We at Baxter Thompson Associates have come to the conclusion that whilst IT organisations are effective at being a “Service partner”, they may not necessarily be effective. This conclusion is reached through assessing two different surveys sampling the same group of people – IT Business Partners (ITBP)
Whilst Business Stakeholders report that they want strategic technology insight and indeed many ITBPs we have spoken to want to position themselves more as Strategic IT Partners, in order to earn that right we suggest a simple but difficult transition: Start by moving the ITBP role that focuses on resolving service and project exceptions to one of Value Management. We suggest that this will deliver more value to the Business Stakeholders and therefore credibility. It will give greater tenure in role for the ITBP and therefore earn ITBPs the right to become Strategic IT Business Partners.
We conducted a survey last year (UK IT Business Partner Findings and Insight 2016) and we asked 63 participants to rate themselves through a series of questions whether placed themselves on a sliding scale of "Strategic Partner" to "Service Partner" to "Reactive Partner". The outcome was that amongst the cohort they mostly ranked as "Service Partner". In addition, in 2017 we conducted a further survey with the same cohort on the key challenges facing the ITBP role that highlighted Shadow IT, Role Conflict and Value Management as the top 3. These challenges in our view suggest that they are symptoms of ineffectiveness at that level of “Service Partner”.
Ineffectiveness is an issue because we see a strong cost focus in organizations today and this has an impact on the Tenure of the ITBP role, with several ITBPs looking for work. In the UK, we are aware of three companies closing down the ITBP Competency, another two outsourcing the IT department and Business Directors in at least two other companies asking directly “what is the value of an ITBP?” This is all within one year.
Consider a couple of practical scenarios:
Service Delivery Managers (SDM) and Project Managers who allow ITBPs to resolve failures in Delivery and “take the heat” from the Business Stakeholder.
ITBPs who see themselves as representing a service or project and reporting progress.
Both these aspects occur when ITBPs consider themselves as a “Single Point of Contact” or as one partner put it “the face of IT”. We believe this way of expressing the ITBP role is actually conducive to ineffectiveness. Examples such as the ITBP spending most of their time fielding escalations, chasing unresolved requests and completing tasks that could have been done by other IT peers. Flawless service and project delivery is one of the foundation stones to achieve credibility with business peers. However, if with the noble aim of “getting something over the line”, then using an ITBP as an apology for poor delivery does not address the root cause but instead drives ineffectiveness.
Instead of investing in additional headcount of ITBP for this maligned purpose, we suggest the money could be better spent on a SDM who has high standards and expectations of service delivery. Such as someone who can drive performance improvement, who can stabilise operations and who can be accountable for service failures. The same principle applies to Project Management.
Transitioning from Service / Project Escalations to Value Management
This then begs the question, “what should the ITBP do differently?” From our survey we find that Value Management is the least skilled and least practised domain in the IT department and it's here that the real value of the ITBP role can be found.
We at Baxter Thompson Associates see Value Management as a broad life-cycle discipline that encompasses:
- Defining value in terms of business outcomes, KPIs and benefits.
- Linking those business outcomes to business activities and IT activities.
- Describing the benefits for a proposed initiative.
- Identifying metrics and milestones to demonstrate when value is achieved.
- Monitoring the actual value realised.
- Reviewing the results and identifying lessons learnt.
- Coordinating continuous improvement activities to improve performance, delivery and processes.
What we often find in practice though, is that only point 3 is undertaken with any rigour – such as when submitting a business case. At face value, these other activities seem less important than say managing service or project escalations, or scoping the next project; given the urgency of new requests and service exceptions. Indeed time spent helping the preparation of business cases maybe the only time ITBPs have spare.
We argue that:
- Value Management is a fundamental capability of the IT function that needs to be prioritised, that it be adequately resourced and that all staff have a contribution to make to Value Management.
- Value Management is a core competency and accountability of the ITBP role because they have the whole lifecycle view and understanding of the business.
- Value Management is a foundation for building credibility with the business peer group. If ITBPs lead the activities described above then by doing so they create value for their business peers – leading to an increase in tenure!
In our discussion so far, there is a theme about the impact of poor service and project delivery. ITBPs can be their own worst enemy when it comes to making up service and project delivery shortfall, especially if they see themselves as a single point of contact. This makes them implicitly responsible and accountable – instead of the Service Delivery Manager or the Project Manager. It is an aspect that does not provide an incentive for service / project delivery to improve and increases the chasm between business expectations and IT delivery. This does two things: Firstly it reduces the potential of the ITBP role to a purely reactive one. Secondly it creates a self-perpetuating cycle where the value of the ITBP diminishes and where they could become a target for the next cost-efficiency drive!
We've created a roadmap that shows you how to get out of this self-perpetuating cycle. Click the link below to download our latest whitepaper and see how you can move the ITBP role that focuses on resolving service and project exceptions to one of Value Management :