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Strategies for choosing an outsourcing partner

If outsourcing is the answer, what is the question? Jonathan Hassell arms you with vital questions you should ask when choosing your outsourcing partner.

Outsourcing -- to another provider, the cloud or any combination thereof -- has taken on a new emphasis as IT departments around the world look to become profit centers rather than cost centers. But what are the right steps and important considerations when choosing an outsourcing partner? What due diligence can you perform to really make a huge impact to the business?

Check out this quick-hit list for a guide to selecting the right partner and ensuring the right fit for whatever business process or service you've decided to ship off-site.

  • Why are you outsourcing? During the weeks- or months-long process of choosing an outsourcing partner, it's easy to lose sight of your organization's original goal. In the midst of defining requirements, selecting providers, negotiating terms and so on, "mission creep" is inevitable. Reclaim that focus by regularly asking these fundamental questions: What was your business goal for outsourcing? If you defined the outsourcing project completion, what would that look like? Are the conditions that led your organization to consider outsourcing still relevant and applicable? What can outsourcing this process or functions enable your organization to do that you aren't currently able to accomplish?

  • Do you have support from all stakeholders? It's a rule taught in all IT project management classes and courses -- if you are embarking on a systemic change, gain buy-in from all of the parties affected to maximize the chance of a successful transition. Nowhere is this rule more important than in the process of moving some internal service that users have presumably come to rely on and understand the intricacies and expected performance levels, to a potentially unknown entity. As part of your selection process, to ease the transition to the new environment, ask your outsourcing provider for recommendations and resources that it may offer. Are training services provided? A special temporary help desk? For service-oriented companies or back-office-type outsourcing contracts, will there be on-site assistance or orientation? How long does setup and ramp-up typically take? What complaints are your end users -- your customers, as the head of IT-- likely to have about the new service, and what are you doing to address those concerns and mitigate them ahead of time?

  • Do you trust them? As the CIO, you're interviewing partners for a job. The only difference in the case of outsourcing is that the employee is another organization. But the same processes should apply, so don't be afraid to dig deep. Most outsourcing entails sharing a crucial -- but nonprofitable -- business process with another entity whose sole focus isn't helping your organization succeed at all costs, so there may be experiences that your candidate partner isn't as forthcoming about. Ask questions. Get references. Have multiple interviews. Verify facts with independent firms if possible. In general, do your homework thoroughly, with as many logical candidates as possible.

  • Will there be culture shock? Cuture can mean a lot of different things, but in this case, consider your outsourcing partner's commitment to customer service. Which other companies does your partner service, and do those customers offer similar products and have similar business needs? What services do your competitors use, if any, and how do their selections reflect their own corporate culture? If you are a global company, does your outsourcing partner reflect a global attitude toward client service, uptime, maintenance windows, support in multiple languages, and so on?

Jonathan Hassell is president of The Sun Valley Group Inc. He's an author, consultant and speaker in Charlotte, N.C. Hassell's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual. Contact him at

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