Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Outsourcing travails

Almost every mid to large size organization now outsources the basic maintenance of desktops, laptops, printers and other end computing devices to service providers under the broad framework of facility management. Some have also given away the tasks of managing servers, backups and networks. As far as I remember, this practice is definitely more than 15 years old, considering that the first time I came across this concept was in the early ‘90s. So by now, one would assume that the vendors and service providers (along with the CIOs), would have fine tuned this basic support activity to a level where it does not require significant management time and attention. However, recent discussions bring out a different story.

Essentially, outsourcing of the basic break-fix and first level support (typically personified as the IT Helpdesk), broadly constitutes a centralized number, email or web based form for users to log their calls. The person at the other end is expected to acknowledge the call, and attempt troubleshooting via phone or remote control of the computing device. If this is not feasible, he’s then supposed to provide desk side support through an Engineer. Track progress of the call until completed, repeat ad infinitum. Sounds simple enough!

Add a dash of best practices, frameworks like ITIL, service level agreements, and periodic reviews—everything should be hunky dory?

As computers get ubiquitous, cheaper, sturdier, and easier to use, the expectation levels have also risen. Today the expectations veer towards near instant resolution, which reflects the high level dependence as well as time pressures that are typical of today’s workplace. Mobility adds to the complexity, while security concerns mount—new and old threats challenge existing solutions, and compliance add to the challenge. To add to this, budgets are shrinking, and attrition is on the rise. So is it fair to expect service levels to sustain and improve, quarter on quarter?

CIOs with reason are right in their expectations from facility management, as this is what the enterprise demands in a hyper competitive environment. On the other hand, service providers have been struggling to rise up to these challenges and seize the opportunity. A few CIOs mentioned that they were reviewing alternatives, even though the contract period was far from over. In these circumstances, root cause analysis points towards many reasons that contribute either singularly or collectively.

Key amongst these factors remain people (See Challenges of an upturn), where service providers did not plan for attrition, with growth coming back; thus the pipeline dried up, and customers saw an adverse impact. If the person exiting is a Project Manager, it can take up to six months to recover. And we are not yet talking about quality of resources on the ground, which is deteriorating slowly and surely. Most new hires were fresh out of institutes, with very limited or no soft skills orientation. Customer service is not just about fixing the problem, but also with respect to addressing the person behind the computer and his downtime.

The second big issue is process compliance, with or without ITIL. Every outsourcing engagement has a plethora of checklists and processes which need to be rigorously followed to ensure success. However, for the person on the ground, this is a distraction, and sometimes seen as policing. Inconsistent data and incomplete checklists lead to increasing grievances with the users.

Weekly, fortnightly or monthly review meetings are at best a post mortem of the issue; instead, daily exception management between the vendor and customer Project Managers is required to ensure that these do not get discussed at the Management table. CIOs need to conduct periodic assessments to remain connected to the process, a practice which also keeps the teams’ focus on deliverables.

No comments:

Post a Comment