Decision Maker

Think of Yourself as an Outsourced Services Provider

Your clients aren't customers; part of doing your job right will be saying "no."

One of my early jobs in IT was at a consulting firm, where one of our biggest clients at the time was MBNA America, a giant bank dealing primarily in credit cards. I often visited their offices in Delaware, and one thing I always noticed was the slogan painted above every single door: "Think of Yourself as a Customer." I swear it was even posted in the bathrooms. It's a noble sentiment, basically reminding everyone to not do anything they wouldn't want done to themselves, and to treat customers as they themselves would want to be treated.

As a member of the IT industry today, I have a different sentiment: I believe we should think of ourselves as an outsourced services provider. For one, IT often finds itself in a gatekeeper role, where for the good of the business we have to tell people "no." No, you can't have a new laptop today. No, I can't install "Duke Nukem Forever" on your computer. No, you can't have your own color laser printer. Your users aren't your customers, they're your business colleagues, and the relationship is a bit different.

But you should think of yourselves as an outsourced services provider for a few very good reasons.

Cost and Efficiency
First, if the company ever starts to look at outsourcing IT services, outsourcing becomes your competition. The more you can think of yourselves as an outsourced firm today, the better you'll be able to compete if that time ever comes. Now, you and I both know that much of what we do for our companies today are things an outsourcing company would never do, or would charge a lot for. That's good: Keep track of those things. When the outsourcing discussion comes up, you can run a report in your help desk system and say, "Here's a list of all the little things we do that you're not going to get if you outsource this function -- are you sure you're willing to live without?"

Second, outsourcing companies are all about making a profit, which means they spend as little as possible and charge as much as possible. What an internal IT department "charges" -- essentially, its budget -- is more or less fixed. But you can assign a value to the services you provide. Again, run a report in your help desk software. "Last year, we provided $3.2 million in fair market value IT services, and we actually cost about $3 million. This company is offering to do our job for $2 million. Do you think you're really going to get the same service?" It's too easy to look at IT as a big bucket o' overhead; assign some value to what you provide so that you can show its good value.

Third, outsourcing companies prize efficiency. If they can get a piece of $10,000 software to do a task instead of a $70,000 human being, that human being gets re-tasked or laid off and that software gets bought. You should really do that internally more often. I don't mean lay people off. But I run into very few IT teams who have more people than projects, which means freeing up someone's time by implementing a piece of software lets you deliver more service for an incrementally higher expense.

Use the Right Tools
Whenever outsourcing is put on the table, most IT departments react defensibly, which is understandable. The problem is they rarely have good ammo with which to defend themselves. So make it an apples-to-apples comparison: put the metrics and tools in place to think of yourself as an outsourced services provider. When and if the time comes to defend your job, you'll be able to do so in a businesslike fashion, hopefully with the numbers -- all the numbers -- on your side. Incidentally, thinking that way will also help your organization make better decisions about efficiency, staff utilization and more, so there's a benefit even if outsourcing never enters the picture.

About the Author

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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