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How the trend toward offshoring IT could add to our problems in 2021

MSP cloud technology
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Providing all-encompassing, high quality, people-focused IT support has always been an incredible challenge for businesses. Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was an intense focus on digital transformation and cloud migration as companies sought to keep up with or outpace their competitors and provide their staff with an efficient, agile working environment. The thing about effective tech support is that it’s never done. There’s no finish line or defined box that can be ticked. It’s about businesses equipping themselves with the tools they need to work as effectively as possible in a landscape that’s constantly shifting. This requires an IT resource that’s adaptable, rapidly responsive and proactive, and for many businesses such things are hard deliver.

Between 2020 and 2021, worldwide spending on IT Service outsourcing is expected to increase by $50 billion dollars. This is the single largest annual increase ever, no doubt driven by the coronavirus pandemic and the sudden, and likely more permanent, need for remote, agile working.

This level of outsourcing isn’t a cause for concern. It is, in fact, a healthy industry response to a rapidly emerging need, and there are countless IT support vehicles out there. The problem is that too many businesses shop for IT support in the same way they’d shop for any other service, but IT isn’t just one deliverable; it’s a long-term partnership that should be forged with a forward-thinking strategy in place. This is why approaching outsourcing with a ‘quick fix’ mentality could be a dangerous response to this pandemic, particularly with regards to offshoring.

The added challenge of a ‘next normal’

To say this year has presented a challenge for businesses would be a huge understatement. Toward the end of March, offices throughout the UK were asked to close their doors with very little notice, effectively forcing them to rush through an entire digital transformation strategy in a matter of days. Most businesses had already been making provisions to enable remote working, but the process was a gradual one, with new tools, training and policies being nurtured over months and years. Suddenly, it was sink or swim and businesses had to adapt to the ‘next normal’ that was, in so many ways, uncharted territory. Despite the prospect of a vaccine for Covid-19 appearing on the horizon, it’s unlikely things will ever go back to how they were before.

The result of this sudden shift to remote working was an exacerbation of a problem that was already bubbling away under the surface. Companies were already competing over internal talent and productivity, as well as trying to provide the best customer experience - all things that are intrinsically linked to - and put pressure on - an organization’s IT resources. The pandemic shone a light on these issues, and any shortcomings in terms of IT strategy and function were brought into stark relief.

This put those businesses who had offshored their IT support at an immediate disadvantage. When a business is suddenly forced to adapt the way millions were at the beginning of lockdown in March, time and communication become crucial, and these both take a backseat when it comes to offshoring. Time zones, cultural understanding and language barriers suddenly become a problem, and the realization that the people on the other end of the phone don’t know your business, or its operating market, as well as your staff makes the challenge even greater.

The importance of consistency and people-focused support

The idea behind people-focused support is simple. In order to derive the biggest benefit from technology, businesses need to engage with real people that are personable, friendly, empathetic and understand the unique difficulties they face as a business. This an extremely difficult thing to achieve when outsourcing to an offshore entity. Another facet of the people-focused approach is being able to tailor an IT service appropriately. For instance, a non-technical key worker will need one-to-one support either over the phone or via video call, most likely requiring remote access to their desktop in order to get certain issues resolved. A more technical worker, however, might be more comfortable over something like live chat or email, or may only need slight direction in order to get around whatever issue they’re facing. These are critical differences that a tailored, people-focused, onshore IT service can cater for.

Cultivating a technology culture

In an age where technology is so inevitably intertwined in every aspect of business, from HR and marketing to finance and sales, it’s important to consider it during every stage of planning. In many ways, an IT strategy is a business strategy, so ringfencing it and moving it offshore could cause more problems in the medium to long-term. This is as important to the culture of an organization as it is to the basic function of its processes. If staff are well trained and know that support is available as and when they need it, they’re far more likely to stick around and work effectively. It also helps to cultivate a ‘culture of technology’ where IT enables innovation instead of stifling it.

At a time when remote working is becoming normalized and businesses are scrambling to optimize their presence in the cloud, companies need to understand that IT services are something worth being picky about. Choosing an IT services provider should be considered a long-term investment in the same way setting up a new internal department would be. The longer the partnership with a particular provider, the greater the synergy, and it’s this relationship that makes businesses adaptable and resilient in the longer term.

This crisis year has revealed many flaws in the way some organizations handle the outsourcing of their IT services, but where there are mistakes there are also great opportunities. By keeping or moving their IT services onshore, businesses will find it easier to provide an exceptional experience for their people, leading to higher talent retention, and all of the positives of keeping and attracting the best people such as revenue growth, greater new client success and an increase in their adaptability during times of crisis.

Richard Hutchings, Chief Technical Officer, Littlefish