“Andrew, it is not working” I shouted from my office.
“K”, came the reply from across the corridor, after 5 or 10 minutes followed by “Fixed it!”.
Andrew, our in-house SharePoint whizzkid, had built our intranet, knew everything about it, and liked a challenge. He loved finding out what was wrong and fixing it before I had time to tell any user that we were working on it. Sometimes he had to reboot a server, sometimes it was a piece of code behaving strangely, sometimes a local hitch, but he was 99,99% reliable to fix any issue within an hour. And he was not even an employee, but someone we hired long-term from a partner.
Ah…those were the days when we still had our own development and support crew.
But then management decided to outsource all application development, service and support to one external company. Of course this would save the company lots of money. We could now use people depending on our needs, did not have to plan around holidays or be worried about illness. The service provider was supposed to be knowledgeable in all systems, including SharePoint, so that was convenient.
So we had to let go of Andrew and his colleagues. Andrew followed his long-time dream of moving to Australia and the last time I looked at his LinkedIn profile, he was still there.
But first we had to handover all info to the service provider.
We created a team site for all documentation, code, installation manuals and what not. Next to that we organized many Live Meetings to go over all details with the new support party. We recorded those and added them to the documentation site.
So, the good point of the situation was that we were finally forced to get all our documentation properly organized :-).
Unfortunately, there were also a couple of bad points…
- First of all, there were lots of language and culture issues so it took quite a while before everyone understood each other properly. The fact that Dutch people are quite direct (if not downright blunt), and not very hierarchical, was not really helping the working situation with a partner from a more cautious culture where everything had to go through a manager.
- Our service provider did not understand our environment due to the many customizations. They always wanted to change code to solve an issue, but since we no longer had anyone in our team who understood the implications, we were afraid to approve of that. In the end it meant that issues were not solved at all and we learned to live with them, anxiously waiting for the moment we could upgrade (which did not happen during my time at the company).
- All issues had to be reported, reviewed, taken in, calculated, approved, planned, executed, tested, approved, implemented and communicated. And that was without any rework! OK, I also like some order in my household administration, but it was so much work and took so long. How I longed sometimes to shout “Andrew!” And sometimes I just did, for the sake of it :-).
- And whenever we had finally created a good rapport with a team member, he or she hopped to the next job with hardly any handover and we could start all over again, instructing someone into the intricacies of our system and hoping (in vain) that over time, issues would be solved.
We were not the only team with issues. So management organized regular top-to-top meetings to discuss the issues and iron out all wrinkles. Nobody dared to question openly if, given the general inefficiencies, there were still any savings compared to having an in-house crew.
When asked about the turnover of project members, the support provider answered with a longer version of: “Our people want to have a varied career and we want to provide them that”. I read the statement at least 3 times, but I could not find any reference to the words “customer”, “service”, “commitment”, “continuity”, nor any synonyms.
Since then I have heard the same story from many others, so I really wonder if outsourcing is such a good idea. In theory it sounds good. With the opportunities of the digital workplace and all parties being used to remote working, we should be able to collaborate seamlessly and independent of location. Within our direct team we certainly could!
However, in practice it simply did not work well. Did we just resent the situation? Was it the cultural differences? I do not think so. I rather think it is because by outsourcing you introduce measurable formality, and take away things like responsibility, company loyalty, spontaneity and team feeling. And those last 4 things, which are not as easy to measure as “total cost of ownership”, “average resolution time” and “customer satisfaction score” may be more important than we think.
What do you think? I would really love to hear from someone who has a great working relationship with their outsourcing partner, or from someone who has reversed their decision to outsource. Please share your story and especially: share your lessons so we can all benefit!
Image courtesy of kjnnt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net