How to Outsource

By Datalink

Over the last several quarters I’ve written a few posts about outsourcing. First, I covered when you should do it, followed by what should be outsourced. Once you’ve made the decision that you need help – and you know which functions you need help with – the logical next step is how to go about it.

Every IT function is made up of a couple of broad categories: a business and end-user facing component, as well as a tactical component around the service operations function. Typically unique, the business and end-user facing components tend to be what we call “unstructured work,” which by nature is hard to document or predict. Some aspects of the service operations function also can be classified as unstructured. Different applications, industry-specific requirements (e.g., financial, healthcare, etc.), work cultures, expectations, service level agreements, and geographic considerations all contribute to the uniqueness and unstructured nature of the business facing side of IT. An organization’s full-time employees are likely best suited to deal with all of these nuances and should be tasked to build the processes that wrap around this unstructured work. These processes ultimately dictate the delivery requirements of how any operation will work for the business, which allows for the creation of structured operational work. Structured work can be automated, documented, and has repeatable procedures wrapped around it. The structured operational tasks (e.g., expanding LUNs, remediating specific failure codes, monitoring virtual machines, etc.) within those defined processes are handled much the same way regardless of business or industry. The only real variables are in the process in which these activities take place and the technology upon which these tasks are completed – all of which can easily be structured.

Which brings me to a couple of key points that are critical to answering the question: “How should I go about outsourcing?” First and foremost, I recommend never outsourcing unstructured work. Unstructured work involves communicating with end users, understanding business context, and working through decision trees that only those closest to the business can do. Many outsourcing arrangements fall short because the organization took a total outsourcing approach that included business facing activities and unstructured work. It is critical that the organization and key stakeholders first determine how IT fits into and works with the business. Once everyone understands how IT interfaces with the business, the second key point to ensure success involves outsourcing the structured operational tasks through a mechanism I call “process integration.” The outsourcer should integrate its delivery capabilities within the framework of the processes defined and managed by the organization. The outsourcer should focus on the structured work that fits within those processes.

By focusing on structured work integrated into a framework that is unique to specific business requirements, an outsourcer can deliver true scale around operations, which is extremely difficult for most organizations to achieve. When you can prevent the overall business context and strategy from getting lost in translation, outsourcing can dramatically reduce costs and create efficiencies that deliver a competitive advantage back to your business. 

Lee Whitaker, Director of Managed Services