IT workers: 10 ways to avoid being outsourced

From getting chummy with the rest of the business to utilising insider knowledge...
Written by Shelley Portet, Contributor

From getting chummy with the rest of the business to utilising insider knowledge...

Outsource keyboard

IT workers should demonstrate they can bring added value that is difficult to find outside of the business before the boss hits the outsource buttonPhoto: Shutterstock

As organisations are keeping a tight rein on tech budgets in light of continuing economic uncertainty, IT workers could be forgiven for worrying about whether their jobs are being considered for outsourcing.

Here are 10 ways IT staff can help reduce the likelihood of their role being outsourced.

1. Get the 'hot' skills

Focusing on developing skills that are difficult to find offshore can help boost job security.

"The hot skills that are not easy to replicate overseas or in an offshore environment are things like mobile development, business analytics, business intelligence as well as web development in terms of customer interactions via the internet and multiple channels," Mark McDonald, Gartner analyst, told silicon.com.

"If you're an individual who can show that you have those skills, they're not particularly easy to move offshore and on top of that, they're the kinds of skills that are going to require a very agile response.

"All those things would be reasons why you would keep somebody on staff and close to the company," McDonald added.

However, job retention goes beyond simply skilling up across specific technology areas, according to Angela Eager, research director at TechMarketView.

IT workers who want to futureproof their jobs should work on developing their skills as service managers, as "IT departments are moving towards a situation where they are becoming supplier managers and service orchestrators", Eager said.

2. Start becoming part of the business

It's IT's 'grunt workers' who are most at risk of being outsourced, according to Clive Longbottom, service director at Quocirca.

"Those doing IT jobs that can be done by anyone with a technical skill, such as updates, patches, adds, changes and deletions. These people don't add any value to the organisation's bottom line - they are a cost, and if the cost can be lowered, then it helps the bottom line."

IT workers should look to evolve their career away from purely tech roles into more business-focused positions to reduce the chance of their role being outsourced.

"As soon as you start to move up the value chain to those involved in the business side of IT, it becomes harder to outsource successfully for cost reasons," Longbottom said.

3. Think industry, not IT department

IT workers should associate themselves with the industry their organisation is in rather than the IT sector by default.

"You do not work 'in IT' - you work in retail, in insurance, in utilities, in pharmaceuticals or whatever. Only people who work for Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle or whoever work 'in IT'," Longbottom said.

By thinking in line with your organisation rather than the IT sector, IT workers are likely to gain a better understanding of the particular issues surrounding the sector.

A greater understanding of the specific problems associated with your industry gives...

...you a better chance of finding the IT services specifically tailored to your business - and in turn that sector-specific knowledge makes you more likely to be valued by your organisation.

4. Demonstrate the value of insider knowledge

Outsourcers may bring cost or agility benefits but they won't have the same insider knowledge as inhouse staff - an asset that IT workers should try to take advantage off.

"The most valuable thing [internal workers] have is an understanding of how the company works and how it creates value - that's one thing no outsourcer is going to get," Gartner's McDonald said.

IT workers need to proactively demonstrate the advantage of this insider view by presenting ideas and IT projects in terms of how they fit into the wider context of the business.

"It's important not to lose sight of how to explain, leverage and incorporate that contextual knowledge in making you more impactful as opposed to just being more efficient," McDonald added.

5. Remember the business impact

IT workers who don't want to be outsourced need to show that they are integral to the business and do more than deliver basic IT services.

Framing IT projects in terms of the likely impact on the business is therefore also important in exhibiting how your contribution is focused on achieving objectives of the wider organisation.

"Going in to the business with an argument of, 'We need to go for virtualisation as it will mean that the average compute power per rack will go up 30 times' will not gain any budget or business appreciation," Quocrica's Longbottom said.

"Going in with a message of, 'If we do this, our energy usage will drop by 70 per cent, we will be able to deal with more workloads and with the cyclical nature of these workloads without hitting barriers, and we will be able to take more campaigns through to market' will get gold medals hung round your neck."

6. Blow your own trumpet

Businesses increasingly see IT as a cost and a constraint to the business - they view the IT department as "confusing and driven by nerds who are clueless" and perform jobs anyone can do, according to Longbottom.

With this damning review it is unsurprising that business leaders may view outsourcing as a useful option. However, it is up to IT workers themselves to challenge this perception of the IT department.

"It is incumbent on [IT workers] to show that they are part of the business and part of the solution to its ills - not part of the problem and a cause of its ills," Longbottom said.

7. Shadow business meetings

IT workers with little understanding of business processes should make a proactive effort to learn more about them.

Tech workers should ask to sit in on business meetings as observers and offer to send an email to the manager after the meeting with suggestions as to what IT can do to help, suggested Longbottom.

"Make sure that advice is couched in business terms - what IT can do to lower risk, lower cost and add value," he said.

8. Be the 'yes' guy

IT workers should attempt to show business leaders how their combined tech skills and business knowledge helps to create...

... answers, not just highlight problems.

"If I have a good understanding of the way everything works then I need to put that understanding to work in terms of being able to say what is possible, in terms of the different ways we are able to achieve something that the business wants to do because I have an understanding of how everything works," Gartner's McDonald said.

Yet according to McDonald, many IT workers use their knowledge to tell the business what is not possible and why a project can't happen.

By being regularly associated with negative feedback, IT workers could risk harming their reputation in the company. Instead, techies should take care to frame discussions with business peers in terms of solutions rather than problems.

Business meeting

IT projects that require face-to-face interaction are less likely to be outsourced as it is difficult for outsource providers to offer cheaper labour ratesPhoto: Shutterstock

"Being solution-focused is deeply critical," McDonald said. "You can say, 'I understand now what you're trying to do, I think there's four or five ways to do it and I can think of these ways because I understand and know how our systems work, where the weaknesses are and how to overcome those weaknesses'."

9. Respond quickly

Many IT projects are outsourced for reasons of cost arbitrage. While inhouse teams can't necessarily offer the same economies of scale, they can compete on how quickly they are able to produce a solution that produces business results, according to McDonald.

Companies who have opted for outsource projects often comment that although "they do get a change in labour rate, things actually slow down and they spend a very large amount of time trying to get the outsourced contracted people up to speed", McDonald said.

"A major justification of why we should keep someone inhouse is if they can get things done faster and the things that they do are more impactful."

IT workers who are concerned about their roles becoming outsourced should therefore focus on delivering projects on time and respond to IT queries as soon as possible so decision-makers higher up the business see the value of having an inhouse IT department.

10. Work on projects that require face-to-face interaction

Many outsourced service providers are also able to offer cheaper labour rates because they are based offshore. For IT projects that require face-to-face interaction or on-site development, offshore outsourcing becomes problematic.

"When you are looking at the providers that are in the outsourcing space quite a lot of them are looking to outsource some of that themselves to India and lower cost territories and that of course removes some of the client-facing activity that some of those customers want," said John O'Brian, research director at TechMarketView.

"In the financial services, quite often the IT people are required on site, they need to build face-to-face relationships with their customer and these are difficult to outsource," he added.

IT roles working in the financial sector or other projects where face-to-face interaction is required are therefore less likely to be outsourced and may provider greater job security.

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