstrated by closing that gap.

By making a concerted effort to close the expectations gap you can therefore improve the quality of the relationship and demonstrate progress for key individuals in the organisation. A great way to build trust and credibility.

In order to measure progress, expectations have to be defined. A key point is not just defining what is it delivered but “how” and agreeing whether this is in scope (such as the way you communicate and timeliness of the information that you provide). Other qualities include importance of the expectation and how much progress has been made in fulfilling them.

Delegates to the taster session got a copy of my tool and an opportunity to practice defining expectations. An outcome of the exercise was the realisation that the expectations that have the biggest impact on the relationship (the HOW) are also the most difficult to define. Practice and effort here will reap steep dividends on progress and quality of the relationship.

For further information on this tool, you can sign up for “Convergence Essentials®” a public workshop, or subscribe to the Relationship Management online training, to be released shortly.  Otherwise you can book me directly to help train and coach your team.

The Partner Recruitment Challenge by James O’Driscoll (


The workshop was broken up into two key areas: attraction (so how we find the candidates in the first place) and selection (making sure we hire the right candidate).  Delegates were asked to consider both internal and external candidates for both areas.  Sadly, due to time restrictions we could not discuss retention which as a delegate from the day rightly pointed out, is just as important.

Within each area we then had three main discussion points:

  • Key challenges
  • What has worked in the past
  • Being creative

Key takeaways by James O’Driscoll (

Recruiting IT BRMs/IT BPs is difficult

We’re already fully aware of the growing technology skills shortage.  Big numbers like 1.3 million (the number of job postings for core IT positions placed by UK employers in 2017 according to CompTIA’s annual workforce study, a six per cent increase from 2016) and £63 billion (the lost additional GDP according to the Edge Foundation’s report on skills shortages) pop up freely when googling “technology skills shortage”.    I’m guessing the B word won’t help matters either.

In addition to this technology skills shortage, you’ve got other factors that make recruiting IT BRMs/IT BPs even more difficult, which include:

  1. Hiring an IT BRM/IT BP is not one size fits all.
  2. The most important skills of an IT BRM/IT BP are their behaviours and business knowledge.
  3. The role is sometimes still misunderstood.

Time for a change?

I believe there is an ongoing issue for certain organisations when recruiting IT BRMs/IT BPs (I’ve seen vacancies live for over a year).  For those organisations that are struggling to recruit it may be time to stop with the tried and tested methods, which aren’t working, and think more creatively.  If you’re in this situation, please consider the following:

  1. Don’t be fixated on the perfect match (whether at CV review or interview stage). Keep Pareto’s law in mind.
  2. Remember 50% of the skill set of a IT BRM/BP is in their behaviours. Make sure you attract and hire on that basis.
  3. Involve your business stakeholders from the very start of the process.
  4. Don’t focus on technology. This can be learnt far easier than behaviours and business knowledge.
  5. Make sure you’re ready to hire (think salary, where the role sits, how are IT services performing, culture etc.).
  6. It’s a two-way process. It is just as much about the candidate finding out about you as you finding out about the candidate.

As a community we need to ensure we recruit the right IT BRM/IT BP at the right time.  If this doesn’t happen it will impact our brand and perceived value.  If the standard recruitment tools and processes are not working, perhaps now is the time to think of a different way?

My thanks to the delegates who attended the workshop on the day and to my co-committee member and time keeper extraordinaire Thierry Ackermann (   To review a full output summary of the workshop please see below:


Key Challenges

  • Role descriptions too generic.
  • Finding the right mix of skills (business knowledge, understanding of technology, relationship behaviours, strategic outlook)
  • Getting those to apply who have the required soft skills/behaviours
  • Salary too low
  • Role not senior enough
  • Unclear job title
  • Role misunderstood
  • Restrictive internal processes
  • Location
  • Unattractive industry sector
  • Perception of the role can scare off internal applicants
  • Having found the right candidate – getting them to interview
  • Poorly performing recruitment agencies/internal recruitment functions

What has worked in the past

  • Changed the job title to one recognised in the IT BRM/IT BP community
  • Ensured the benefits/working arrangements/scope of role were clear from the very start of the recruitment process
  • Looked internally
  • Ensured they sold the company and the role to include: Career path, Training opportunities, Scope of role, Successes of previous hires, Specific details of projects
  • Setting clear expectations.   Ensured the candidate is aware of factors such as the planned recruitment process, challenges they’d encounter within the role, amount of travel etc. This managed out those who are unwilling or unable to fulfil such expectations.
  • Ensured the salary range is market rate

Being creative

  • Utilise networking events, open days and recruitment fairs
  • Use recruitment sites/search firms that specifically operate within the IT BRM/IT BP space
  • To encourage those with the right soft skills and business knowledge to apply, drop the technology focus of the role in the job description (both in terms of duties and responsibilities and skills required)
  • Ensure the required personal skills/behaviours are at the top of the job description to make it clear this is the focus
  • At application stage, ask candidates to give examples where they’ve met four or five key tasks that are specifically relevant to the role you’re recruiting. This would replace a CV being submitted
  • To help identify less obvious internal potential, frameworks such a SIFA were suggested
  • Build your band (both in terms of the company and specific function)
  • Appeal to more diverse groups
  • Ensure the hiring manager owns the recruitment process and it is one of their key focuses, not an afterthought
  • Promote flexible working
  • Push for internal referrals
  • Consider apprenticeships and/or graduate schemes
  • Remember it is a two-way process. It is just as much about the candidate finding out about you as it is you finding out about the candidate


Key Challenges

  • Length of recruitment process
  • Number of applications (too many/too few)
  • Recruitment process too generic for the specific nuances of recruiting an IT BRM/IT BP
  • Poor candidate experience
  • Recruitment agencies/internal recruitment functions not understanding the role
  • Hard to establish if the candidate has the right soft skills/behaviours in an interview
  • Unsure where to compromise
  • Salary expectations don’t match

What has worked in the past

  • Utilised competency based questions relevant and specific to the role, which could include: Ambiguity, Communication, Taking ownership, Accountability, Business outcome focused, Initiative, Relationship management, Strategic focus
  • Utilised more of an assessment style interview which allowed the company to get a better understanding of how the candidate would operate in a real world situation, rather than their ability to answer competency style questions
  • Undertook an exercise based interview (first 100 days in role)
  • Implemented a more flexible interview process including the use of video for the 1st stage
  • Ensured the CIO was part of the interview process

Being creative

  • Ensure shareholder behaviours are taken into account when devising the recruitment process
  • Ensure the process is reviewed before each recruitment campaign starts.  Focus on the requirements for this hire and don’t presume what worked last time will work again
  • Utilise relevant competency models such as Baxter Thompson Associates (
  • Profile your best employees as a benchmark for selection
  • Ensure business stakeholders are involved in the recruitment process both in terms of defining the role and interviews
  • Have a clearly defined salary range from the very start
  • Have one contact point per candidate throughout the process for continuity
  • Use internal staff to mock a realistic work situation
  • Devise a practical assessment to test the strength of the required behaviours
  • Streamline the selection process, perhaps into one stage and reduce the paperwork
  • Remember Pareto’s law.   Unless you are very lucky you won’t find the perfect match.  Instead be clear on the 80% you need for this hire and focus on that.  The other 20% is a bonus.

Developing the Agile Mindset by Matt Ballantine (


One size rarely fits all. We’re faced with more project approaches to help deliver business outcomes, yet the risk of choosing the wrong project approach may damage the credibility of the IT department. In this interactive session, Matt explored a simple framework to help understand when different project approaches (waterfall, Agile and others) are more or less appropriate, and how to be able to help make sensible choices on which paths to take when shaping demand.

Key takeaways by Matt Ballantine (

  1. There are four key modes in which organisations should look at the introduction of technology:
  • Known Problem/Known and proven solution; this is the realm of Waterfall approaches
  • Known Problem/Unknown solution: the realm of agile
  • Unknown problem/unknown solution: the need for tinkering, sensemaking to understand how emergent technologies might offer new opportunities
  • Unknown probelm/known solution: the favourite child of the IT industry – otherwise known as “PR Tech”; sometimes organisations need to adopt new technologies to show that they are innovative (see: Blockchain, AI etc)
  1. Rarely do organisations systematically assess what they are doing through this lens and make decisions about appropriate methods accordingly. One methodology does not fit all circumstances.
  2. Also rarely do organisations take stock of the portfolio of work that they have in these four quadrants to assess whether the mix is appropriate or not.
  3. Get more Lego in your life.

For further details please review my blog post:

Showing Value To Your Organisation by Jon Baxter (


Showing value to your organisation IS a valuable activity and indeed is one of the cornerstone activities that a Strategic IT Partner must do. What is value and how can we relate it back to the activities that the IT department does? Jon guided us through a method of alignment that helps create clarity in both the mind of the recipient and provider. The session included a brief overview of the process followed by an interactive workshop.

Key takeaways by Jon Baxter (

Demonstrating Value

People get into a deep funk about this topic. It seems intangible, you can’t measure it and what does it mean anyway? It is actually a great opportunity and paradoxically is one of the most valuable things we can do in our roles when working with people outside and inside the IT organisation. Indeed, it’s our cause celebre, our call to action.

The startling lack of understanding around this is probably one of the main reasons why BRM functions come and then go. Indeed, not holding the organisation accountable for value is like holding a 100-meter race, but changing the start and finish point, the track, the rules and allowing any contestants to enter; whether they have a broken leg, take steroids, or use a motorbike to get to the finish line; and then dishing out prizes on the whim and fancy of the judge (if there is one). In short, a continuation of the mess that we are used to.

The starting point with value, is to define a value proposition. It looks at WHO will benefit from the proposition being delivered, it looks at WHY they will benefit (that is, what they perceive as being valuable i.e. the actual benefits for them) and HOW that benefit will be the delivered (that is, the outcome delivered and the capability that supports the outcome) and WHAT are the measures and tests to validate the outcome has been successful.

The secret sauce in defining a value proposition, right at the beginning, when it’s still an idea being discussed or even a detailed business case is that having Who, Why, How and What defined and agreed is the outcome of the alignment process. If any of those four elements are missing from the value proposition, then there is NO alignment. You have loose ends, scope creep, no link between the outcome and the activity. A fundamental risk for any future project. Failure already built-in.

So the premise is simple: Your job in demonstrating value is to validate Who, Why, How and What for the idea / value proposition. Doing this means you are seeking alignment. Doing this means you’re actually demonstrating value. In other words, justifying your role as a partner in the organisation and keeping that discipline from going extinct. Fundamentally it’s being “proactively paranoid” as to whether the organisation is doing the right set of activities to achieve the outcomes that the organisation wants.

Delegates attending the taster session received a slide pack that discussed these concepts and a template as to how you can demonstrate value not just for one benefactor but relate it to the strategic context for the whole organisation. The method was discussed and examples shown but due to lack of time, the exercise was postponed.

For further information on this exercise, you can sign up for “Convergence Essentials®” a public workshop, otherwise you can book me directly to help train and coach your team.


Further details of all presentations and videos of the day can be found here –  You’ll need to be a member of our online community to have access and please ensure you are logged into your account before clinking on the link.

If you are not a member of our online community yet, you’re more welcome to join an event.  To register online click here –

Next steps

Due to the continued success of the sessions more are planned, with the next event taking place on Thursday 27th of June 2019 in central London.  The specifics of the day and venue are still to be confirmed, however the overall format will be similar to this event.

If you are interested in joining this session, want to contribute or have something to share, 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 IT Partnering and information on upcoming forums, please join the Gilbert Scott Associates IT BRM/Business Partner ( and Strategic IT Partner Forum ( LinkedIn groups.