Shadow IT

The Top Challenges Facing IT Business Partners today

Baxter Thompson Ltd, Jon Baxter

At the BRM Forum in London delegates gained some practical takeaways after participating in the BRM Forum. This is the first in a four part mini series.

Article written by James O'Driscoll, Gilbert Scott Associates.

On Friday 9th of June the 5th BRM forum took place in central London.  The session was a mix of debate, presentation and business simulation via [email protected]  In terms of the debate this was a panel discussion hosted by James O'Driscoll on top challenges facing IT Business Partners today.   The challenges were derived from a survey commissioned by Jon Baxter specifically for this event.

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 our 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.

Challenge #1: Managing the risk presented by Business Functions going direct to suppliers without consultation with IT

Also known as "Shadow IT",  according to our survey this is the top challenge facing IT Business Partners 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 Business Partners 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 Business Partners ability to build long term relationships and ultimately impact the effectiveness of the role.  Instead IT Business Partners 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 Business Partners 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, asked 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 Business Partner also, in this situation, needs to help the stakeholder/business function implement their selected solution.  Remember, relationships are built over time and IT Business Partners 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 Business Partner need to use their influence to ensure the best solution is selected.
  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 by having IT budgets 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 Business Partners need to prove, with concrete evidence, that this is not always the case.  If this is achieved the IT Business Partner 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.  


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