by Beth Bacheldor

Got Outsourcers? Get Deep and Broad IT Talent In-house, Too.

Dec 15, 2009
IT Leadership

If your IT strategy includes outsourcing contracts, make sure you’ve got a few good IT pros on staff to help manage them.

Like so many large companies, General Motors outsources a fair share of its IT operations. In fact, the automaker—which as you all know was bailed out and underwent a major bankruptcy restructuring earlier this year—currently has only 1,500 IT employees and outsources 90% of its IT work to a variety of providers, according to this recent article in InformationWeek. The CIO, Terry Kline, on the job since October, plans on keeping GM’s outsourcing strategy intact, but he told InformationWeek he’s looking to hire a few good IT men and women. Their requisite skills? About 15 years’ experience that covers several IT disciplines, including code development, server, network and systems management, the ability to architect systems and networks, and fundamental database management. Kline’s reasoning is that it’s this broad and deep skill set that will give IT workers the chops to manage outsourced IT operations.

I couldn’t agree more.

Time and time again I’ve heard that one of the most critical factors to a successful outsourcing gig is solid, on-going management of that gig. Management is needed well before a contract is signed, is particularly relevant during the transition time when work that had previously been done in-house is now being handed over to someone else, and is essential well after the ink has dried on the contract.

Your IT shop needs people that are well-versed in a variety of skills so they know and understand all the intricacies of IT operations. That way, if a system slows to a crawl and its head starts spinning around and around, and the outsourcing company that’s hosting the errant server points a finger at your in-house developers, you’ll have someone who can speak the language to help uncover the problem and exorcise the trouble.

Moreover, that experienced and well-versed IT manager will be able to smooth over any rifts caused by the finger-pointing, and work with the outsourcer in ways that are most beneficial to your company.

Without such tech-savvy and practiced managers on board, you run risks. You could end up at the mercy of your outsourcer, who should but may not have your best interests at heart. I’m not suggesting that outsourcers are evil; I’m merely saying that when problems arise, most times it’s the other guy’s fault.

Moreover, IT veterans whose skills span a variety of disciplines are able to see the bigger picture and better understand how outsourcing various functions will and do impact your other business processes. They are likely able to recognize and plan for the impact a new SaaS application will have on the back-end systems mission-critical to your business. And they’ll also be capable of working with your in-house application developers who made need to do things differently now that the data center is in someone else’s hands, so to speak.

At first blush, it may seem difficult to find the individual that’s talented, experienced, and well-rounded enough to fill such shoes. It takes an individual that’s got roots in technical expertise but has the reach of a strategic thinker that works well both in and out of the box. But there are quite a few IT workers out there who are regularly and eagerly refreshing their resumes, and many have worn a variety of IT hats.

Secondly, you may think that your company should stick to hiring IT pros when, and only when, specific skills are required—especially in today’s challenging economy.

But if outsourcing is part of your company’s IT strategy, you really do need a few good IT men and women who are experienced, hands-on technologists and strategists. You need them on your team, on your payroll, and in your operation.