Data security and offshore outsourcing
Chris Deuchar, School of Biosciences, Nottingham University
I have long been intrigued by the promotion by some of outsourcing as a solution to staffing problems ranging from low numbers to high salary costs.
Occasionally one hears muttered concerns about security among IT professionals, but these rarely involve the public at large. In my opinion this is a gross underestimate of the distrust by the public of the whole process. I see two major problems of perception for outsourcing and offshoring.
Even within the UK, we hear almost daily of increasing fraudulent use of personal data and identity theft. This is in a country with a complex and thorough legal system through which one could, at least theoretically, chase wrongdoers through the courts and see them punished. As a last resort one could also "send the boys round".
For information that is processed abroad (and for that read verification, customer services, telesales or whatever) then, because of differing approaches to legal systems, or because of the sheer distance, none of the usual remedies are possible - especially the last! The public are aware of this.
Also, a company that outsources work is telling the public not only that they do not have the resources or expertise to do the job, but that they are also so desperate that they will allow another company to make profits off their back. A company that outsources therefore appears "inadequate".
In terms of offshore outsourcing, it will only take one major scandal for the whole concept to come crashing down and take many away in the dust. It is only a question of time. The rot has already started with the recent case of large-scale credit card information being sold in India from a banking site.
Technically, of course, there is nothing wrong with outsourcing within the UK or offshore, but the public don't trust it because ultimately the responsibility for it going wrong does not rest on the shoulders of anyone they can get their hands on.
Staffing costs and profit margins
Dave Overall, Redvers Consulting
I totally agree with the point Chris Tiernan made in his article (Computer Weekly, 6 December) when he said that economies of scale achieved by IT outsourcing contracts no longer exist in the 21st century (especially when hardware is taken out of the equation). However, competition between suppliers means that the profit derived from the mark-up of staff labour costs may be a little more sinister than just utilising cheap labour markets.
My wife works in human resources and they have always seen the first years of an IT outsourcing contract as a loss leader. According to several articles in HR magazines, profit is only generated after the transfer of undertakings obligations have been satisfied.
At this point outsourcing suppliers are entitled to "asset strip" the outsourced project teams, replacing the most able performers with far cheaper, inexperienced staff who are then trained by the middle-ranking ability resources on site. The high performers can then be used as consultants in the quest for the next client.
I suspect that some of the disillusionment from some of the more mature outsourcing contracts could be a result of the contracts reaching the asset stripping phase.
Software testing is more than just ticking boxes
Graham Smith, IS Integration
In response to your article on the human element of software testing (Computer Weekly, 22 November), Nick Langley is completely right when he says that an organisation's testing strategy and methods are only as important as the people who work on the testing.
The past few years have seen some monumental disasters that have come about as a result of failings in the testing strategies of some huge integration and outsourcing projects.
One of the key reasons why testing failures can have catastrophic consequences is that testing managers and the team responsible for testing do not get support from the wider organisation and the testing strategy is not flavoured with the right strategic and business influences. All too often, testing managers are seen as standalone entities in implementation projects - the rest of the business fails to realise that testing really can make or break a company.
This is a wake-up call to organisations. Testing is not just a tick-box operational function. You must have the right people in place, and these people must also get the right support from other areas of the business.
The problem is not technology, but culture
Nakis Papadopoulos, IMGroup
I was interested to read Arif Mohamed's article "Taking business intelligence to the masses" (Computer Weekly, 8 November).
Technologies like Microsoft's business intelligence platform are making business intelligence more accessible to more people. People want access to relevant information to maximise business performance, however, the issue is not with the technology itself, but with business culture.
I believe the technology is available, and part of what Microsoft is doing is using this predefined culture to push business intelligence capabilities into products that are already used by many people. It takes time for people to adapt to a new technology, but as long as businesses are flexible with cost and are prepared to change some of their business processes, they will be able to encourage a smoother transition.
The question companies should be asking is, to what extent is this technology relevant to my business? Allowing everyone in the company to have access to business intelligence tools might not be the answer, and businesses need to decide what is appropriate for them.
Making business intelligence accessible to more people will undoubtedly help to support an "added-value-centric" world, and now more than ever, access to more information is vital in supporting this.
Abbreviation is just a three-letter word
I noted in Cliff Saran's reply to Chetan Bhatt (Computer Weekly, 29 November) that he wonders how many people recall what IBM stands for. That esteemed organisation did, I recall, have a TLA (three-letter acronym) dictionary application which held many thousands of acronyms, obviously mostly pertaining to their own for which they are so famous. It contained FLAs too and an explanation of that TLA...