Two years ago, David Anderson became CIO of CH2M Hill, a $6B engineering and construction firm. Though his IT staff was very talented, he inherited what he describes as “tribal IT” - an IT organization where “several teams and key individuals had significantly more control and authority than they should, and one where the overall group was internally focused on keeping the infrastructure and applications running, not on leveraging technology to enable the business,” he says.
He also found that IT was consistently in reactive mode: after the company had won a bid for a major new project (like the Panama Canal expansion or the new Doha Expressway in Qatar), project managers would come to IT and ask for its support. “Then, we’d have to find someone in IT who had specific project management, infrastructure, and applications experience, and send the individual onsite with the project team for an undetermined period of time,” says Anderson. “We were reacting, rather than being strategic, and we’d have to deal with the disruption of carving out one of our people to dedicate to the project.”
Prior to joining CH2M Hill, Anderson spent years working within the engineering and construction industry as an IT executive and leading a national consulting practice focused on project and service centric businesses. “In the engineering and construction industry, it’s not uncommon to have an IT organization whose primary efforts center around keeping the lights on,” he says. “At CH2M Hill, my team and I wanted to make IT an enabler to move the business forward, and we knew that by forming a group within my organization that was outwardly focused on the business, we would add value to our engineering and construction business prior to their winning the contract.”
The Business Alliance Group
So, Anderson built what he calls a “business alliance group,” which is a team of six senior people who are engaged with bid teams before, during, and after major proposals are submitted. “The team is made up of very senior people who have been around IT, the industry, and this company for a long time,” says Anderson. “They engage the business early, contribute to the proposal process, and have the time and insight to structure the IT project support team appropriately.”
CH2M Hill has 10 primary lines of business spanning water, power, energy, environmental, government, transportation, and more. Each person in the business alliance group is dedicated to one or two of the businesses from proposal through to delivery. “Five members of the team were already in IT when we formed the group,” says Anderson. “We pulled the sixth from one of our businesses.”
Members of the group have visibility into each of the major opportunities coming into the sales pipeline (via the company’s CRM system). “We scan and review the pipeline,” says Anderson. “What are the long term programs going to be? Which projects are likely to require a heavy IT element? What are the business opportunities with the highest potential risk?” With detailed knowledge about each new opportunity, members of the business alliance group then engage in the bid process – from proposal preparation to client bid review meetings. As a result, these IT leaders are now officially a part of the red team, which is essentially, the dream team put together to secure the new business.
Upon contract award, the business alliance group selects one member of the IT team to work on the project, typically from one to six months, and then engage with the client and business project owners to backfill IT resources to support the project until it is complete.
One of the true benefits of the business alliance group is that it allows IT costs and processes to be built into the project from the beginning. “Before we set up the group, the project team would come to IT after the contract was awarded,” says Anderson. “Often times, the project team had not incorporated all of the IT components into the bid package: hardware, networking, software and applications, security, backups, and the ongoing IT labor costs. “By getting out in front of the contract, everyone now understands the project’s true business requirements, budget, timeline, and margin potential”.
The second benefit, and no less significant, is that the business alliance group allows Anderson to move the overall discussion of IT from cost to value. “When we put this group together, it began as an overhead cost,” says Anderson. “We had to justify every resource. Now, once the team is working on a project, IT participants typically become invaluable billable resources.” By turning the IT group into project-focused and accountable resources, Anderson’s team contributes to the overall success and revenue of the project, which affords them the credibility and positioning to raise the perception of IT across the enterprise. “Our business groups find that providing this level of engagement to the project not only mitigates risk, but improves the relationship with our clients as they recognize the value of launching a major project or program successfully from the onset.”
As a CIO once said to me, “Projects are won or lost at the beginning.” The business alliance group at CH2M Hill as put that sentiment into action.
About David Anderson and CH2M Hill
David Anderson joined CH2M Hill in 2011 as CIO responsible for developing and driving a global information technology strategy aligned with the firm’s emerging business strategies and initiatives. Previously, Anderson was Oracle Corporation’s Group Vice President for its Global Services, Transportation and Construction business unit. Prior to joining Oracle, Anderson led the North American Engineering and Construction technology consulting practice for Cap Gemini/Ernst & Young.
Headquartered near Denver, Colorado, USA, employee-owned CH2M HILL is a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations, and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients. The firm’s work is concentrated in the areas of water, transportation, environmental, energy, facilities and resources. With US$6 billion in revenue and 28,000 employees, CH2M HILL is an industry-leading program management, construction management and design firm, as ranked by Engineering News-Record and named a leader in sustainable engineering and environmental services by Verdantix.