A Methodology for Approaching Outsourcing
Previous chapters extensively discussed the six steps that should comprise an IT project. Outsourcing of a VoIP project can be undertaken through a similar process. You plan what needs to be outsourced and why, evaluate candidates and choose one, and let them start their work. Parts of their work may be ongoing, so you need to monitor them and give them feedback on whether they are meeting your expectations. If the process goes well, will the VoIP deployment expand? Will you involve them in future projects? This section outlines a methodology for creating a partnership with the individuals to whom you will outsource part or all of your VoIP project.
Starting the Partnership
Just as with the VoIP deployment itself, the first steps in outsourcing a major project involve upfront planningdeciding what you need and how you are going to meet those needs. Before you outsource, analyze your situation to make sure outsourcing is appropriate and is likely to succeed.
Planning and Analysis
One way to start is by drawing up a list of the most difficult problems you face in VoIP deployment and management. For each problem, write down the things that would have to be done to fix them. Then, ask, "Do we have the personnel and expertise to successfully resolve all of these issues?" If the answer is no due to lack of time, lack of organizational expertise, lack of money, or the potential ongoing operational cost, then outsourcing is a possible solution.
Above all, don't make a change that will result in an overall reduction in the quality of the services you have been providing. With VoIP, you are probably deploying new software, using new network devices, generating new network traffic, and doing new types of management, monitoring, and troubleshooting. The section "Some Options for Outsourcing," earlier in the chapter, has a pretty thorough list. Determine which of these tasks should be outsourced, make sure you are aware of the budget and schedule for each, and make a list of yourand your users'quality expectations.
Evaluation of Potential Providers
This stage is your individualized "bake-off," where you compare the likely candidates for your outsourcing contracts. You may wonder how best to choose an integrator. The previous section provided a list of questions to consider. Pare down your list of candidates, and then invite a handful of candidates to participate in a discussion with you and your team. Evaluate them based on the criteria that are important to you and rank them. The vendors will be doing everything they can in the bidding process to differentiate themselves from the other candidates. When you are evaluating offerings from multiple vendors, it is important to ask for the same thing, consistently, from each of themto compare apples to apples.
Your organizational or corporate policies may dictate which vendor to select based upon its bid. If a bid seems too low or too high, though, you may want to investigate to find out why. It is quite possible that the vendor is omitting something from or adding something to your spec that you should be aware of. In some situations, rather than choosing vendors based upon lowest price, the winning vendor is selected as the bid that is closest to the average of all the bid proposals.
The most important consideration may be the long-term relationship you will develop with a provider or systems integrator. VoIP is business-critical; having interviewed your potential partners, whom do you trust most?
Manage the transition from inside operations to an outside provider carefully. As a project manager, by outsourcing, you are not abdicating responsibility for the results; you are simply achieving the same or improved results in a more effective way. Work with the people both inside and outside your organization to help ensure a smooth transition. Think about how the change will affect all of your employeesespecially those who are now doing the soon-to-be-outsourced workand help them to make the transition. And don't forget the end users, as well. As often as it is appropriate to do so, communicate with them about the VoIP project, including why you are doing it and how VoIP will help the organization provide better service in the future.
Outsourcing may scare your employees. Stay aware of how any outside team can breed mistrust at your organization. Get, and stay, ahead of the rumor mill through straightforward, honest communications.
Keeping the Partnership Running Well
The ongoing success of a VoIP project depends on its reliability and quality. Your outsourcing partnership depends on these two attributes, as well. To ensure reliability and quality, apply the same approach to the partnership that you apply to the VoIP deployment itself:
Monitoring and management As the relationship between the organizations moves forward, three things top the to-do list: communicate, communicate, and communicate. It is not possible to have too much communication between you and your new partner. But at the same time, be careful not to micromanage the project or to manage the provider's business for them. Insist on open communications about what is happening and why. Also, remain open to the flow of innovation and new ideasoutside providers should become a constant source of innovation.
Problem isolation and diagnosis Talk continuously with your outsourcing provider about what is working and what is not working. Carefully document, analyze, and learn from every problem that crops up.
Planning for future growth Talk about what the business might need three months from now that may be different from what it needs today. Establish trends with your provider showing their reliability, performance, and quality over time, so you can tune your existing relationship and plan future projects. As you need to grow or change your existing system, you return to the top of the life cycle chart again, doing planning and analysis for the improvements.
The Six Worst Mistakes in Small Business Outsourcing
Michael F. Corbett & Associates, Ltd. publishes this general list of outsourcing mistakes. It is worth passing along:
Not clearly defining the desired results and how they'll be measured
Not talking to a provider's current and former clients
Failing to consider the long-term relationship dynamics
Signing a standardized, multiyear contract
Not planning up front for how the relationships might end
Treating the provider as an outsider