Educause: Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative

Educause’s recent Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative complements my recent article questioning the value of IT projects.

In my article, I said that work  easily expressed as a classical/waterfall project probably has less intrinsic business value. This includes stuff like routine infrastructure and commodity services.

The Educause piece has a graph showing how Pepperdine University rated the value of its in-house IT services:

(Click the image to see the full size.)

Sampling of services with lowest value or transformative potential, mostly the stuff of process or where classical/waterfall projects are normative:

  • Windows administration
  • Security
  • DBAs
  • Help Desk (outsourcing this is the theme of the Educause article)

And services with the highest value or transformative potential, the stuff of agility:

  • EIS functional (basically business analysts)
  • Portal
  • Technology & Learning Team
  • University Planning (basically enterprise architecture)

I chuckled at security’s inclusion in the least value segment. Security has always lived in a halo of insecurity; their value is in what didn’t happen. How do you express that? Regardless, you’d be crazy not to have a good security team.

How about the rest? Does this mean Windows administrators, DBAs, help desk staff, etc. should quake in their boots?

Depends. In the near term, I don’t see a sea change, but I also don’t see growing opportunities for work on the bottom left of the graph. Long-term, the outsourcing question is “when”, not “if”. And until then, the value of work on the bottom left isn’t intrinsic; it’s measured by what it enables the people on the top right to do. If the bottom lefters aren’t helping the top righters, they are nailing their own coffin.

Once the outsourcing begins, I’d hope that it results in either:

  1. Equivalent position at the outsourcer. I saw a university do this when it outsourced its trades department (HVAC, plumbing, landscaping, etc.). If you enjoy the trade, this can be good; you’ll probably have more growth opportunities versus pigeonholing with an employer where your trade is ephemeral. This is already happening to pure-play programmers, too, but that’s a subject for a different day.
  2. You get reassigned within the original employer. This is what Pepperdine did (see bottom of page 1 of this). But–and this is a big but!–it’s only going to work if you’re versatile and able. If you’re a one shot wonder, have little skills depth, or find it difficult to adapt, this could be the beginning of a downward spiral.

So what to make of this? Two things.

First, if your job is routine, process-driven, or involves a lot of waterfall projects, you may not be high on the business value ladder. These positions will be scrutinized. Make sure you are versatile enough to merit and survive reassignment.

Second, watch what’s going on around you. Where are you, your immediate coworkers, and your department headed? Is the cliched “writing on the wall”? Sometimes, you need to be proactive and transform yourself up the business value ladder.

Transformation, agility, and business value are the future of IT. Process and waterfall’s share of that future is declining. Be prepared.

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