My current InfoWorld column deals with an outsourcing arrangement that is proving to be increasingly compelling as time goes on. (Note that my column is not a general pro-outsourcing argument, as one sentence makes clear: “Although I dont think outsourcing is inherently beneficial, a good outsourcing relationship can deliver amazing benefits.”)
Right now, my key internal systems are being monitored by a 24-hour NOC (network operations center) using integrated monitoring solutions that I would never be able to buy or integrate into my environment. Our employees benefit from around-the-clock support. A seamlessly automated, proactive patching solution keeps our systems up-to-date and every desktop or laptop is backed up every day regardless of location. I dont manage these nuts-and-bolts, but I am able to track them via a convenient Web-based dashboard that gives me an instant read on the health of my IT environment, and I receive monthly reports on end-user satisfaction that are audited by a third party. The array of services offered to me has broadened in the past year, but I will actually be paying less for them as my provider continues to achieve economies of scale with a growing customer base.
Lest this arrangement sound a little too utopian, the employees at InfoWorld do the usual complaining about IT support (when you're dealing with Microsoft products, nothing is perfect), but through my outsourcer, I actually have third-party audited satisfaction scores to cut through the din and lots of traps and mechanisms to deal with the inevitable instances of dissatisfaction. Having run relatively small in-house desktop support teams, I know that the work itself is demanding and it's often difficult to carve out the management time to put objective mechanisms in place to measure how well your employee population is being served. Typically, you end up relying on anecdotal evidence too much and if one person has a bad experience, it's difficult to point to any reasonably objective trends in the rest of your body of service to make it clear that one bad experience is an anomaly (and maybe it isn't!) In any case, the old adage that you can't manage what you can't measure holds true in desktop support as well, it's just difficult for a small organization to put together systems that deliver consistent and regular performance metrics. A carefully considered outsourcing arrangement with clear built-in performance metrics can get you there (and, of course, a poor outsourcing arrangement with unclear performance metrics can kill you).
A final thought occurred to me while I was writing this column — while many IT folks still attack outsourcing as a “bad thing,” there's another side to the story. The outsourcers I currently deal with are all local IT professionals like me. Outsourcing isn't fundamentally a job-destroying concept. For example, the guys who manage our web hosting infrastructure work just down the street. I wouldn't be surprised to see them out at lunch, and I wouldn't hesitate to buy them a beer if I saw them in the local pub after work. [Chad Dickerson]