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Outsourcing Pitfalls

Introduction

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What is it about outsourcing that encourages odd, self-defeating behavior? Why is it that people in this field often first need to be burned before they become willing to invest the time and energy required to get it right? Here, in ascending order of magnitude, are the reasons why new outsourcing customers get burned.

IT outsourcing is now well into its third decade, having passed through generations of technology and platforms: mainframe, client/server, and now into the cloud. An extraordinary amount of experience has created substantial documented learning that should benefit any company considering outsourcing some or all of its IT and network infrastructure, technology helpdesk or application development and maintenance. Yet companies frequently ignore the lessons of the past, and routinely duplicate the mistakes of our "outsourcing forefathers". What is it about outsourcing that encourages such odd, self-defeating behavior? Why is it that people in this field often first need to be burned before they become willing to invest the time and energy required to get it right? Here, in ascending order of magnitude, are the reasons why new outsourcing customers get burned.

Pitfall Number 5: How hard could it be?
Outsourcing is not something that requires an advanced degree. We have been executing the IT Function for years now, and it's time to have another company do it for us. We know what we need. We have hardware, network, software (home-grown and licensed) and some knowledge as to how it all fits together for our enterprise. The likely providers - IBM, HP, Accenture, CSC, Infosys, TCS, And so on - generally have more competence in the area than we have. We have procured services many times before - this is just another service. And this time it involves our no longer doing something we were historically doing (and probably badly at that). What's the big deal? Those of us who have spent 20 or so years in the field know that this approach guarantees problems. Outsourcing is harder than you think. You can't just lop off a process or function and expect it to run any better than it did. First, you must decide why you are going to outsource. If it is because you are not good at IT yourself, or you think someone can do it cheaper, please see the other pitfalls! Then, even if outsourcing is right for you, there is a great deal of knowledge that your own staff has about the function, how it relates to your business, and how to manage it as your business needs change. This knowledge has to get to the outsourcing provider. It must be maintained and nurtured during the multiple years of the term. It must be available to you if you ever want to bring the function back inside. And, speaking of that, do you think it would be easy to bring the function back inside? What about new staff? What about technology refreshment? What about software licenses? And how do you handle risks associated with data security and privacy compliance, once the IT function has been shifted to another company? There is a reason that successful deals take a substantial amount of time to negotiate and transition. Nothing about this business is easy.

Pitfall Number 4: The outsourcing provider will fix everything
In outsourcing, we get to transfer our IT problem to a provider who has expertise in the area. They will fix the problem and save us a ton of money. And the best thing is: we won't have to change the way we do things. This concept is so familiar to outsourcing professionals that it has a name, "Your mess for less". And outsourcing professionals know that it is not the way to get the deal done. IT outsourcing providers cannot resolve your problems without your involvement and willingness to change the way you do business. And although they are generally better at the given function than you are, the way they solve your particular problem, the solution they bring to the table, will by its very nature change the way you do business. Better than doing a "mess for less" is to put in some time and energy up front to understand the reasons for the mess, and to begin a process of remediation before you outsource. Most firms that have migrated their IT platform to a shared services model before outsourcing any function to a third party have found that the likelihood of a successful IT outsourcing relationship is substantially increased.

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