Beyond Service Partner

A review of the afternoon's discussions in one track at the June IT BP Forum

Parliamentary Digital Service, Gavin Berman

The Beyond Service Partner track contained two sessions facilitated by myself, Gavin Berman, with a workshop by Mark Smalley, all helped by Theresa Jacobs. In the first session I began by setting the context in which the Parliamentary Digital Service operates, providing the digital tools for two separate albeit very similar organisations – The House of Commons and The House of Lords – and the Politicians they serve in the UK Parliament.

Since the introduction of the Business Partner function two years ago, some of the challenges that we have faced  included:

  1. A lack of role clarity;
  2. Demonstrable senior leadership support; and
  3. Poor service management processes.

With some resolution of the first two issues the team wanted to consider what their next steps would be. This turned out to be calling in Baxter Thompson Associates to run a “Kick Start” one-day workshop to help remove the constraints and identify the new activities that would start the journey for the organisation to become a Strategic IT Partner.

A range of tools and techniques were introduced that looked at practical examples that  built on what Sarah Fogg had discussed in the morning (see her blog post here). A couple of examples showing the work we undertook are below:

​Challenge ​Most Significant Root Cause ​Brainstorming Solutions For Root Cause
​Poor scheduling and consensus management of IT Maintenance weekends  ​Historical focus on technology impact due to cultural attitude of department
  • ​Involve business peers in the decision making process
  • Create yearly plan
  • Make business Units accountable for decision
​Business Stakeholders arrives with a technical solution  ​Not involved in day to day business operations
  • ​“Hang out” at watercooler
  • Invite business person for a “day in the life of…” discussion / show and tell
  • Co-location 1 day per week
In conclusion, the workshop proved very useful in bringing the team together, help focus thinking in a new way and set direction on the immediate next steps to improve credibility of the whole organisation. Also, the solutions came from within the team, giving us confidence. Jon pointed out that these challenges are typically symptomatic of the level of maturity in the organisation; hence whatever the level the organisation is at, the tools and techniques are still applicable as the challenges, root cause and ideas will be different. Whilst resolving the challenge still remains a work in progress, what I’ve learned is to set time aside to continue the steps outlined in the workshop to make it a reality.
The group were then invited share the issues that are preventing them moving up the scale and initiatives they had put in place to help them. They didn’t need a second invitation:        
  • Where does a Business Partner fit in to IT? – Lack of clarity within the provider organisation with better engagement with non-IT
  • Lack of power and influence to get things done
  • Business Partners seen as interfering coming back with ideas from non-IT  
  • Resistance to acknowledging problems with concerns raised not taken on board as ‘we’ve not seen any incidents logged’
  • Dealing with some IT colleagues who view non-IT as an annoyance.

There seemed to be a consensus that as business partners we were skilled in engaging with non-IT and speaking to them in their own language but we had more of a struggle with colleagues within IT. The most striking aspect of the conversation was how similar the issues and concerns that being raised were – with nods of approval coming from a range of industries, based around the country in both the public and private sector.

Baxter Thompson Associates are willing to help other organisations focus on the above issues in a similar “kick-start” workshop. Please get in touch directly below.

In the second session Mark spoke about what he called ‘the often-troubled relationship between business people and IT people’ and looking at how that is changing in the digital age where the two worlds were moving ever closer together. The attendees were split in to two teams representing IT and the business. We were then asked to discuss and note down five behaviours that your group would expect of the other to produce a more productive relationship.

So, what five (or so) behaviours did we come up with? What behaviour does ‘the business’ want to see from IT?

  • Be honest – in terms of cost/time/effort required
  • Be responsive
  • Don’t just say no – provide alternative solutions or explain constraints (“Yes we can, if”)
  • Take an interest and understand our objectives
  • Create plans and take action regarding those plans
  • Communicate

What behaviour does IT want to see from ‘the business’?

  • Don’t be condescending regarding your specialism
  • Bring us your problem not solution
  • Involve us from the start
  • Treat us as part of the business
  • Be engaged throughout the lifecycle
  • Accept responsibility alongside us
  • Articulate the business value of your request

Mark explained that he had conducted this exercise with around 20 different groups around the world and our responses chimed with his previous research. The research is reviewed after each exercise to see if new ideas had been identified, although after doing this a number of times they rarely were. The behaviours identified were similar across the world, even in those countries where you might have thought that cultural differences would highlight different expected behaviours issues.

I found this to be a really interesting exercise, but did wonder whether these behaviours would be the same as those identified by colleagues across IT and non-IT. As Business Partners sit between the two areas perhaps our views may not be representative. An opportunity for a discussion with our business colleagues to understand thier expecations, perhaps?


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