Outside departments funding specific IT positions

Last fall on the itSMF Higher Education SIG LinkedIn group, someone asked about how to work with departments who want to fund specific positions within IT. Below is my response, with some updates to make it more generally relevant.

One question to consider is, why do these departments want to fund a specific position? What do they get out of it? Maybe…

  • more control over service delivery/quality
  • more responsiveness
  • clear “carrot” and “stick” (e.g. being able to give raises or being able to threaten to pull funding)
  • ability to teach IT staff about their business processes (e.g. by including people in departmental meetings)
  • don’t have to manage the person (note: this can be “worth” a significant amount and they may need to fund a portion of the manager’s position e.g 10% of a manager or 20% overhead on the position)

Many times, departments don’t see the down sides of funding a specific position:

  • no support when the person is on vacation, sick, etc
  • total loss of knowledge when the person leaves
  • “stair-step” costs as they want more service, e.g. you can pay for 0, 1, or 2 administrators–if you need 1.1 administrators you have to fund 2

Or, they assume they are getting the position and more (e.g. they assume the rest of the team will be cross-trained in their services even though they only pay for one person).

I recommend, with rare exception, not allowing departments to fund specific people. Departments should be able to fund an FTE or part of an FTE, no problem, but that work is going to be divided among several people. For example if a department wants to fund a developer at 1 FTE, that work may get divided into 0.2 FTE for each of 5 people.

In practice, IT governance groups should control the money for central services. When departments want services above and beyond what’s provided generally, departments can then supplement as described above–paying for example by the FTE. If somebody really wants to give you money, you should probably let them give you money–but build the expectation that the money is in addition to the central services rather than instead of the central services.