If an Outsourcer Fails, the Buck Still Stops With the CIO
If there’s an outage or problem within an outsourced part of your IT environment, then end users and customers will inevitably hold the CIO responsible, with little sympathy for the fact that an outsourcer could be at fault.
Many organizations have handed over their entire mainframe hardware, operations and support to external providers; while others have outsourced specific parts, such as network infrastructure or application maintenance. And the rise in offshoring has only accelerated outsourcing interest among mainframe shops—sometimes fuelled by growth in more affordable mainframe skills in offshore locations.
One positive of the outsourcing trend is that all outsourcing contracts incorporate service level agreements, resulting in direct penalties if the outsourcer fails to meet expectations. So, to some extent, there might be greater accountability for performance with an outsourcer.
But it’s not that simple. You should pay attention to a number of things if you want to get the best performance and service from an outsourcing contractor.
First, it’s common for specialist staff members from a customer’s IT department to have their employment transferred to the outsourcer when they win a contract. Or it might be that a company scales down on internal staff in the areas being outsourced. But you need to be careful. You will still need strong and knowledgeable people in place to effectively monitor and manage the outsourcer—ensure you retain the necessary technical expertise internally.
Another important piece of advice is to be aware that however comprehensive the outsourcing contract, it’s unlikely to cover every eventuality. If you ask for anything not specifically defined in the contract, it will probably cost extra and might take longer to deliver. This is one reason cost shouldn’t be the only criterion for choosing an outsourcing partner. Take a long, hard look at the supplier and its culture. Does it fit with yours? Will it be able to respond to requests outside of the contract? Can you trust the supplier? You can’t put everything in a contract, so you need to have a good working relationship.
A related point is to be aware that you’ll need to plan further in advance when working with an outsourcer. The process for requesting work will be longer and more complex than working with internal IT resources. There will probably be more paperwork, administration and cost-approval processes. Planning ahead so several tasks can be bundled together into a bigger project could also mean a lower cost overall.
Building relationships at different levels within the outsourcer’s organization—outside of the regular account manager—is also important. As a customer, it’s useful for your team to build a range of connections you can go to on specific technical or business issues. These relationships are vital to successful outsourcing. Work out the types of people you will need to cultivate, and insist on reliable long-term contacts from the service provider.
If you’re the CIO or part of the internal IT team, you can’t avoid responsibility by telling end users or customers your external supplier has messed up—and it’s “not fair” to blame you. That sort of responsibility you just can’t pass on to someone else, so it’s important to take control of the outsourcing relationship. In the words of President Harry Truman: “The buck stops here.”
Philip Mann is principal consultant at mainframe performance management expert, Macro 4. He has been working with IBM mainframes in excess of 30 years, including more than 10 years with Macro 4, where application performance tuning is one of his major interests.