CC: Human Resources

The company I work for is, to say the least, in dire straits. I wasn’t even aware of how bad things are until I started to get interested in outsourcing.
Outsourcing is the solution IT management has come up with to deal with the problems the IT department is facing as part of the issues that is troubling the whole of the company(I refer from calling issues challenges, which is the phrase management prefers to use).

One of the biggest cause of all the problems is the massive loan that the company took out to finance a large takeover of another company some years ago. In fact the company they acquired was so large that it seems that it bit off more than it can chew, especially because that company had ran up a large debt. A fact that was well known, but did not deter the company from acquiring it anyway. Synergy would make sure that the whole would become better than the sum of the parts. Synergy is like magic if you will. And like magic it operates outside of the realms of logic. Synergy happens because it does.

It  might probably have worked out anyway because the company made so much money that on the whole it still made a profit even though the newly acquired company had not made a profit for years.

But then the economy took a nosedive.

The company was now facing decreasing profits and it did what almost any company does: it started to cut costs.  And it did that in the obvious way of not investing in those areas that did not see as their core business.  And IT was considered to be such a part..

And IT ran up what is called an IT debt: not investing in new systems to replace the older ones. Any investment was pushed towards the future unless an investment could no longer be delayed. And so the IT infrastructure slowly started to degenerate.

So how to solve the issue of IT Debt?

The answer was: outsourcing of course. Outsourcing would solve the issue of having to deal with cyclic investments and having to deal with expensive employees. You just have another company take care of the IT stuff and specifically of the expensive IT people and the cost would become fixed and predictable.

It will not surprise that when this became known to the employees the motivation of these employees plummeted. For them outsourcing meant a stab in the back. These employees had been keeping things running despite the lack of investments. They felt betrayed.

And, as irony will have it, at this very moment in time the company held an employee satisfaction study.  And from the study it was concluded that the motivation of the IT department was at an all time low. And for some curious unexplained reason this took management by surprise.

And now the Human Resource department put in an appearance.  For is it not the HR department that concerns itself with the well-being of the human resources of the company: the employees?

HR is staffed with two kinds of people. Those who can best be described at the personnel department and who take care of the many administrative tasks that are required when you have employees.

And then there are the HR people.

HR people see themselves as management advisers and employees as ‘resources’. By placing employees on the same level as the cars, computers and machines, they distance themselves from said employees and feel themselves thus able to formulate advise for management . It is why they have employees fill out surveys and avoid speaking to them at all.

Their attitude is best illustrated by a small anecdote:

Once the HR department expressed an interest in the functioning one of the datacenters that IT department managed. So an appointment was made and a HR director appeared with two assistants. They were then shown around the datacenter. During their one hour visit they managed to avoid talking to anyone but an operator and the manager who was showing them around, despite the fact that the building they visited had around hundred and forty employees. HR is not interested in talking to their resources.. because they might talk back and warp into people. Perish the thought!

What did the HR department do about the low motivation?

They organized a workshop to discuss the results of the survey.

It was one of the few things HR has done for years, besides having people fill out forms for their job evaluation reviews.

You can imagine that HR department has zero credit with the employees.

CC:Dolchstoß(Et tu, Brute)

How do people feel when they hear they might get outsourced?
They feel betrayed.
Should people feel betrayed?
Of course they should.

It doesn’t even matter if it outsourcing is actually going to happen, just the idea that their management is considering outsourcing as an option will feel like a stab in the back to their employees. This feeling will spread like wildfire and soon motivation will plummet.
Often the outsourcing solution is mentioned after a period in which the IT debt of the company has become a serious issue. IT debt is the name for failing to invest in IT over a prolong period. The IT environment is used up and starts failing.The continuity of the company is at stake.
The internal IT staff is put under increasing pressure to keep things running, sometimes working late into the night to repair the damage that is caused by failing systems or software that has outlived its lifespan and should have been replaced.
To hear that they then will be replaced, after all that effort, makes the betrayal even doubly hurtful.
But managers can make things even worse.
IT management doesn’t see it like their employees see it. To them outsourcing is the answer to the IT debt and the way to deal with reluctance of business to invest in their IT infrastructure. Business that does not feel that IT can be an enabler or an asset, but is just overhead. It is necessary, but we do not want to pay for it more than we absolutely have to because it is not our core business.
And thus outsourcing becomes the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the way out of the dark forest. It is the wizard of Oz.
And outsourcing promises a lot. It promises to reduce costs, to enable flexibility, to allow for innovation, to reduce people, to make things agile, to do things smart and allow management to control IT better.
At the expense of the employees of course.
But it’s these people they want to get rid off anyway.. for these people they do not understand or connect with.
Even triple sad is when that same management plead with those same people they are planning to outsource to put in to keep the flailing IT environment operational until the outsourcing contracts have been signed and the outsourcing providers can step in.
It is like telling your spouse to put in extra effort in running the family smoothly while aiming for a divorce and screwing behind her or his back at the same time.
Management can even go one step further Bby refusing to communicate properly.
But you know.. managers don’t see it that way.
How do they see it?
That is for another post….
So what do you think?
Leave a comment if you disagree or agree.
That is what comments are there for.

CC: Kick off(Genesis)

What makes you an expert?
Is it because you know something very well?
Is it because you know more than someone else does about a given subject?
Is someone an expert because she writes a book on a subject? Just one book? Or many books?
I wondered about it.
Am I an expert because I have read a few articles on a subject and have some experiences?
I think not.
So who would be mad enough to start a blog about a subject she knows next to nothing about?
I would, I guess.

In the series of blogposts starting with CC I will write down my experiences and observations about (out)sourcing in the world of information technology.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not pretend to be an expert in outsourcing. But since a lot of people feel that way and hesitate to write about this subject, I want to write about it anyway, and from the standpoint of someone who is in the middle of a process of outsourcing and is in the middle of a discussion about it.
I think there is a need because when I was confronted by outsourcing I had a hard time to find sources with a balanced view. You will find that the searches are filled with companies selling outsourcing as a product. They will tell you what a blessing it is. They have to, just like car companies tell you their cars are the hottest thing in town. And if it is not a business promoting outsourcing then it’s experts, consultants and anyone else who make a living from outsourcing.
Dissenting voices can be found. They are pushed down to the bottom of the searches. The internet has it’s own system of unintentional opinion suppression: one buys their way to the top of the searches. Lacking money your descent is imminent.
Outsourcing is part of what is called sourcing. Sourcing deals with one subject: how to provide for an (adequate) workforce. Often this gets turned into: how to reduce the cost of the workforce.
Reducing the cost of the workforce is pretty easy: fire the lot of them.
But you can spot the problem: without a workforce there is no work being done. Without work nothing gets made and when you make nothing you can only sell nothing and nothing cannot be sold for a profit. Well, not normally.
Sourcing has always been a challenge, but with the internet new ways of sourcing develop. The internet makes it possible to have work done in other countries using a workforce that is far cheaper. This is basically outsourcing: using an cheaper workforce in another country to get the same work done.
In later posts I will expand on this.