While outsourcing IT services could save a company money and human
resources, if not managed properly, it also could lead to expensive
mistakes, unmet expectations and even project failure.
“It’s a very deep and wide pool of quicksand,” says Matthew Berk, a senior
analyst with New York-based Jupiter Research. “Wherever there’s
outsourcing, there’s struggle… There are a lot of things that can go
And industry analysts say very few outsourcing projects are problem free.
There’s simply too many things that can go wrong, too many parts of the
project that need to be carefully overseen, and too many aspects of the
contract to be delicately negotiated to keep companies from becoming mired
in some sort of management issue.
What can go wrong?
Well, it’s a long list. When an IT manager is going over a potential
contract, he has to make sure his company (not the vendor) will end up
owning the source code. He has to make sure that the contract is flexible
enough that the service being outsourced can change as the business changes.
Is there a system set up to gauge the success of the project? Is there one
person established as the liaison and can she speak the language where the
work is being done?
If an IT manager thinks he can hand a project to a third party and be done
with it, she’s wrong.
“It’s extremely tricky,” says Stan Lepeak, vice president of industry
analysts Meta Group. “That’s why there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the
ultimate results… People figure once we enter into the outsourcing
agreement, we’ll put it on autopilot and all go do something else. It just
doesn’t work that way. How will daily operations change when someone outside
of the company is managing this operation? If you have a problem, it’s a lot
different to walk down the hall and talk with someone than it is to call
around the other side of the world. How are you even going to address
As confusing and complicated as it is, managing outsourcing projects is
something that IT managers better master because there’s no sign of
outsourcing slowing down.
Make No Assumptions
Worldwide spending on IT outsourcing surpassed $68 billion in 2002 and is
expected to top $99 billion by 2007, according to a study just released by
Massachusetts-based analyst firm IDC. Here in the U.S., corporate and
government spending on IT outsourcing services reached $30 billion last year
and is predicted to surpass $43 billion by 2007.
“Companies around the world are turning to outsourcing to help reduce or
stabilize costs, access advanced technology, compensate for a lack of
skilled IT workers, improve business efficiency… and remain competitive in
the global marketplace,” says Cynthia Doyle, program manager for IT
Outsourcing and Utility Services research at IDC. But Doyle also says that
better managing those outsourcing contracts is an issue that most every
company is wrestling with.
“You may assume the vendor comes in and takes over, and you can wash your
hands of it. It just doesn’t work that way,” says Doyle, who notes that IDC
doesn’t have specific statistics on outsourcing success and failure but adds
that it’s commonly accepted that half of all outsourcing engagements fail.
“The relationships require quite a bit of communication between the vendor
and the customer. They also require a great deal of flexibility.”
Doyle also says many companies run into trouble when they choose a vendor
based solely on price. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
“Companies are conscious of cost cutting in this economy… but making a
decision based purely on price is a mistake,” says Doyle. “Responsiveness
of the vendor’s customer service is incredibly important. Guarantees in
service-level agreements. Industry expertise. Flexibility. You want to feel
comfortable with your vendor. Make sure they understand how to use
technology to move your business to the next level and attain your business
Peter Moldave, a partner at Boston-based Lucash, Gesmer & Updegrove, LLP,
says one thing IT managers underestimate is how much time will be required
to manage the outsourcing project and vendor relationship. Moldave who used
to work for Apple Computer, is an attorney focused on corporate law.
Danger of Divided Loyalties
“People have to consider if this is something they can control from a
distance,” says Moldave, who notes that while several people in house may
be involved with the outsourcing project, there needs to be one person in
ultimate control. “Sometimes when you figure in the cost of the time you
spend managing the relationship, it costs more than you thought you’d
Moldave, along with the other analysts, also warns IT managers to be wary of
A third-party handling software development, for instance, may be most
concerned with benefiting his own business.
“Before, people working on the project were your own employees and you
trusted them,” says Moldave. “Now you have to have people checking the
checkers because these people don’t have loyalty to you and your company…
It’s more time that you have to spend on the project that you probably
didn’t count on.”
Here’s a list of some of the things an IT manager should think about when
setting up an outsourcing relationship, according to the industry analysts:
code for the final product;
keep recreating the wheel;
relationship. Don’t rush this first step;
not be the right person to manage outsourcing the work;
the scope of the deal. Are changes and upgrades part of the deal, or would
you have to pay more for them?;
do and he doesn’t, you’re out of sync at the start;
get snowed by a good sales pitch.