Outsourcing: the Cost-Effective Support Model?

Well, it might seem to be cost effective, but before you commit to outsourcing IT support for third party software to a global consultancy, you may want to consider the real costs involved.

Outsourcing: The Promise of Support

In addition to the core requirements, your prospective global support consultancy offers the following services or features:

  • Fully-qualified graduates

YES, but did they graduate from the university funded by their employer? Are they new graduates with no real-world experience?  Even fairly commonplace problems can appear simple only in hindsight and benefit from experience. More serious issues rarely bear any resemblance to the contrived exercises set by a lecturer.

  • Thorough support handover and knowledge transfer

YES, but is the knowledge transfer actually check-box filling? It has been known for inexperienced workers to expect every line in a generic spreadsheet to be completed regardless of context or meaningfulness.

How motivated are your (soon to be ex-) support staff really going to be in answering meaningless questions to people who really don’t want to understand the thumbnail let alone the wider context.

  • The consultancy offers to take on your existing IT support staff

YES but for how long, two months?

Outsourcing: The Reality of Support

Once you have signed the contract, and your ex-staff have now been dispatched from the consultancy you may well find that although issue resolution is reported to be at a high rate, support issues seem to take much longer to resolve, the same problems crop up time and again, and your relationship with the third-party supplier of your software has deteriorated. Looking beyond these surface symptoms reveals some or all of the following:

  • Issue tracking is maintained to a pedantic extreme

Here, each and every interaction between your users, the support consultancy, and (where necessary) the third-party supplier on the issue is logged. This way the support consultancy can offer comprehensive, but not necessarily meaningful, stats at short notice. Should the original support call be logged under the wrong category, or reference the wrong screen/server/system, this pedantic process requires that the call is closed and the problem called in again with the correct information.

Although the consultancy appears to be closing support calls, there is not a great deal of lateral thought given to support issues. This attitude aligns well with the initial knowledge transfer process.

  • Histrionic hand-waving at every error message

Error messages are not application bugs, they are application messages. Read them and you will have a clue as to how to rectify the problem — indeed, these are often issues that need to be referred to support, but your support consultants should respond to them appropriately. If your application can’t connect to the database, you probably don’t need a tele-conference with 10 people across three businesses; it might be sensible for the support team to check that the DB server has not been taken down. For routine maintenance. Scheduled routine maintenance.

  • Lessons are not learned

Despite compulsive error tracking, qualitative understanding of recurrent problems is lacking. Your staff have become demoralised and disillusioned with the service from the support consultants. No-one is motivated to make software improvement suggestions: not your grumpy staff, not the high-level stakeholders (being unaware of such issues) and certainly not the support consultancy.

In this environment, unless a proactive approach is taken, the same problems will continue to crop up, with blame being apportioned to the support consultancy (for not fixing the problem once and for all) or, more likely, the software supplier (for failing to correct a problem of which they have no knowledge).

In short, quality IT support for your bespoke software will cost money, if not in an up-front contract with the third-party supplier then in a constant trickle of smaller charges and lost productivity. Loss of motivation and productivity in your workforce is not something your business can afford or budget for.

See also Support Models