Align with Business... or be Outsourced?

Some say one way to secure your IT job is to make sure you're working hand-in-hand with business. Anything less could cost you your job.
Posted September 30, 2005

Sharon Gaudin

Worried your company might outsource your job? And, really, who isn't these days?

One trick to keeping your job right where it's been is to pick your head up from the tech a little and focus out on the business. Become a player on the business side of the aisle, according to some industry analysts and IT administrators.

''Companies start to look at outsourcing when you're not meeting their needs,'' says Patricia Bramhall, president of Tydak, a Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based consultancy. ''IT has, for a long time, been seen as the black hole of expenses. A lot of money goes in and not much comes out. But if your attitude is focused on the customer, they're not going to look down on you.''

Bramhall, in a one-on-one interview with Datamation says she's often called in to work with IT organizations and help align business with IT. And often, she notes, it's the IT organization calling her in because they know that business executives have become frustrated with them and they're tired of being 'beaten up'.

And that, Bramhall says, is just one step away from being outsourced.

''When things get that bad, whose fault is it,'' she asks. ''It's all from not talking and poor communication. IT people are usually moving as fast as they can to get the job done. But if you don't really know what the business needs, you won't deliver, no matter how fast you're running.''

And to make sure you're focusing all your efforts in the right place, it's key to understand the business, says Alan Abbott, a senior vice president with Bank of America. Sit down with the business side, find out what they're working on, what their goals are and what they need to make all of this happen.

Sitting at the Table

Once you do that, Abbott says you should be ready for a seat at the table... the executive table.

''We're at the table helping make business decisions because we can quantify costs and values for business,'' says Abbott. ''IT has to become a business partner... Ultimately it gives us better job security. IT is one of those things companies like to outsource. If IT becomes a business partner and an enabler of growth, it becomes a core competency that is very hard to outsource.''

But he adds that if IT isn't already at the table, it's a bad sign.

''If IT is still trying to get to the table, they're on a very slippery slope to extinction,'' Abbott explains. ''Functions and tasks that are not seen as value-add or core competencies are candidates for outsourcing. If it's the same-old, same-old, it's a candidate for outsourcing.''

Steve Wrenn, of Liberty Mutual, says it's key for IT professionals to make themselves part of the business team. It's no longer enough to keep the trains running, technology wise. The technology often can be run from ... well, as far away as India.

But to have a relationship with business executives, to be on 'the business team' -- that's a job that would be much harder to be done from afar.

''The back piece of IT can be done anywhere,'' says Wrenn. The service delivery piece is there to make sure the internal infrastructure is delivering... If you are perceived as adding something extra, you don't have to worry so much about being outsourced.''

Once IT is aligned with business and working together to solve customer needs, conversations about outsourcing IT often are put on the back burner. But that's not always the case, Bramhall warns. The financial advantage of outsourcing work to people who are paid a fraction of what American workers earn is sometimes too great to pass up -- no matter how aligned IT and business have become.

But that alignment gives IT workers that much more job security.

''I don't think you'll ever get rid of outsourcing because there's value in it,'' says Bramhall. ''I went in to one company two years ago to work with IT and six months in, the CEO said he had been thinking of outsourcing them, but changed his mind... It's about making sure you're delivering what they want.''

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