The perils of in-house IT projects: 5 common pitfalls to avoid

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For as long as organisations have undertaken long and complex IT projects, there’s been debate over whether it’s wisest to keep this work in-house or contract it out to another company. On the one hand, it’s argued that no-one can beat a business’ own employees for knowledge of its requirements and preferred workflow; on the other, advocates of outsourcing say that for a big project to succeed, the advice and support of an expert is non-negotiable.

So, in-house versus outsourced IT development: what’s better? The truth is, there’s no single correct answer to this one – in almost any instance, there are compelling arguments on both sides of the debate. What’s more, with the right skills and attitudes, in-house and outsourced work alike can deliver the goods.

Of course, as any experienced systems integrator will tell you, not all in-house IT projects are undertaken for the right reasons. Time and time again, organisations make the mistake of opting for what seems like the easiest, cheapest route, not recognising that the contribution of a third party could be critical to the project’s success.

Here are five of the pitfalls that most often cause organisations to stumble when they attempt to develop complex systems in-house. They demonstrate that sometimes, an expert’s hands and eyes aren’t just a nice thing to have – it can be impossible to get the results you want without them. Has your business ever found itself in one of these fine messes?

You attempt an ambitious project despite a skills gap

Many of the IT projects that organisations are undertaking today are unprecedented in terms of scope and scale. Take the current hype for business intelligence, for example – big data has become one of the 21st century’s first must-have technologies, even among companies that aren’t 100 per cent sure of what it actually means.

Let’s say you’re planning a business intelligence project of your own. You might have a couple of handy SQL developers on your payroll, but have they ever attempted something on this scale before? Probably not – you’d be better off calling in someone who has a proven track record of applying their technical expertise to actual business intelligence projects. A specialist big data developer, basically.

You fail to keep your budget in check

In-house IT development is often favoured over outsourced work for the simple fact that it’s seen as more cost-effective. However, this is sometimes a false economy. Putting your developers to work on a big project can take a huge chunk out of their time for a prolonged period of time, and there’s no guarantee they’ll apply themselves with the same level of dedication as an external team that has a set budget and deadline. At any given time, the average IT department has lots to contend with – delays, sadly, are inevitable.

Add to this the costs you incur through hiring, support, and developers’ hardware and software expenses, and you might be looking at a much bigger bill than if you’d brought in a third party contractor.

You allow internal politics to get in the way

One of the great things about bringing in an external contractor for IT development is that you get a fresh, outsider’s perspective on your organisation’s bottlenecks vis a vis efficiency, productivity and communication. Use an in-house team, on the other hand, and your efforts might well end up undermined by internal politics – IT decision-makers won’t talk with business managers, business managers won’t talk to end users, and so on.

A competent contractor is often far better at unifying the stakeholders of a project than the stakeholders themselves, taking a top-down view of business value but also paying close attention to the requirements of individual end users. At the end of the day, it’s this breaking-down of barriers that delivers results.

You refuse to ditch legacy systems that are holding you back

Along the same lines, it can take an outsider’s eyes to recognise where an organisation’s legacy systems are holding it back. If your developers are forever finding new workarounds to extend the functionality of a long-in-the-tooth platform, terrified that replacing it is beyond the scope of their abilities, perhaps it’s time you called in the experts to come up with a 21st century alternative.

Your methodology doesn’t suit the project

Finally, it’s important to remember that in the world of IT development, different methodologies suit different types of work. You might have the best in-house team in the world when it comes to formal methodologies like waterfall development, but that might not be the best model for your next project – if you’re planning a complex intranet, for example, the skills you’ve picked up building applications for manufacturing won’t always transfer over.

If your organisation is undertaking a big, expensive project that could either be a massive success or an embarrassing failure, it should go without saying that you need the flexibility, scalability and rapid feedback cycles of agile development. If you don’t have these skills in-house, it’s not a good idea to try and make do – it’s time to bring the experts in.

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