CIOs help those who help themselves

Insourcing end-user support services - moving them back in-house -- is gaining momentum as IT managers struggle to maintain costs and vendors slash headcounts.

IT managers are steering users towards self help in an effort to reduce or eliminate the cost of vendor support contracts.

The quality of vendor support services is a well-established sore point for managers and users alike, and signs are emerging that CIOs and IT managers are willing to do the job themselves.

TMP Worldwide IT operations manager George Curtis said his company is one of a growing number that believe support is best met by organisations which know their own culture.

With the company having changed focus in recent years to incorporate online recruitment services and solutions, help is at a premium and best managed in-house.

"The end result works out the same, except you pay more for an outsourcer. They've got a penalty clause there for not performing, but in the wash it balances out," Curtis told Computerworld.

Managing users' demands -- and delegating responsibility -- is also critical, Curtis said. "[Staff turnover] in the recruitment industry is [at] a 40 per cent attrition rate -- it's quite high, it's very mobile and people chase the dollars. People [who know the system and have learnt] how to self-diagnose leave, and you get someone new -- and the whole circus starts again. It's down to the individual team managers who command the users. User temperament is one of our biggest concerns right now."

One way of managing such temperament, according to Curtis, is to implement "formal induction" of new users to wean them off the help dependency cycle of calling someone -- and onto using the intranet.

Meanwhile, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in Canberra is also straightening out its support priorities without a vendor services contract in sight. As CIO to the nation's best number crunchers, Johnathan Palmer is tasked with managing better-educated users, but with far more complex and computer-intensive demands.

Palmer, who also sees merit in user self sufficiency, said, "It's always an issue for us in terms of how we can do it well -- it's not an issue that we are currently considering outsourcing.

"We're more interested in getting our helpdesk integrated with all the other areas that provide support. What we've been putting emphasis on in the last six months is equipping end users to be more self sufficient, particularly through training and improved self-help. Configuring a printer is now more a self-service option," he said.

Palmer said driving this ethos are the demands which statisticians place on their IT masters.

"We did a pilot using a third-party service provider and one of the things we realised was that a lot of our technology is ABS-specific -- and even if [the technology] isn't, the context is. Once you get over the basics, it goes up the value chain more and we're in a better position to do that [ourselves]," he said.

Vendors have also been put on notice, according to the quarterly results of East & Partners' Corporate Report. The survey monitors the satisfaction of 500 Australian CIOs with their vendors and has consistently placed end-user support as the single most important issue -- and escalating -- on the CIO radar in 2002.

With the pressures on more than ever, the slack service shakeout looks set to continue.

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