The human factor in outsourcing

Money. That’s what offshore outsourcing is really all about, isn’t it? It’s cold, hard dollars trampling all over human values. It’s coin-operated CEOs slicing away at IT budgets and staffs so they can make their balance sheets look good and preserve their own huge salaries. That’s really all that gutting an IT staff and sending the work offshore involves, right?

Wrong. Oh sure, the money matters. But don’t kid yourself — there’s usually a very human element involved when CEOs take a meat axe to IT. Sometimes they just don’t like the IT department. And sometimes that’s with very good reason.

Ask end users, managers and executives what they think of their IT departments, and you’re likely to get one of three responses. One segment of users, maybe the largest group, is neutral. They don’t have strong feelings about IT. Yes, they’ll tell you, those people in IT must be doing something, but no one here really knows what it is. Probably writing programs, fixing PCs when they break, that sort of thing.

Then there’s another group of users who can’t say enough good things about the IT department. These are users who really like the IT people. They’ll tell you stories about problems solved, projects saved and miracles worked. They may not know what the IT shop actually does either — but they can tell you what IT has done for them.

And then there’s the third group of users. They have some choice words to describe IT people too, but solved and saved and miracles aren’t part of their vocabulary. Arrogant is, though. So are high-handed and inflexible and uncooperative.

Guess which group will be quickest to jump on the outsourcing and offshoring bandwagon?

The official explanation will always be that it’s about money: cost savings from offshoring application development. Increased efficiency from outsourcing operations and the help desk. Happier investors because of the reduced head count.

But if it feels like upper management is sticking it to IT, that just may be what’s happening.

And if you can step back from the situation, it’s easy to understand. Lots of those business people have felt like the IT department has been sticking it to them for years. But they were stuck with IT. There was no way to get rid of those arrogant, high-handed blankety-blanks in the IT shop.

Until now, that is.

And now that there’s finally a way to do it, they will. Even if it means buying into improbably optimistic estimates of cost savings and unlikely claims of quality and effectiveness from outsourcers. Maybe it’s all wishful thinking — but after years of feeling like hostages to the IT shop, what these executives and managers mainly wish is to dump their IT departments.

Is that ugly? Sure. Unfair? Maybe. But if a CEO doesn’t value what the IT department does, and non-IT executives and managers down the line don’t have anything good to say about IT, maybe that really does define how much value the IT shop has for that business.

If that’s the case with your IT shop, you have a problem — one it may be too late to solve.

Of course, if that’s really your situation, you probably still won’t believe it. After all, outsourcing is no silver bullet. We’re IT. They need us. They can’t just get rid of us — and if they try, they’ll regret it.

Perhaps. But consider this: Even if outsourcing turns out to be a horribly wrong decision, it’s still a no-lose situation for executives, managers and users who’ve had it with IT. The old IT department — the one they hated — is gone. If a new IT shop has to be built from scratch, it just might be better this time around.

It’s not a calculation that’s about counting the money. But it certainly is human.

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