Ok, so we’ve all heard of the IT Business Partner role, but in reality, what is it AND why are there varying degrees of success?
While some would argue the specific needs and expectations regarding the role of IT Business Partner may vary by industry, let’s focus on the basics to gain a solid foundation in place for discussion.
While I’ve personally experienced mutually successful relationships between IT, business groups, external customers, and joint go-to-market arrangements with 3rd party companies, the word partner is somewhat of a misnomer. If you do a little research, you will find definitions such as:
“An association of two or more persons to conduct a business" (1) or “An arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests” (2).
The bottom line is that partner definitions are typically sterile, but the key is staring us right in the face … relationships and mutual interest!
I know you are thinking … no kidding and I already knew that. But, whether you label this role as an IT Business Partner, Business Technology Partner, IT Business Relationship Manager, or whatever title you choose, the key is you all work for the same company and need to adopt a business model approach to achieve the desired company outcome. You can throw away the “Business” and “IT” artificial titles and remember the fundamental fact - YOU ARE ON THE SAME TEAM!
An outcome-based organizational alignment should be focused on a united Strategy, typically comprised of shared goals, agreed upon objectives, and measurable activities. Strategy should be paired with Culture inclusive of values, practices and behaviors. Without the two, you will obtain less than optimal results at both the strategic and tactical levels. Success is not dependent on a classical seat at the table, but rather on the organization itself working as a Team!
So, the real question is not “What is an IT Business Partner” and the associated responsibilities but rather “What are the needed skills to be successful”.
Having interfaced with many diverse businesses and IT organizations, I can tell you this can be a challenging leap for organizations to grasp. Please note that not all the answers can be tied to a simple list of skills, as there are also many personality considerations such as maturity, rapport, communication style, etc. that come into play. However, I offer the following list to get you and your teams focused on closing this gap:
7 Key Business & IT Alignment Skills
Ability to connect the dots through a Stakeholder’s eyes with a keen ability to sift through the clutter of data to articulate the business strategy and the alignment of prioritized IT initiatives to achieve it faster, more efficiently and with a measurable outcome.
Strong consulting, facilitation and negotiation experience, preferably with external customers.
Succinct executive level verbal and written business communication in non-IT lingo.
Analytical skills to measure and drive key business decisions on process & systems to enable the overall company success.
Succinct business case development skills focused on the fundamentals:
Portfolio management skills to enable mutual prioritization of business demand.
Industry knowledge is helpful, but consulting skills and leverage of business team members is more important. The same is true for Technology as you rely on your IT background and/or leverage the IT expertise in the organization. Remember one person cannot know everything but you need to know and effectively represent your area of expertise on the team.
Are you looking for the right skills based on this list? The fact is that Business and IT-alignment has been a major challenge and top issue for more than a decade indicates that current approaches are either not working well, not focused on the right knowledge and skills, or perhaps a deeper understanding of your culture is needed to better understand how to ease into this transformation. This is not an easy challenge to address and is the reason why it continues to haunt many leaders today. With that said, I offer a few guiding principles to keep in mind as you determine your approach:
Ask yourself if you all are on the same team
Focus on levers to improve the business
Consider technology through a process lens
Incorporate a “light” business case focus to vet out top priorities
Focus on the “Why” before the “What” as a fundamental way of working
Implement meaningful shared goals, metrics and cadence to stay on course
Compare actual outcome vs projected outcome for key lessons learned
"Best of luck and remember “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” ― Albert Einstein
Twelve Oaks Advisors can help you figure this out. Our team of senior business leaders are available for consultation to help point you in the right direction. For more information, contact us and let’s have a conversation.