Greg Enright : Outsourcees cook up a plan

A high percentage of Canadian IT departments have already outsourced some portion of their computing conundrums to a service provider, or have at least begun to investigate the advantages and drawbacks of adopting such a model.

To many, the allure of divesting oneself of the onerous task of keeping a network up and running, of procuring new servers or of building an effective security perimeter, for instance, has proven too inviting to resist.

So far throughout this process, much of the providers’ sales efforts have been applied to enticing customers into outsourcing a specific element of IT frustration. This approach, however, is on the verge of changing quite dramatically.

Those providers who are up to this point succeeding are doing so because they are effective “counsellors”, if you will. To win at this game, an outsourcee must have a team of good listeners who can understand each client’s individual dilemma. On top of that, like every good counsellor, they must also provide an effective road map towards resolution of the problem.

This is absolutely necessary, given the high level of trepidation most firms feel when confronted with the reality that something as near and dear to their hearts as electronic information might be turned over to a third party.

This go-slow, piecemeal approach has proven effective: take the time to get to know your customers, ease them into the outsourcing way of thinking, and they’ll stay with you for life.

The shift we’re beginning to see is in the area of this sales approach. Instead of asking for one piece of an enterprise’s pie, outsourcees are starting to incorporate “large-picture” messages into their sales spiels: “Instead of relieving yourself of just one headache, why not give us your entire network to manage? We’ll even give you a hefty discount.”

There’s little doubt that most of the well-known service providers that enjoy solid reputations have the capabilities to do this right now, and do it well. The question is, are customers going to be comfortable with such a proposition?

There’s a good chance they won’t. Despite all the graphs, charts and numbers that indicate how fast the outsourcing market has grown over the last few years, it’s a model that many companies, large and small, are still wrapping their heads around. To ask these firms to surrender one or two pieces of the systems on which their businesses run is one thing, but to request that they fork over their entire systems, end-to-end, is – for now, at least – largely unrealistic.

And the smart service providers know this. They’re smart because they know that concepts as large as an end-to-end outsource have to marinate in customers’ minds before any significant amounts of cash are laid on the table. Floating the idea of the total outsource – and grabbing what customers you can in the meantime – is the first step. The next is to let the concept simmer in customers’ minds.

It’s a recipe that providers hope will lead to bigger and better outsourcing contracts. Let the cooking begin.