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Checkpoint in the IT Career

Level 13

Change is coming fast and furious, and in the eye of the storm are applications. I’ve seen entire IT departments go into scramble drills to see if they possessed the necessary personnel and talent to bridge the gap as their organizations embraced digital transformation. And by digital transformation, I mean the ubiquitous app or service that can be consumed from anywhere on any device at any given time. For organizations, it’s all about making money all the time from every possible engagement. Remove the barrier to consume and make the organization more money is what digital transformation is all about.

There are new roles and responsibilities to match these new tech paradigms. Businesses have to balance their technical debt and deficit and retire any part of their organization that cannot close the gap. Ultimately, IT leaders have to decide on the architecture that they’ll go with, and identify whether to buy or build that corresponding talent. The buy and build talent question becomes THE obstacle to success.

There is a need for IT talent that can navigate the change that is coming. Because of the increased velocity, volume, and variety that apps bring, IT leaders are going into binge-buying mode. In the rush to accomplish their goals, they don't take the time to seek out latent talent that is likely already in their organizations. Have IT pros become merely disposable resources? Are they another form of tech debt?

Buy or build? This is the billion dollar question because personnel talent is the primary driver of innovation. That talent turns technology and applications into industry disruptors. Where does your organization stand on this issue? Are they building or buying talent? Let me know in the comments below.

23 Comments
Level 15

kong.yang​ first great points in your article.   I wanted to add I had this challenge this past couple weeks.  We are preparing to budget for 2018, and I had to decide between hiring 1 SAP tech or changing my ERP VAR to a slight more advanced institution at a higher cost.   Really i do not see IT pros as a expendable commodity.  As a IT leader I feel its my job to evaluate the cost benefit to either option and drive the necessary changes to help the organization or enterprise move forward.  

I chose to buy service over bodies.   My fear was that 1 technically skilled position was not going to gain us the flexibility of an entire organization helping us become agile, mobile, and more flexible in our time to deliver solutions to our ever growing business problems.   So I mortgaged the farm on a new VAR and reenacted my decision to add any personnel in 2018.   The truth is, the current landscapes are about delivery and we have to be able to deliver, quality, timely, and effectively. 

I feel we are buying talent but as a service to fulfill the organizational needs as they are currently.   Long term that might change but for today, we are buyers or service to prevent us from becoming sellers of IT personnel.

MVP
MVP

Nice article

Level 12

It seems that more and more IT talent and staff are becoming a disposable commodity that is outsourced. It started many years ago with outsourcing help desks and call centers. Now days high level talent is also outsourced through partners and VAR's. Businesses do not see the need to pay someone a high salary for high level of experience with a specific product when they can just pay for the support when they need it on demand.

We have this situation play out even in my organization. When we have to do something very high level involving our network or SAN, we have to call in our support VAR's to do the work for us because we are unable to or are uncomfortable doing it.

The problem is this style of support comes with a very high cost and an overhead. Our VAR's are physically 2 hours away from us, being we are in a rural area.

So if we need someone on site, it will be an absolute minimum of 2 hours to get them here, usually it is 4 hours.

Before the person is even here on site to look at the problem, we have paid for 2 hours of their time and travel, at well over $100 an hour. Depending on what it is we need, it can go as high as $250 an hour for that person to be here. So at minimum we are 2 hours out and $200-$500 before the person has even sat down to take a look at the issue.

We have a deal worked out with our VAR's where they only charge us for the travel time to get the person here, not also to get them back home, thankfully.

Sadly the business feels this is the better approach because this is cheaper then having the necessary knowledge and experience on hand to deal with these issues. They then complain about the costs when the expert has to be paid to be brought in to deal with a problem like this. It is a lose lose for us really.

Training is really important when you bring new tech into your business. Training both on your staff on how to use it, and your staff on how to support it. This is another weak point in a lot of businesses. They may train staff on how to use a new product, but they often times do not train their support staff in how to support on the new product. This happens in my business a lot. IT is saddled with a new system and we are given no time or training in learning how to support it, but are expected to do so immediately. Then we take heat from the c-suit when support is not up to par as a result of the lack of training on it.

Level 21

Because we are growing we are doing a combination of both.  We are working to significantly up-level our current staff but we are also adding additional staff with some of the new skills that we need.

Level 15

Thank you Kong.Yang. I think your comments were exactly on point. I just saw one of my former employers outsource almost all of their IT staff. It does seem that IT pro's are becoming a disposable resource for companies for many reasons.

Buy:  hire technical staff with the skills you need, at the best price you can get them.  It becomes a very active competition with other companies to find people willing to sacrifice their home lives and personal pay to get the training and salaries they need to get the job.  Those people with the best skill sets may only be interested in the highest pay.  Do you want staff willing to leave a company without notice when a competitor offers a bigger salary and a signing bonus, or better title or perquisites?

Build:  Forget about flighty IT "experts" with a zillion certs; invest in your own company by training people to be the assets you need.  Remember that training isn't the sole cost--you still need to keep those experts you've built, so find what it takes to find and keep them and make it happen.  Maybe it's better pay, or titles, or the ability to telecommute. Maybe it's simply about a better parking space, or increased staffing levels to reduce on-call per employee.

Whichever path you choose, buy or build, discover what it takes to get people standing in line to join your company, instead of existing in an environment where they're lined up to leave.  No company can afford to have an internal environment that causes employees to be watching Monster or Indeed for a job at a company with a friendlier and more supportive internal environment.

If you Buy, be prepared to pay top dollar to obtain and keep the best, or your expert will be out the door in a year or two.

If you Build, train your people properly, and give them great incentives to stay, or they'll be gone to someone who offers a better rate.

There's no way I know of to generate great loyalty and get people to stay--unless it's providing a good internal environment, great managers, budget for the right training, trust, tools, and the right staffing numbers.  Without these, a company can't discourage / prevent people from considering leaving.

MVP
MVP

I see a number of companies  buying and paying professional services to get things in place (Instant gratification) and forgetting to include education for those who support purchase.

Then this is also a selling point for cloud services to some...pay up front and don't have to worry about much else until it breaks and the in-house support team is no longer there..

Level 21

Unfortunately this has been a problem at my company.  Several times now our company has paid for professional services to bring in new technology but not had anybody on my team (the Operations team that runs everything) trained on it.  Then a few weeks later they want us to leverage the new solution and roll it out to some of our clients and our response has been "umm, yeah, we have no idea how to use that product since you didn't train us".  I find it amazing that people in upper management aren't able to see this problem in advance and avoid it all together.

MVP
MVP

Speaking of drills reminds me of an earlier company that had annual DR drills. We would actually grab our most recent (tape) backups and fly to our DR site in Texas. From there we would spin up the necessary servers, load the tapes and verify that everything worked as desired.

The most fun part was developing the "scenario" for the drill. I remember on year that Godzilla had stomped out our local facility creating the emergency.

Level 12

Who says IT people are not fun!?!? lol.

That does sound like a good exercise though.

Level 15

In our case, we have the personnel to support it, and they drive the VAR.  However being able to hire one person for a task when i can pay the VAR and have a larger pool for other knowledge base activities, it became a function of the company not giving me enough resources to compete and the VAR having the right price to make us effective.  I do not promote selling out for service over people.   When you can not address the needs with internal staff its better to get the right tool for the job, and ensure you are able to use it correctly.   With SAP you have to have a VAR anyway, with us it was about finding the right one. 

The "solution" to that shortcoming (by Management) is to get the vendor/VAR/Tech Services company to include training your team as part of the technical deployment.  Management must NOT balk at the additional cost; if they do, they'll end up having to hire that outside vendor every time they want a change to the products that company installed.  And at $250/hour or better, that's a less cost-effective way of investing than training your team properly.

My wife was a Project Lead on a power & light company's upgrade in the South.  They're vulnerable to hurricanes, and they needed an energy management system that could monitor and report and control all the information for substations, relays, coal & nuclear generators, etc. during a Class 5 storm. 

Their spec said the management/monitoring solution my wife's team was providing had to be able to keep up with five lightning strikes a second for hours at a time.

There's your fun scenario to imagine.

After she got it in place, a major hurricane hit, a few years later.  After it was done and gone, the electric company called her up to report how her software and hardware had performed.  It took 112 lightning strikes per second for extended periods, made it through generator issues and over a dozen tornados in the monitored region, and didn't have any glitches or slowdowns or malfunctions.  They thanked her warmly, and came back for future business.

That environment was where I first learned of the security features designed into power plants, including the kinds of anti-tank road blocks (giant caltrops, concrete pillars, and trenches) needed to stop unlawful physical access.  Of course, back in that day, there was no Internet, and no logical / remote access to secure.  Today, things are much different.

Level 20

We do both build and buy talent.

Sign me up for someone who's binge-buying Solarwinds admins.  I bet I can bust their budget with DPA SQL and Oracle licenses.  ;^)

MVP
MVP

Ughh..SAP.

I know of some companies that over a decade later their SAP implementation is still incomplete.

I know of a company that went live with a SAP implementation on a given date even though it wasn't ready because management said it would happen....

That is a scary reality being a decade into an ERP implementation and not being completed. Truth be told, it isn't the software that is the problem. There are failures across the board with the project management and executive sponsorship for it to take 10 years.

Flying tapes for a DR exercise? As a Business Continuity Professional I am scratching my head on that one... That process is wrought with issues.

Level 14

Nicely put kong.yang

IT will always be seen as an expense only item... (One CFO in a company I worked for a few years ago referred to such expense areas as "profit sucking pigs".... )

MVP
MVP

Ran into that hard with some places I worked in the past.  They preferred the flexibility of pro services so they had little to no support for staff training and once you took the initiative to skill yourself up there was not going to be anything outside the stand 1-3% annual raises come hell or high water.  They know that anyone with any ambition will leave in a year or two but they figure that the low payroll keeps them ahead of the game.  I didn't deal with the numbers much back then so maybe they were right in their case, but it sure seemed like paying $250 an hour for contractors to address relatively simple tasks was a losing game. Especially when any staff who learned even half of what the contractors did were jumping ship left and right.  Definitely feel like there is something to be said for having institutional knowledge and ongoing process improvement.

Level 15

A company I worked for outsourced a lot of support work offshore. There was a substantial amount of training up front to get the contractors up to speed. A few months into it we found the turnover rate for the offshore team was quite significant.

Level 12

I worked a 1 month contract that turned into an open ended contract (I left after 3 months) at a company that outsourced their call center/help desk to the Czech Republic. I was hired to fill in the gaps while the transition took place. They had 16 people in this department when they outsourced it. They were supposed to take a month to transition the calls from there to the call center over seas. After 3 months there were still 5 regular employees still there on top of a couple of contract employees.

The transition did not go well. The volume of tickets that were not resolved on first call went up something like 400%. Tickets were being transferred to the wrong teams and being abandoned all over the place, not getting closed properly, not getting followed up on properly. Simple issues that were being resolved by the call center/help desk were being sent to the desktop support team and wasting their time on issues they should not have normally had to deal with. I do not know if they still have their call center over seas or brought it back.

Another company, I did not work for them at all, did the same thing in the same area before this company i was contracted for. They expected to save about $400,000 a year in costs by moving their call center help desk services over seas. To give some hindsight to make more sense, this company ships products it makes all over the country. A lot of places that they ship their products to do not have much storage space, so they schedule the shipments to show up and go right from the truck to the shelfs. If a shipment is late, something else is put in its place and the shipment is returned or denied. As a result of the increased issues in dealing with tickets from the help desk, shipments started being delayed and showing up late. This resulted in the product being returned or abandoned. In the first 9 months of the help desk being outsourced, they lost over $1,000,000 in sales due to the issues. From what I herd they brought their entire outsourced department back on site within 18 months.

When you outsource, you lose that in house expertise and company loyalty. Someone who works in a call center for a company in another country doesn't care about the company or the quality of service they are providing. As a result, quality suffers, and turnover is very high in these over seas call centers. You never get developed talent that is tailored to your specific company and its employees and their needs.

It's a challenge I can sympathize with, when top level executives seek to reduce costs by outsourcing to less-expensive overseas service providers.

But we've been watching this kind of action for over a hundred years--remember high school history class discussing when California businesses sent laundry to China because it was cheaper than doing it locally, especially during the Gold Rush era?

Eventually it turned out the service returned to California as people realized using local resources benefits a lot of people and perimeter businesses through the Ripple Effect.  Not only did they get their clean clothing returned much more quickly, they were able to leverage local resources and increase profits while increasing service levels.

Many businesses fell into that same trap of outsourcing to off-shore / out-of-country solutions to escape paying the taxes and wages that ensured a strong local economy and infrastructure.  And many of them have realized it's to their benefit to return those services to the local / regional solutions adjacent to their plants.

It's another classic example of those who fail to study History being doomed to repeat it.  How much better off those companies would have been if they retained their internal staff/services, we'll never know.  In one of the examples you cited, it's obvious a seven-digit negative financial impact would have been avoided by staying local.

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