When it comes to IT, stick to what you know

If they had to do IT all over again, some companies might decide not to do it themselves.

It’s a result of assessing what’s core to your business, explains Sebastien Ruest, the vice-president of services research for IDC Canada in Toronto.

“You might ask, ‘if I start from scratch today, would I build these specific competencies internally?’ Knowing what you know now, would you make the same decision? If you think you’d do it differently, then it becomes a good candidate for outsourcing,” he says.

It’s one thing to know what you do best as a company and to recognize IT probably isn’t one of those things. It’s quite another matter to feel comfortable enough in handing off processes that, while they may not be considered a core skill, are nonetheless an essential part of your company’s successful operation.

How does a business know when it doesn’t do IT particularly well? Consider the small example of GEO Group, a Toronto-based vacation and travel company that looked at what it did best. According to Chris Ashton, the IT manager, his company undertook a sort of business soul searching and determined it needed to focus on sales, marketing and customer service.

When it came to IT, GEO was resource-thin and wasn’t able to respond quickly enough to IT problems that often cropped up. Business hours were seven days a week, 24-hours a day, but the IT operation was “nine to five” and staffed with a meagre team of two technicians who needed to support more than 150 users.

GEO analyzed the time spent resolving IT issues and from where problems were originating. It was determined that most were as a result of poorly managed systems and applications, as well as network communication services that weren’t good enough.

Realizing that sales, marketing and customer service rather than IT was primary, GEO looked to outsource its Sun Unix and Windows operating environments as well as the virtual private network (VPN) communication services that linked all of its branch offices — a total of seven, including four offices in the Greater Toronto Area, plus a call centre in Ottawa, a location in Haliburton, Ont., and a sales office in the U.S.

The company also needed to undertake a data conversion project in migrating to a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and also needed help in understanding its security issues — specifically how to refine its policies and put proper business continuity and disaster recovery in place.

But reaching out to others, to do those things you don’t know, means proceeding with caution — and understanding. Ashton admits, outsourcing is a leap of faith and a risk. It’s a matter of getting to know your outsourcing vendor and that a good solid relationship with them is essential.

You have to know their strengths and weaknesses and get to know the people who make the decisions within that company. Risk is no small consideration when it comes to a smaller business and an even bigger concern for a larger one.

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–McLean is editor-in-chief of IT World Canada and can be reached at dmclean@itworldcanada.com.

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