Maybe you had a nagging suspicion that there was a move to push IT tasks to an outsourcer. Or maybe it came as a big surprise when the CIO made the announcement. In either scenario you likely weren’t prepared for the news and now find yourself panicked over future employment.

Your first instinct is to dust off and shore up the resume, and start calling recruiters. And while both tasks are natural responses, you also need to take a breath and examine the potential new IT roles that could be created within the company’s structure, or even with the outsourcer, as well as recognize that the job change provides a real opportunity to map out your next career step.

The first steps
When Steve Kaluzny, a senior infrastructure support analyst for nine years at the Gillette Company, learned that the company was considering outsourcing the help center and his department, it didn’t come as a surprise: Company leaders had alerted staff early on. The 30-year-old was one of two team leaders in the department that handled support, upgrades, and projects for desktop computers at the corporate headquarters.

“IT managers let the staff know early on they were considering outsourcing and they bid the services to several companies. The internal support group also participated as a bidder to keep the support staff in house,” he related.

The outsourcing bidding and project planning took a year during which Kaluzny and his team kept working at their jobs. When the planning and bid awards were completed, GE won a three-year contract for the computer help desk, as well as on-site infrastructure support for Gillette’s Boston offices.

“They didn’t hide the fact they were considering outsourcing. I feel that our group was overly optimistic that by cutting costs, not filling vacancies in our group, plus the intangible benefits of having an in-house support staff would prove the winning decision,” he said. In the end the decision on whom to award the outsourcing contract came down to costs—there was no way the internal group could compete on price as GE uses a help center based in India.

When he first learned about the outsourcing plan, the North Attleboro, MA, resident got his resume current, registered on major Internet job sites and contacted local recruitment agencies just in case his internal department did not succeed in its effort to win the contract.

“I started working with a local outplacement agency to learn job hunting and interview skills and how to network,” he said. Once he was laid off, Gillette provided severance, health insurance through the severance period, and outplacement services for a year. The outplacement benefits proved very useful, Kaluzny explained, as employees were teamed with a job counselor to review strategy, progress, and tips on the job search.

“There were also a dozen seminars and weekly work teams sessions where you got to meet other job searchers and learn what was working or not working for them,” he said.

During the job hunt, Kaluzny seriously began considering starting his own company. He believed there was a niche support market for home users and small business.

“I’ve always enjoyed working computer and networks and found a greatly underserved market for quality computer support. The dominant players in the repair upgrade field, local computer shops and big tech stores, don’t offer home services,” explained Kaluzny, president of PC Support Now. As company owner, he’s continued his networking efforts to develop relationships with other local tech consultants and has made contacts with professionals across many industries.

In looking back at the outsourcing experience, Kaluzny said the first thing he would have done—before even refreshing his resume—was to meet and talk with every colleague in the company.

“I would have let them know I’m going to be in the job market and ask them about any opening and outside company contacts they might have had. [In starting my own company] I learned that networking was critical in a job search and the more people who know you are looking, the better,” he said.

In addition to reaching out to colleagues, he said it’s critical not to badmouth the current company you’re leaving, and not to feel ashamed about losing the job to outsourcing.

“You’re going to need your contacts at the company and references,” he pointed out.

And above all, he added, no tech professional should believe that being outsourced is a career ender.

“Don’t feel locked into your current career. Take the opportunity to re-examine what you want to do or what you want to be,” he said.

In retrospect Kaluzny acknowledges that it was very unlikely that his in-house teams’ effort to thwart the outsourcing effort would succeed, given the costs savings offered by offshore IT shops. Tom Mochal, president of TenStep Inc., a consultant, agrees with his assessment.

“It’s hard to prepare yourself as outsourcing decisions are made on economic grounds, not based on job performance. If your company decides to outsource your function, I’m not sure that there is much you can do about it other than try to get out of the jobs that are most likely outsourced,” said Mochal.

Outsourcing doesn’t always mean job loss
While it’s probably not the most common result, there is also the possibility that an outsourcing effort ends up failing and provides an IT professional with a new, expanded role within the company.

That’s exactly the experience one TechRepublic member, who requested anonymity, related when asked about his initial reaction to the news that his desktop support division was being outsourced.

It was 1994 and the 32-year-old IT professional had been a senior desktop specialist with the company for three years. The company brought in an outsourcer whose team replaced the desktop department. The TechRepublic member didn’t lose his job, however, and actually was moved into the role of desktop project leader.

His company went the outsourcing route to try and reduce costs, he said. One of his first tasks in his new role was to research the actual financial savings the outsourcing would provide.

“It was important not to outsource anything that was not well defined and documented, and in case of unforeseen costs or problems, we also wanted to outsource something we could bring back in fairly easily. Desktop and help desk were considered good candidates, “he explained.

Once the new outside team was in place, however, it became clear that the outsourcing effort wasn’t getting high marks with customers. The TechRepublic member was then given the responsibility of improving the customer service levels and customer satisfaction for the desktop server group that had taken over his previous job.

“I conducted focus groups with customers, sat in on hiring decisions on new staff for the group, and conducted reviews of high impact problems,” he recalled, adding that all those efforts raised the customer satisfaction level.

Make a plan before it happens
As there are various outcomes of an outsourcing effort, it’s imperative for IT professionals to be proactive and prepared long before the word ‘outsourcing’ is said at the boardroom.

Peter Woolford, manager, IT and Engineering Staffing at Boston-based Kforce Professional Staffing, points out that IT professionals actually have many more career options besides the layoff scenario.

“There might be the opportunity to manage the outsourced work,” he said, illustrated by the TechRepublic member’s experience noted in this article. “Someone who understands the outsourced work will be needed to be the liaison with the offshore team,” Woolford explained.

The career change may also offer a transition for an IT professional to move into a more business-oriented role within the company.

“The CEO of a small firm recently related that with his outsourcing effort that the business-oriented roles will stay, and the straightforward technical roles will go overseas,” he noted.

Woolford agrees with Mochal and Kaluzny that there really isn’t any way for IT professionals to stop an outsourcing effort.

“The economics are just too compelling. The best tactic is to get management to be sure they have really looked at all the costs involved in moving work offshore,” he said.