How to avoid outsourcing

I was litening earlier to the latest In the Trenches, spefically to special guest Chuck Tomasi’s take on how to make yourself more valuable to your employer. He is in management now afterall so it’s a different perspective. I was struck by this idea of getting outside the technology and understanding the core business processes in your organization as the best way to increase your value. This makes perfect sense, and certainly in light of the increase of Business Systems Analysts jobs out there, you can see this idea already taking hold in the job market.

The other thing that had me thinking along these lines was there have been some changes in responsibilites at work that have started to take place, and given what has been changed, I think there will be further changes coming down the road. Not that anyone is getting outsourced, but it does occur to me now that we are supporting users in 3 offices spread all the way across the state from each other that if I can support those remote users from Columbus using remote desktop tools, then anyone could support all three offices from anywhere really. You’d still need some on-site IT folks, but maybe not as many.

The thing that makes our helpdesk valuable is understanding not only what our users are trying to get done, but also understanding how best to communicate with individual users. You’re not going to get that from an outsourced help desk, but it’s important that we continue to pay attention to those sorts of details in order to keep ourselves differentiated from an outside firm.

The other thing that Chuck’s comments made me think about was how can you tell who really gets it and who doesn’t? I mean, in hindsight, I can look at a project or a technology purchase and clearly see that somebody mis-interpreted the needs of our business, or mis-judged the technical patience of users. For example, at the firm we have an absolute state of the art, powerful contact database. When you really wrap your head around all of the information you could track about clients, or seminar attendees, or peers, etc. and how you could use that information, it’s truly mind-blowing. At the time it was purchased I’m betting the IT staff responsible trumpeted it with great celebration.

Hardly anyone uses it. No one keeps track of even 1% of what they could use it to keep track of. Clearly, someone didn’t understand the culture at the time. Someone didn’t understand that to attorneys, time is money, and time spent learning how to use technology, is time not being billed, and time not being billed is wasted. This powerful of a system, was going to require some time to learn. Time no one was going to give it. Now, a few years later, we’re still fighting an uphill battle to get people just to use it in small ways that are easy to understand. It’ll always be an uphill battle because the reputation is that this is a complex system, and will take too long to learn. That first impression may never go away.

My former employer had a similar problem. They spent a whole lot of money, shortly before I started working there, on a membership database. At the time, it was state of the art in terms of membership databases. Unfortunately, they bought it because of the great many things they could use it to track without ever putting into place business processes that collected the information in the first place. So, for example, while the database promised to be able to tell you how many committee meetings or other functions any member had attended in the last few years, if your meeting planning processes don’t include using the meeting module of the database, but instead doing everything in Excel and then erasing it when it comes time for the next committee meeting, it will never live up to that promise. Again, a reputation was cast in stone, one that doomed this database to forever be seen as useless and hard to use, a reputation that 10 years later, is still firmly in place.

These are just a couple of big failures that I’ve seen in terms of an IT department not understanding the business processes or culture of an organiztion. I’m sure you guys can come up with dozens more. The question is, how do we make sure we’re bringing in people who aren’t going to make these kinds of mistakes?

Tags: Outsourcing, BusinessProcesses, InTheTrenches, ChuckTomasi
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