Back in my university days the fate of our department’s poster printer came up in a meeting. It was suggested that it might be time to get rid of it. The arguments for this were quite understandable: the printer’s upkeep was not free, somebody had to be responsible for it (it didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the official IT-support), and printing services were really not part of the departments core functions.
In the end, the poster printer did stay at the department and continued to see a fair bit of use. Even though people used paid printing services as well, delivery times and the cost of printing set certain limitations to the use of such services. The department’s very own poster printer offered the department’s researchers (often much needed) flexibility, which meant that you could tweak the contents of the poster until the very last minute and print it out just before you headed out to a conference. There was no need to fill expense forms, either. Thus, it seemed pretty clear that the department’s own poster printer was not pointless just because the department was not in the printing business, but instead it was often an important facilitator of the department’s actual core functions.
Working as an IT consultant, this thought of concentrating on core functions comes to my mind every now and then.
There are many benefits to employing consultants, but outsourcing skills and knowledge can also be taken too far. This can introduce big risks and dependencies on factors which the company has no control over. One way of finding oneself in a situation like this is to see IT only as an expense, as something somebody else should be responsible for and as something that’s not really part of the company’s core functions - in other words as something that is best handled by making whoever makes the best offer responsible for it.
However, nowadays IT is – whether you want it or not – more and more inseparable from the core functions of any company, so it is worth making sure that there is at least some in-house knowledge and know-how regarding the subject. This way risks can be mitigated e.g. through the ability to do things (at least to some extent) yourself, if need be. Of course, this is assuming that the products the company uses offer DIY-capabilities... Making sure that they do is another way of mitigating risks, even if there currently is no in-house team to speak of.
You might wonder why on Earth I, as a consultant, would speak for in-house experts and against excessive outsourcing?
There is a simple reason for this: When the customer has a healthy IT organization, the consultants tend to benefit as well. After all, both in-house experts and consultants are motivated by essentially the same things, which means that it is very rewarding when collaboration works and real value can be produced for the customer, with the customer. I also have a bias towards the DIY-market: HiQ’s integration platform Frends is an excellent option for an organization that wants to do integration development (either fully or partially) by themselves and get started quickly. And even in cases where there is no acute need for DIY development, having the option is valuable in itself – after all, few things are often as essential in facilitating core functions as integrations.