Saturday 4 September 2010

Outsourcing Blame

Many of my blogs of late have been about outsourcing. True, as I continue to watch several companies about me drive for ISLite, I can only shake my head and "pity the fool" that works in IS's trenches. Over lunch a few weeks ago, one colleague mentioned that Outsourcing really allows a company to shift blame from the employees to some vendor. He coined the phrase: Outsourcing Blame.

I don't think any other two words sum it up as succinctly. If IT/IS isn't a core competency, and your company isn't willing to invest the dollars to make it so, then the leadership really needs to point a finger somewhere because it is a guaranteed fail. I wonder, what is the one thing, regardless of industry, that every company needs on a daily basis? Information services and support. So why is this part of industry considered low hanging, repetitive, outsourceable work when without it, most industries would come to screeching stop? This, in my definition, is a critical service.

The same colleague forwarded me a blog entry, just days before he was laid-off, about how your average IT worker must plan to enter into management or entrepreneurship as they get older because over time you become unemployable. This is interesting because most folks in an IT department are young and inexperienced. It strikes me as a self-fulfilling prophecy that attrition and loss of knowledge makes most IT departments inept. There is an undersupply of wundergrads and oversupply of old hacks. What is worse is that a company that cannot hire that new grad with 20 years experience somehow thinks an outsource will have an easier time. If you can't staff a position, why would an outsource (that likely pays less with fewer benefits) be in a better position to hire someone?

Another colleague forwarded me a blog entry about why outsourcing other parts of business is a bad idea. This time the outsourced work was Risk Mitigation Planning, and the company was (drum roll) British Petroleum. Isn't it crazy, on many levels, to outsource Emergency Response Planning, Disaster Recovery, or anything about corporate risk to anyone that doesn't have that intimate, day-to-day, detailed, operating knowledge? Sure, hire a consultant to help, but outsourcing for such planning seems like, well, outsourcing blame when the inevitable happens. That finger pointing didn't work so well when BP was called to defend itself on Capitol Hill.

Recently I had a brush with outsourced service and support first hand. Several months ago my oven broke so I called the only recommended service provider by the manufacturer. A glow igniter was replaced and shorted out several weeks later. Then it was the logic board. Then it wasn't, it was a valve. First delay was they couldn't service my unit because of a big recall (by said manufacturer.) Then the only tech in our area went on vacation. He never had any parts in his van, so we always had to wait. The guy continually left garbage after his visits and he creeped my wife out so much I had to stay home from work for several of the visits. Never once did I see him perform something like a systemic diagnostic (that I found on the internet, and I could perform myself with a volt meter.) So, we were complaining to the service desk since visit one. It went to their escalations group, and we got the personal treatment. That treatment was a young fellow trying his best, with no knowledge of the industry, and a huge gap in communication between his group and the field service office. We asked several times for a call from the field manager. We didn't get a call. We wanted a different tech. We were told our remote area only had the one tech (and our area was 15 minutes from a city of over One Million People, that we pointed out.) We got calls saying we had to pay for all the so-called parts and service. We responded we're not disputing any charge for time or materials - what we are calling about is the quality of service and not having a working oven. The icing on the cake was when I wanted further communication in writing. Only then, when I received an email, did I learn that the whole communication with the service provider was going through an outsource. Every patronizing apology was meaningless as the person apologizing didn't really work for the company I was having issue with. I wonder, why wouldn't a service company at least, at a minimum, own its own escalation department?

I'm not sure I have a conclusion at the end of this writ, except that maybe in the days of corporate accountability and sustainability, maybe companies shouldn't try lowball their responsibility by shedding knowledgeable employees.