Many IT shops are starting to implement a Business IT (BIT) organization, a group that's familiar in many large companies and increasingly present even in small and medium organizations. BIT is usually oriented toward a business function like supply chain or human resources, and in many ways serves as the internal consulting organizations I've long advocated, providing everything from requirements gathering and project management expertise to vendor selection and strategy.
Done well, the benefits are rather obvious. Rather than requiring high-priced consulting expertise, BIT delivers project-oriented services with superior internal knowledge and connections, all at a lower price. Done poorly, however, and BIT looks like the ultimate in corporate dysfunction: a "man in the middle" organization that adds overhead and wasted time, with little benefit.
Do you need BIT?
Like many trends, establishing a BIT organization is conceptually fairly simple, yet difficult to do in practice, particularly since the success of a BIT organization rests primarily on its ability to acquire the right talent. Furthermore, this is an expensive endeavor. Even if you can build a high-caliber BIT organization with equivalent hourly rates that are a fraction of a well-known provider, if you don't have work available that's appropriate for a BIT organization, it's an unnecessary cost.
Organizations that would benefit from BIT are generally experiencing IT growth and are awash in IT projects. These might range from consolidating legacy software onto new platforms, accommodating a merger or divestiture, or acting as the sole provider of internal IT services, parceling out the technical aspects of IT to cloud providers and implementation partners. If you're increasingly seeing consultants hanging around your corridors for 6-18 months or more, it's probably worth developing some of those capabilities internally under the guise of BIT. If projects and consulting help are rare, you're unlikely to benefit from creating a standalone BIT organization, and can often simply add a resource or two to your existing IT organization to provide project management, strategy, or consultative expertise.
Doing BIT right
The most effective BIT organizations have three general types of employees. First off, BIT requires strong leaders who can effectively assemble and push their teams to complete projects that are often on tight timelines with business-critical deadlines. Secondly, supporting these leaders are strong project managers. Larger BIT organizations will often have a whole project management team that runs a cross-project program management office (PMO), provides standards for delivering projects, and helps coordinate with vendors and their project managers. Finally, the core employees of a BIT organization are generally people who worked in business roles or as external consultants prior to being brought onto a BIT team. The most technical of the core team will generally serve in architecture roles, where they define the functionality or high-level technical infrastructure that will support the company and leave it to the IT teams to implement.
To identify staff that will be successful in a BIT role, internally look for department heads and functional managers who are successful leaders, familiar with a business process area, and have a good functional knowledge of that department's systems and processes. There's also no shame in offering long-running consultants full-time employment, or looking for current and former consultants who have been successful in project-oriented roles at other organizations.
Avoid IT 2.0
The biggest mistake you can make when building a BIT organization is effectively creating two IT organizations with similar objectives and similar capabilities, effectively buying the same thing twice. Clearly delineated roles are helpful, for example determining which side "owns" project management and decision making, and certain areas of the technical infrastructure (e.g., configuration vs. technical development).
Also ensure that BIT is adding capabilities to your organization. If they're merely gathering requirements that IT is perfectly capable of capturing, and serving as overhead more than additional value, it's time to rethink their focus.
For many organizations, the concept of dedicated project management and combined technology and business expertise sounds great but is simply unaffordable. However, rather than building this as a standalone capability, shift resources internally to allow for a project manager or two, or part-time consulting help, to work on the larger picture for your existing IT organization. Combine this with prevalent cloud services, and you can refocus resources who were taking care of internal systems on more business-focused areas, providing twice the bang for the buck on transiting to externally-hosted applications.
Even if you avoid implementing a full-scale BIT organization, it's worth identifying BIT-type capabilities that would be beneficial to your IT group and filling any gaps that exist. Increasingly IT is about solving business problems rather than maintaining technology, so the sooner you build these capabilities, the better equipped your IT shop will be in the long term.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.