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Unix Enterprise by Harris Kern & Randy Johnson

4 methods to avoid being outsourced

How to keep your users happy and away from the competition

December  1996
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Much has changed since the days when IT managers ran all corporate services and users took what they were given. Today, users are more sophisticated, and if you intend to keep them as customers, you need to change to meet their perceptions. (1,300 words)

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MIS managers have a lot of skills that help their respective employers, but often, marketing, negotiating, and selling IT services are not among them. If you want to keep your users as customers of the internal IT department instead of some outsourcing agency, you'll need to hone your skills to work with them instead of dictating to them.

Traditionally, the role of the IT department was to determine what resources users needed and then provide for them under the guise of corporate services. This worked well for a long time in the mainframe days because we did know more than the users about what capabilities and rescues they needed. There was never a question about what resources users had -- IT provided all the hardware and software. There was no "selling" to the departments. Departments merely got what they were told they'd get. But that's changed.

Why does IT need to see its own corporate customers in a different light? The client/server paradigm and the emergence of third-party support operations have changed computing from the way we once knew it. Users became frustrated with the centralized MIS organization, and we began to pay the price for our past arrogance. IT services were costly, bureaucratic, and no matter what the customer wanted, all of their services came in one flavor: mainframe vanilla, which is costly and bland. It wasn't a pretty picture.

Today, everyone in IT needs a refresher course in customer satisfaction. First we need a simple definition of the customer. We define a customer as someone who is able to choose a service from a cafeteria-style menu of options with associated costs. It's as plain and simple as that.

So why is it so difficult for IT professionals to treat users as real customers? The obvious answer is that old habits are hard to break. The not-so-obvious answer is that IT professionals today do not have their collective act together and simply don't know how to work with sophisticated users who are used to getting what they want the way they want it.

Building a bridge to users
This is less a matter of corporate culture than it is a situation of infrastructure and perception. In most client/server-based IT shops we visit, we see a considerable amount of operational support chaos. On the one hand, IT does not seem to know how to manage its client/server resources. On the other, this bastion of glass-house mentality has not had the training required to manage this new computing environment.

In our previous articles, we've discussed the importance of deploying processes, standards, and procedures, but it seems like no one has the time to put these operations in place. Client/server applications are being deployed at breakneck speed, and users, who have been bombarded with hype about the simplicity and benefits of client/server, are impatient for immediate results. They often don't want to hear the IT staff argue for deploying new applications only after an appropriate infrastructure is in place.

In effect, users want immediate gratification and shy away from anything that resembles the "old bureaucratic approach" to IT. Instead, many users now prefer to pick and choose their own services, regardless of whether those services are readily available.


Selling the infrastructure
If IT management plans to take control of software distribution once again, old processes must be streamlined, and new processes must be developed. Let's look at how an IT manager might approach the user base and sell this new infrastructure.

Let's now consider desktop support and list the services you would provide. The list need not be sophisticated or lengthy. Remember, in times like these, keep things basic:

Services and Costs -- $12/day/person

Standard services -- $6/day/person