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Hero syndrome: Why internal IT and outsourcing cultures clash

Stephanie Overby | Feb. 24, 2011
The "stay up all night, do anything for the user" hero culture of corporate IT may win friends in the business, say outsourcing consultants at TPI and Compass, but it won't yield real business-IT alignment. And it makes it almost impossible to succeed at outsourcing. How does that hero culture clash with an IT outsourcer culture? How and when do those clashes tend to play out?

Dreger: The outsourcer culture is built around process discipline, consistency, and repeatability. It has to be that way in order for the outsourcer's business model to be profitable. Specifically, outsourcing works when you can bring in relatively inexperienced people to run things.

The way it usually plays out is that the client culture prevails, because you've got the dynamic, talented leaders in the client organization competing for cultural dominance with the relatively inexperienced staff of the outsourcer. This is especially true with some of the offshore providers, who have undergone significant growth in the last five years. They have a lot of young and inexperienced staff who often aren't equipped to push back on the client and say, 'We need to follow the process here.' Instead, they adapt to the reactive, hero approach.

Bob Mathers, Principal Consultant, Compass Management Consulting: This culture clash is fairly well-recognized, at least among companies that have been through outsourcing a few times. It's not so much the vendor's fault as it is a clash of organizational styles that should have been reconciled before switching services over to the vendor. What is still surprising is that even organizations that recognize the dangers ahead of time don't appear to be willing or able to do anything about it until it becomes a big issue well into the contract.

This clash is one of the biggest drivers of client dissatisfaction with outsourcing in general, because the vendor appears to be rigid and difficult to deal with and changes from that structure cost more money. Clients cite this structure and discipline as one of the reasons they wanted to outsource in the first place, they just don't always appreciate what that means for the organization. Why shouldn't the service provider adapt to the internal IT culture? Don't IT outsourcing customers want a responsive, flexible provider?

Mathers: It's tempting to do that, especially in the early days of a new agreement where the vast majority of vendor resources supporting the client are the same ones that have been supporting that client for years. They worked for the client, and now they work for the vendor. But now they're trying to cope with how to keep everyone as happy as they've always been while adhering to a new process-driven delivery model that appears to be standing in the way.


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