IT department for sale: staff included

Outsourcing may not be as dreaded a word as redundancy but it can still generate a tidal wave of panic throughout the office.

Outsourcing may not be as dreaded a word as redundancy but it can still generate a tidal wave of panic throughout the office.

"We felt fear, uncertainty and doubt," says Simon, a Notes analyst, describing the mood when his IT department was told it was up for sale. "We didn't want to leave our employer and we were concerned that it would not be as good wherever we were going."

Stories such as Simon's look likely to become more common as companies look for ways to cut costs in the face of the continuing economic downturn.

A growing number of businesses have calculated that they can save significant sums of cash if they hand over their IT infrastructure to a third party. For the IT staff involved it will always be an unsettling time.

Fortunately, under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 (Tupe) employees rights are protected. All terms and conditions in the original employer's contract must be transferred and where this is not possible the employee must be compensated financially.

"We were losing our staff canteen and the outsourcing company couldn't provide one so we were offered cash instead," says Simon.

"A sum was calculated and it is paid to us monthly over three years - although this contribution is taxed."

Many staff will still feel unhappy about the enforced change. The culture, the location and of course the business priorities will be completely different.

"The downside is that from working for a retail company I am now employed by a business that is 100% IT-orientated so we have been more affected by the downturn than my previous company would have been," says Simon.

Of course, change can also bring new opportunities. Phillip Russell, managing director of outsourcing consultancy Servusb2b, believes that a selling point to ITers is that they are moving from being a support service to a core service within the new company. This should provide more career opportunities.

According to Russell, fear of the unknown is the biggest cause of concern among staff. He says the best way to deal with it is to be positive.

"Most of the people who are going to leave do so shortly after they have joined the outsourcer," he says. "Some people just don't like the change, while others really enjoy the challenge."

To date, outsourced IT departments are in a minority but Russell believes this is set to change. Increasing commercial pressures and more examples of successful outsourcing projects could be key drivers.

So, if outsourcing looks like a possibility, look very closely at your contract and consider the ups as well as the downs.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Simon chose to stick it out and feels he has done OK out of the transfer. "There have been good and bad points," he concludes.

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Has your IT department been outsourced or are you concerned that it is likely to happen? How has it affected your career prospects? E-mail [email protected]

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