InfoWorld has a fun blog called "Off the Record." Readers send in their IT horror stories and if they're chosen, InfoWorld posts them on this blog anonymously. Normally, I don't give anonymous posts a second glance, but Tuesday's installment cracked me up and it makes a nice integration morality tale for those of you vigorously pursuing outsourcing.
I know -- outsourcing is so early 2000. But let's get real here: SaaS and cloud computing -- assuming there is a difference -- all are basically variations on outsourcing. If technology were cooking, internal IT would be home meals: bad, or good, you're stuck with it. Outsourcing would be like visiting a family owned business; you're basically getting the same food you might fix, but it tastes better and you're not wasting time or food experimenting.
SaaS and utility computing would then be like fast food or a pizza joint -- it's very quick and efficient, but with a limited menu. You're probably getting about the same thing as everybody else, except maybe without the pickle or with extra fries.
I'm sure there are lots of great outsourcers and service providers out there. And certainly, it can be a good strategic move, particularly for small companies who can't hire the necessary IT skills.
But the problem with both dining out and outsourcing is you're never entirely sure what's going on behind the scenes. If you enjoy your meal and everything goes well, lucky you. But if there are problems -- say your steak's undercooked, e-mail stops going out, you contract Hepatitis C, or the database gets hacked -- it can be hard to pinpoint what went wrong.
This Off the Record post is a great example of how integration can really bring out problems with outsourcing.
The poster worked for a company that acquired two other businesses -- one called GoodCo, the other BadCo. Things were in-house at GoodCo, so the acquisition and resulting IT integration went smoothly. Unfortunately, this lulled our writer into a false sense of safety going into a second acquisition with BadCo.
BadCo outsourced everything with a big company, and as a result, integrating BadCo's systems into the corporation has been a major pain in the patootie.
What's really amazing isn't that there were problems, but how BadCo's outsourcer responded to the problems. The IT team took to calling one outsource staffer "Captain Obvious" because his core skill seemed to be just restating what they'd already said.
The kindest way to put it would be to say they were lethargic about addressing issues. A less kind person might say they were either incompetent or deliberately misleading.
My question is whether the users at BadCo would've known how they were being taken for a ride if this had happened pre-acquisition. As it was, the IT person writing the post knew better and was justly appalled at the lackadaisical response of the big outsourcer.
After reading this Gothic tale, I'd sure hate to rely totally on the good graces of an outside IT staff to keep my business-critical technology up and running. Whether it's true or not, it's a great business and IT fable, with a simple but important moral: Buyer beware, because ignorance is expensive and really annoying.