Outsourcing

CIO Jury: Would IT chiefs outsource themselves?

Or is it just the IT department that always gets outsourced?
Outsourcing is set to become a fact of life for many IT staff with new research this week claiming it is the "endgame" for IT departments.

This will undoubtedly mean the transfer of many internal IT staff to a third-party IT outsourcer as a part of those deals. But one issue often raised by many of those techies, IT professionals and IT managers is that the top IT exec - whether it be the CIO, CTO or IT director - never gets outsourced.

So we asked silicon.com's CIO Jury line-up of leading UK IT chiefs the ultimate question - would you outsource your own job?

The result makes for interesting reading with seven saying 'no' they wouldn't but five admitting that they would.

Stepping up to the plate first was Bill Gibbons, CIO at Abbey, who said he would outsource his job if the remit of the project included the transfer of functions being performed by the senior executive.

"The key thing is to clearly separate the outsourced functions, the successful transition and ongoing management from a different role that is then required - that of managing this new outsourced relationship. The question is whether the executive(s) currently responsible are best placed in managing the operation or managing the outsource," he said.

Mark Foulsham, head of IT at eSure, likened the scenario to the "captain going down with the ship" but said he knows of several cases in recent years where IT executives have included themselves in the transfer.

"Selective outsourcing is appropriate for most IT functions as there are always areas which can be run better, cheaper and faster by others. But if an IT head is committed to the objectives of outsourcing then whether this is in totality or part he must consider his position as part of the change," he said.

Others said the CIO should be professional enough to do whatever is in the best interests of the company - even if this includes transferring his or her own role.

But those on the 'no' side warned against outsourcing strategic responsibility. Graham Benson, information services director and CIO at Screwfix Direct, said: "In my opinion outsourcing only works for activities that are commoditised, and not intellectual property assets of an organisation such as a business analyst. If the CIO is not a valued intellectual asset of the company than they should be replaced, not outsourced."

Simon Norbury, head of ICT at Westminster City Council, agreed, saying "outsource delivery, not strategic thinking" while Angus Waugh, head of IT at the National Audit Office, said IT strategy can end up "out of the control of the organisation and in the hands of the outsource company".

Kevin Lloyd, CTO at Barclays, pointed to the regulatory issues for financial services firms of outsourcing that senior IT role. "In our case the Financial Services Authority expectation is that this role would remain internal to the company, in our governance structure."

Two of the CIO Jury said 'no' in line with their strategic policy on IT outsourcing. Colin Cobain, IT director at Tesco, said: "I don't believe in the wholesale outsourcing of IT departments anyway. It simply doesn't work long term." Ian Auger, head of IT and communications at ITN, said he wouldn't outsource his own job but that "I very much doubt I would outsource my team either."

Today's CIO Jury was…

Ian Auger, head of IT and communications, ITN
Graham Benson, information services director and CIO, Screwfix Direct
Colin Cobain, IT director, Tesco
Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO, Manpower
Mark Foulsham, head of IT, eSure
Bill Gibbons, CIO, Abbey
Kevin Lloyd, CTO, Barclays
Simon Norbury, head of ICT, Westminster City Council
Sean Powley, head of IS strategy, London Borough of Barnet
Margaret Smith, director of business information systems, Legal & General
Angus Waugh, head of IT, National Audit Office
Phil Young, head of IT, Amtrak

If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com