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What About Outsourcing?

Outsourcing is, without a doubt, the single-most cited reason for malaise in the IT sector. Articles about lost jobs, disenfranchised workers, and the demise of an industry abound.

But will all IT jobs be outsourced? Is there a place for the IT worker in an outsourced/offshored economy? Can the astute technology professional develop skills that will make him both employable and not easily displaced with a low-cost replacement overseas?

The fact is that all jobs will not be outsourced. In fact, the current government forecasts through the next ten years still place technology jobs as having the greatest growth and higher average pay.

Although I will not minimize the impact that outsourcing has had on some, the bulk of technologists have remained employed and are fairly well compensated. Normal economic cycles have played as much a part in the industry malaise as outsourcing.

I am a huge believer in the agile/free-agent driven workforce written about in books like Free Agent Nation, by Daniel Pink, and Winning the Talent Wars, by Bruce Tulgan. I have found their message pertinent in both my own professional life and that of other technology professionals who strive for advancement.

When speaking of outsourcing, I am speaking more precisely of off-shoring, or the practice of hiring workers in other countries due primarily to economics. Local outsourcing also exists—the movement of business departments and functions out of an organization and over to an organization with competencies in that area.

Outsourcing of the offshore variety is what worries and angers many technology professionals. The problem, as they see it, is that there is an uneven playing field. To a large degree, they are right.

There are moral and economic challenges when a company sends work to an underdeveloped country without the same standards and restrictions regarding environmental protection and working conditions.

With that said, however, notable failures in corporate off-shoring are also prevalent. It is my belief that many of the more analytic and business-centric functions of IT will create nearly insurmountable challenges for outsourced projects. These will turn into opportunities for the astute, local technology professional.

Outsourcing Is About Value, Not Costs

Many companies do not see a significant value in keeping jobs in the country. They find it difficult to quantify talent of their in-house technology workers.

If you are going to pay a premium for talent and get little perceived or realized value in return, why not send the work overseas? Companies sometimes find that their in-house staffs are not providing value. By sending the jobs overseas, they still receive little value, but the bottom line is protected.

The objective for technology professionals is to better define their value. This is a common theme throughout this book. Value to the business is what makes technology appealing, not the rote tasks associated with technology maintenance or even implementation.

Such tasks have to occur and are critical, but they are not quite as critical in the overall scheme of things. Executive management is looking for ways to drive profits. For many companies, technology is a necessary evil and has little strategic value. If your company has this perspective, your job will always be less secure. Your ability to create value will become your greatest source of job security.

If you are a technology professional, or you aspire to be one, you need to quickly see where you stand in the value chain of your organization. Initially, while you develop your skills, you will be pretty low on that chain. However, the quicker you adopt a value-driven mindset, the quicker you will find your career advancing.

Companies outsource primarily when the IT function in question is perceived as more of a cost than a strategic value. If you are a producer, it is less likely that a company will want to let you go. Even if particular functions are outsourced, highly productive employees stand a much better chance of being placed in another role within the organization.

You might also find that your company outsources to create a second shift—effectively increasing the length of its workday without paying a premium for overtime or after-hours talent. Once again, your ability to provide a greater strategic value should be the silver bullet of security that you strive to attain.

This is less about working harder, per se. It involves your ability to see smarter, more effective ways to perform your tasks. In addition, it involves becoming better at determining company needs and then delivering value-rich solutions. This has always been the case. Outsourcing has merely accented the need to adopt this strategy.

The Jobs That Won’t Be Outsourced

Although outsourcing is highly publicized, it is much more prevalent in larger corporations. Most jobs, however (80 percent or more), fall into the small-business category. The small-business category is composed of companies that have between 10 and 500 employees. Most of these companies maintain small IT departments, where the overlap of talent and business knowledge is critical.

These small organizations provide the greatest opportunity. Because of their size, you might be required to provide training one day, infrastructure support the next day, and simple programming assistance the following day. In addition, due to the smaller size, you will be required to be more aware of company projects and plans. You will be forced into a more strategic role. This has great career benefits.

You should also consider jobs that have geographic significance. Managing outsourced projects, working to train and support technology staff at smaller organizations, onsite integration of technology, and others provide clues as to which jobs will remain within your country. In summary, you will find that more strategic roles and those requiring communication with staff and management tend to remain within the country.

Later, should you plan to take your skills into a larger organization, the more comprehensive skills will help you. You will, quite simply, provide more value.

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