IT outsourcing: Does it make sense for your schools?

• How does the outsourcer address disaster prevention and recovery?

• How will customer service be handled? Will the change improve or degrade customer service on campus?

• What are the qualifications and experience of the employees that the outsourcer will provide? How is performance assessment and monitoring handled? Recourse?

• How difficult will layoffs and reorganization be at your school?

• Will quality suffer when you become a “little fish in a big pond”?

• How is security handled?

• What changes will need to be done to your school technology infrastructure and WAN links? What about present assets and investments?

• Does your IT infrastructure lend itself easily to outside services and management? What about integration with other technology functions?

• To what extent does your outsourcing decision limit choices in the future?

• What arrangements will allow you to sleep best at night?

SLAs are ‘critical’

Service level agreements (SLAs) are “critical” to the success of any IT outsourcing project, Tritsch said. A good SLA should define what the outsourcing company will do and how, as well as acceptable response times and your recourse if these aren’t met.

SLAs must be measurable and enforceable … but don’t go overboard with them, or you’ll risk ruining the relationship, Tritsch said. The purpose is to “get all the issues on the table,” so there are no surprises when problems arise.

When drafting an SLA, consider how performance will be measured—and by whom. “You need independent metrics,” Tritsch said. “Don’t just rely on the outsourcer’s.”

Also, consider your exit strategy: Do you have a plan for resuming the delivery of services yourself if things don’t work out? And finally, are there limits on price increases at the end of the contract term? If not, you might feel trapped if the service provider decides to double its costs when the contract expires.

Where to start

If you’re going to try outsourcing, start with the areas where you’re having trouble or are the weakest, Tritsch recommended. To do this, you must understand the services you already offer, their cost, their value, and the impact that farming them out might have.

Long-term financial modeling is a must, he said. Also, keep people on your staff who are knowledgeable and experienced, so you’re not stuck if you have to return to an in-house delivery model.

In short, the answer to whether IT outsourcing makes sense will vary from school to school (and even from project to project); there is no one right answer.

Outsourcing is merely “a tool,” Tritsch concluded. “Use it where it has the most value—and don’t forget your safety goggles.”

Dennis Pierce

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