Environment and Government and Technology

VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Effective tech outsourcing takes well-managed plan

May 9, 2005

More companies than ever are outsourcing their critical business functions, including sales, marketing, accounting and human resources. But the most rapid switch is taking place in technology, due to the accelerated pace of changes in security threats, certifications, government policies and customer-driven mandates.

While companies have high expectations of their internal IT departments, many simply don't have enough time to manage workloads and stay on top of current trends and innovations.

Because most technology requires specialization, some companies are finding it more cost-effective to outsource necessary functions that aren't strategic to the primary business model, such as security, network management, data storage and help desk.

Hybrid teams comprised of internal and external players are a reality in today's workplace and require a certain finesse to be successful. They also result in unique management challenges for executives charged with building these teams.

Organizations that effectively bridge inhouse and contracted personnel benefit from a strong, unified knowledge base, aligned resources and a single-minded focus on solving defined objectives.

To assist in an easier transition, keep the following team-building tips in mind when introducing a third-party partner into your employment mix.

Communicate your strategy

Be mindful that introducing outsourced resources can be intimidating for employees. There is nothing like bringing in a consultant or outside expert to make employees fear for their jobs.

Thwart territorial tendencies by explaining that outsourcing specific functions can free up time for employees to participate in larger business processes. For example, delegating network monitoring to an outside expert might allow internal resources to play a more strategic role in the company.

Explain that external partners will allow the company to maintain current systems while evolving at the same time. For example, outsourcing data-center or help-desk functions can give internal IT professionals time to develop a disasterrecovery plan or implement a remoteserver system so field sales reps can gain access to files, inventory levels and contacts from the road.

Reassure employees that outsourcing is not a method for weeding out dead weight or downsizing-if this is in fact true. The last thing you want to do is mislead employees, especially those who are already unsure of their role in the organization.

Set expectations

Discuss, define and document objectives for technology initiatives with all participating team members. While you may sign a service-level agreement with a vendor, consider writing a charter that governs how the internal and external players should interact on joint projects.

Establish individual roles based on strengths, capacity and the overall value each player brings to the team and the organization. This will help to define boundaries and put insecurities to rest. It makes most sense to delegate functions such as data backups or firewall management based on experience levels.

Establish timetables and deliverables, and assign a point person from both the internal and external team. A mutual understanding of expectations and clear chain of command will lead to less misinterpretation and better buy-in throughout the process.

Hold people accountable

Written plans are only as effective as the participants who follow them. It is important to monitor the internal-external relationship for counterproductive tendencies that crop up in cross-team environments. These include lack of trust, nonaccountability and role confusion.

Be certain internal members are taking full advantage of external resources, but are not micro-managing them. Conversely, make sure outside partners are adding value but are not being distracted by random projects or frivolous requests.

Encourage a mutual learning environment. Internal proprietary knowledge can accelerate the external team's execution. Conversely, outsourced members offer the organization a valuable outside perspective and specialized skills.

Be flexible and anticipate change throughout the project. Roles may shift, timelines may extend and the original scope may morph once reality and theory meet.

Monitor progress. Let the entire team know when they are performing well or getting off track. Be encouraging so the project will move forward and players stay motivated. Technology professionals tend to communicate electronically, so make time to assemble the group in person to keep the "human factor" in check.

Learning to build productive and healthy internal-external partnerships is the primary challenge in effective outsourcing. Instead of being threatened by outside resources, employees can use these opportunities to gain more strategic roles within the organization.

Outsourced providers willing to share the risk and demonstrate their ability to operate as a true partner will prove themselves as collaborators rather than competitors. The key is to appreciate and leverage each side's strengths and realize that success will only come through a cooperative partnership.




Qualls is vice president of sales and marketing for nFrame, an Indianapolis-based technology outsourcing firm. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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