My changing workplace – part 6: Outsourcing 90's

This could have been a conversation at the beginning of the 90’s:

Ribblehead"Did we get agreement to buy that mainframe upgrade through the investment board"


"Why not"

"Because manufacturing needed a new machine to produce widgets so they got the money"

Why was that? Because I worked for an organisation that was primarily focussed on manufacturing and in that context IT was regarded as a bit of a money pit with limited value. Or, at least, that was the perspective that I got from the place where I was sitting. I wasn’t sitting very high in the organisation and my viewpoint was quite limited, but it was a widely held view.

Around the middle of the 90’s two of the larger IT hardware and software providers decided to make an approach to my employer regarding facilities management. In simple terms the proposition was about asset transfer – "We’ll buy your equipment off you and then rent them back to you, that will give you a bit of a cash injection and give us the responsibility to make the investment decisions. You’re a manufacturing organisation and don’t want to be worrying about all of this IT stuff, let us do that". There was an important message in these discussions and that was the the best people to do IT were IT people. In other words IT was becoming more professional.

The initial proposition was, an interesting one, but the organisation decided not to take them up on their offer; instead they decided to talk to a number of organisation about the idea that had been proposed to them. They weren’t the only organisation having the conversation but they were one of the earlier of the larger organisations to be thinking about this new way of deliver IT capability – outsourcing.

Eventually they settled on which one of these organisations they were going to work with, and which of us were going to work for them. This was the first time I came across a law that would shape many conversations over the years – TUPE.

From a personal perspective as someone in their mid-20’s looking to advance my career the whole thing looked like a wonderful opportunity. The extent of my advancement in the manufacturing organisation looked pretty limited, in the new fast growing IT organisation the horizon looked much more expansive. Although, as someone in their mid-20’s with a small child much of what happened is a bit blurry. I remember a couple of presentations telling me how wonderful it was all going to be, one in particular sticks in my memory because the short wiry Scottish man presenting was quite animated. I didn’t spend much time thinking about this change which, looking back, feels like a very significant one.

It’s fair to say that not much changed in the beginning of our new employment, we went to work in the same place and worked on the same things. But the world of opportunity had opened up and I managed to make a move from one part of the organisation to another, from there I took on a role covering more varied customers and staff across the country and eventually throughout much of Europe. I also realised that my core strengths did not make me good at people management, but that’s a story for another day.

Some people still define me as someone who has always worked with the manufacturing company where I started and having been back there to work a few times I don’t blame them, but I have gained experiences that I would never have gained if I had still been working there.

Speaking as someone who has worked inside the system for over 20 years now I see that outsourcing was an inevitable consequence in the lifecycle of information technology; a lifecycle that is still playing out today. We are in the processes of changing from one form of outsourcing to another in what many people call cloud. Outsourcing was an opportunity for me then and continued to be so for many years, the new outsourcing is bringing different opportunities.

"Do what you can do the best and outsource the rest" Tom Peters

"The best companies outsource to win, not to shrink. They outsource to innovate faster…" Thomas L. Friedman (The world is flat)

My changing workplace:

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