Digital Transformation Through Agile Delivery
IT Agility AbilityTM
Digital Transformation Through Agile Delivery
IT Agility AbilityTM

Certes IT BRM/IT Business Partner forum

By . December 20, 2018

Date – Thursday 14th of April 

Due to the success of Certes’ first BRM forum two new sessions were recently organised. The morning session was a follow up from the first forum, with the majority of the delegates once again attending, and the afternoon session was for new delegates. 



Below is a summary of our findings and recommendations from both sessions. 


Morning session


  1. Digital vs. IT and how this affects the BRM function?
  2. The speed of change within IT and how the BRM function can help?



James O’Driscoll – Principal Consultant at Certes Computing

François Mounier – Head of Business Engagement and Solutions at Peabody

Joanna Goodrick – Head of Business Alignment and PMO at Cambridge Assessment

Tony Michaels – Lead IT Business Partner at Skanska UK

Chet Patel – Head of Business Relationship Management for IT at Deloitte

Emma Feltham – Head of IT Customer Service at National Trust

Sarah Nelson – Business Relationship Manager at The NEC Group

Rob Norrish – Interim BRM at Guy’s and St Thomas' NHS Trust

Aslam Osman – Head of IT Strategy and Engagement at Macmillan Cancer Support


We started the session with the following topic:


Digital vs. IT and how this affects the BRM function?

All delegates agreed digital is becoming less of “a word” and becoming more prevalent within their organisation.  There is a far greater demand internally to become “more digital” from CxO level downwards due to the benefits it brings both internally (for example a more accessible workforce) and externally (for example a better service using fewer resources). However, all delegates also agreed there are also much higher demands from customers (both internal and external) due to this digital revolution.


Key issues from a BRM perspective include:

  1. Where should the digital function sit within the organisation?
  2. How does IT interact with digital?
  3. The speed of technological changes within digital and how that affects projects?
  4. What impact does digital have on security?
  5. Who manages content?
  6. How does the digital agency (either internal or external) operate?


Key findings/recommendations:

1. Whilst there wasn’t a general consensus as to what works best in terms of where the digital function sits, it was agreed that BRM has to be the key broker between all departments involved in digital projects.  The BRM also needs to influence a better interaction between the digital function and IT.

2. If digital sits outside of IT there was a good case for bringing in a Head of IT Digital (or BRM digital champion) that essentially works closely with the Head of Digital within the business.  This has worked very well at the National Trust having just recently completed a significant two-year digital transformation programme.

3. Due to the fact that technology is changing so quickly in this space, projects need to be started quickly and you should not spend too long on business cases.  If you spend too long setting up the project the technology will be obsolete. In addition:

  • Most of what is required from a technology perspective can be found off the shelf/outsourced.  Whilst it may not absolutely meet with the long-term strategy if it meets most of the requirements (80/20 rule) it should be strongly considered.
  • Don’t just give your stakeholders traditional IT solutions. As a BRM you should encourage experimentation (even if you don’t have a solid business case) and look at lots of different possibilities, especially outside of your sector and usual technology path. This will help break the conversation of “what do you want” and “what can I have” between the BRM and stakeholder.
  • If more off the shelf technology/outsourcing is utilised, the BRM needs to be aware and educate the business around security and data implications.

4. The BRM is key in terms of educating the business around data and security, especially if more off the shelf technology/outsourcing is being utilised. The BRM must be willing to have difficult conversations with the business and become more of a broker.

5. Content is a key success factor to any digital project or programme. The BRM needs to ensure there is a single custodian for the content and that it is continually updated.

6. Wherever the digital agency sits (internal or external) the BRM needs to ensure they have a clear directive and roadmaps.  This will ensure they don’t operate as a “typical agency” and just try and take on as much work as possible.



Other findings/comments:

  1. It is difficult to plan more than two years in advance when it comes to digital programmes.
  2. CIOs should consider merging the BRM and architectural functions into one.
  3. Accept that digital is new to us all and BRMs shouldn’t beat them themselves up that they don’t have all the answers, yet.


The speed of change within IT and how the BRM function can help?

All delegates agreed on another key topic in the ever changing world of IT was concerned with data and analytics. 


Key issues from a BRM perspective include:

  1. Who is responsible for data and the quality of data?
  2. A lack of understanding by the business in terms of the link between IT and data and the importance of data?


Key findings/recommendations:

1. BRMs need to ensure the IT function stewards the data but does not own it.  Data and MI should therefore be moved into the business and the BRM should educate them to ensure they realise that whilst IT stores the data they do not have responsibility for the quality of that data. In addition:

  • The data quality is vital and its responsibility should be held at a business until level. IT should not be relied on to clean up the data.
  • Utilising super users at a business unit level could help with data quality.
  • Data quality cannot be the responsibility of just one person.

2. Aside from educating the business in terms of IT’s responsibility for data, BRMs can use simple anecdotes relating to that particular person’s role within the business, to help them understand data, its importance and their role within in.


Other subjects discussed

Ownership of projects/benefits realisation


Key issue from a BRM perspective:

  1. The delegates all agreed that as IT almost always has some involvement in any project, the business will try and hold IT responsible for the delivery of that project.


Key findings/recommendations:

  1. BRMs need to ensure that at the start of any project there is a clear distinction between a pure technology project (keeping the lights on) and a business change project. For the latter, once that distinction has been made the BRM should ensure the business is aware they are accountable for the project. This can be achieved via benefits realisation (see below).       
  2. When IT is only an element of a business change project, BRMs should educate the business of this fact. Using process maps can highlight this and help IT to push back to the business in terms of ownership.
  3. The business can become disengaged when they realise they need to be more involved in a project then they had hoped to be.  If that occurs there is no harm “putting the brakes on” a project, making it clear this was due to a lack of business engagement.  If this does happen, the BRM must then be willing and able to have difficult conversations with the business. Again benefits realisation would help with this.
  4. BRMs should use benefits realisation, benefits maps and business cases more. It makes everything more accountable and measurable and can help push projects along if they have started to lapse and assist BRMs to push back on projects once the IT element has been completed. It should ensure the business remains accountable for the project. 


Afternoon session


How has the BRM evolved to include:

  • Transition from account manager to strategic business partner and where are people on this journey?
  • What successes/failures have you encountered?
  • What have you learnt?
  • What are your future plans in relation to this journey?



James O’Driscoll – Principal Consultant at Certes Computing

Nuzrul Haque - Director IT – UK&I and Continental Europe at AECOM

Andrew Rose – Relationship Manager at University of Cambridge

Chris Simms – Senior Business Relationship Manager at Thames Water Utilities

Andy Holt – Senior IT Business Partner at Towergate Insurance

Jon Baxter – Managing Director at Baxter Thompson Associates

Andrea Harwood – IS Business Relationship Manager at Wessex Water

Roger Jones – Business Partner – GEP Europe | Business Technology at Pfizer

Gill Beer – Business Relationship Manager – Pricing & Commercial Effectiveness at Electrocomponents


The following themes stood out from this session:

Culture is key

  • In order for a BRM function to be successful, the culture needs to be collaborative throughout the organisation.  If this culture does not exist a BRM function should not be implemented.  Just hiring a BRM function to make IT more strategic will not work if the business is not ready.
  • How a BRM operates (in terms of how strategic) is very closely linked to the culture and maturity of the organisation. If the business, business unit or stakeholder is not strategic, there is no way a BRM can be.
  • People should consider individuals within the business who demonstrate the right relationship competencies for a new BRM team, rather than hiring in a BRM team.
  • More senior BRMs should demonstrate greater levels of adaptability as they’ll need to alter their style and approach to a greater extent due to a wider remit.  More junior BRMs can be more fixed in terms of their current adaptability competencies but both the individual and their manager should be thinking about what training needs will be required (if any) in this area.
  • There should be clearly defined core competencies for all partners (HR, IT, Finance) within the business.


Tactical vs. Strategic

  • The panel felt that in the real world a BRM operates as both an order taker and a trusted/strategic partner and will depend on the level of the stakeholder, culture of the organisation, stage of the project etc. 
  • BRMs need to accept that their role will never operate at one fixed level but they should aim for a mix (ideally 25% day-to-day, 25% overseeing and 50% strategic scoping).
  • BRMs still have to do “secret account management” undertaking tactical elements of a role (fixing someone’s laptop for example) even in a more established/strategic BRM functions.  These quick, tactical wins can help get a seat at the table for more strategic conversations.  The difficulty then remains staying there.
  • CIO and CEO buy-in is important for the success of a BRM function and will help you start those strategic conversations.
  • BRMs can use escalations (especially in an under-invested IT function) to start more strategic conversations, however, the perception of IT will be damaged if nothing improves after the investment.  BRMs need to ensure that if they use this method, IT has the required capability.
  • BRMs need to realise that it takes time to move up the strategic ladder.  You shouldn’t expect results overnight but when you’re invited to help solve business solutions (rather than IT ones) you know you’re on your way.


How to say no, without being the department of no

  • Find a common language with your stakeholder.  This will help build relationships and your ability to manage their expectations.  
  • Define the vision and capabilities at the start of a project and take them through a journey of the project and potential outcomes.  Use business risks to highlight issues with proposed projects.
  • Try and ensure you are responsible for the governance of IT spend.
  • If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve not been involved in a project decision from the very start, try and take it back to the business case.  Avoid being stuck at the technology stage if you can.  Process maps/workflows can help here, especially if you want to push back.
  • Know your business, know your IT capabilities and know your external environment.  If you know all of these you can push back and have the confidence that if it is escalated (and it normally will) your decision will be validated by senior management.
  • Have the confidence that as a BRM you have a greater breadth of knowledge than your peers.  Such a breadth allows you greater visibility of the wider environment and ensures you have the ability to make more educated decisions. 
  • If you do push back, give other options.
  • If the business stakeholder is adamant, consider allowing the process to continue. It will fail (if you’re right) and this will educate the stakeholder, whilst not damaging your relationship.


Education, education, education

  • The BRM has a role in educating IT colleagues in terms of what the business is looking to achieve. The level of information needs to be relevant to the level of the individual (e.g. a member of your helpdesk staff would require different information to a Head of Department).  This will help improve the perception of IT with the business.
  • Use internal PR and communications to help demonstrate the value of the BRM function, such as savings, ROI, increased customer satisfaction by X% etc.
  • Metrics (risk reduction and opportunity maximisation) and workshops can also help educate the business in terms of what value a BRM function brings.
  • BRMs need to make clear on an ongoing basis that it’s not in their interest for projects to fail.


Peer relationships

  • All relationships are key for a BRM, however, different organisations have different key peer relationships within IT that need to be developed.  BRMs need to identify and begin building on these quickly when starting a new role.
  • Once these key peer relationships are identified and the relationship building has started to take shape, begin working on their “lieutenants”.   
  • If introducing a BRM function there will be conflict from other departments, especially within IT in terms of role boundaries.  BRMs need to ensure each role is clearly defined, ideally on a person by person basis, drawing out the competencies and strengths of individuals rather than on a one rule fits all basis.



  • The consensus from the panel was that the IT function is becoming more business facing and in terms of technology, people external to their organisation are better equipped to provide technical solutions.
  • BRMs should therefore see vendor management as part of their role.  They should not own the vendor but should be involved in the selection process and have an influence/relationship with that vendor once in place.
  • As there is a move to more off the shelf technical solutions, BRMs also need to ensure they are abreast of what current and relevant sector vendors are currently offering in terms of software and services and planning in the future.


Next steps

Due to the continued success of the sessions, more are planned.  The next event will likely be in the form of various members of the group presenting their current BRM strategies to an open floor, followed by Q&A.  If you are interested in joining this session please get in touch with James O’Driscoll:


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To keep up-to-date with everything BRM and information on upcoming forums, please join Certes' IT BRM/Business Partner LinkedIn group.





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