Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Spinning Our Wheels

I got some disturbing news yesterday morning.
I have a friend (no blog link) who worked with me at MD Anderson. Before that, he was at Shell Oil for years.
In addition to being really good at EverQuest, Jason is one of those I.T. people we have all heard about who was asked to train his outsourced Indian replacements before his lay-off date.
He was given enough notice in that round of lay-offs to land another job before the end, but I know people who haven't been so lucky as well.
Jason got out with tons of amusing stories from his days spent training people half a world away and some of the disastrous impact they continue to have on the bottom line. He still knows people at Shell.
Anyway, Monday Shell announced that they are delighted with the effect outsourcing is having on the stock price. As a result, they are ramping it up over the next 12 months.
They have also fine-tuned it. This time they will offer enough notice that they won't have to pay severance to the displaced I.T. workers -- several who have been loyal employees for over a decade.
There are a lot of questions that spring to mind over this.
When factoring in response time and system downtime, is there really a cost savings?
How do the business units feel about having a technical team that attends meetings from the other side of the planet?
Is this about efficiency? Using contractors instead of full-time employees? Hiding expenses from stockholders by funnelling money through other channels than payroll?
Is it evil?
I can't answer any of those questions with authority. I know how I feel about it.
And then there are hard facts.
Within a year, Houston will see a glut of displaced I.T. workers on a scale unseen since the Enron collapse.
These people will spend the following 12 months adjusting to new roles elsewhere.
Some will move away, but the majority will be absorbed (skills intact) into the Houston I.T. landscape - a landscape dense with Shell competitors.
During my interview for this job the final question from my current manager was "Why should I hire you and not someone else?"
I love that question. I always have.
The answer is the same, always: "Because I'm going to go to work somewhere. Would you rather it be here or at someone this company competes with?"
I think in the long-term Shell will end up paying a lot more for outsourcing than the books suggest.
I know in the short-term I'm done buying gas at Shell. And Quaker State and Pennzoil.
While I can buy petroleum products anywhere, it is wrong for a company to take the same attitude towards I.T. services.
Leslea sent me a link to USB-powered awesomeness. Due to the topic of today's post I wondered if the little guy might be a metaphor for the I.T. worker in the market today.
I think it can be for a number of different reasons. First, it obviously works very hard and goes almost nowhere. Secondly, if you remove it from a computer it doesn't do anything (though it remains cute and fluffy).
For the third metaphor, the "U" in USB stands for universal -- This little guy can do his thing anywhere with equal cuteness and efficiency.
I remember from keeping non-USB old-school hamsters years ago (as everyone should at least once), like the modern I.T. worker hamsters need something to chew on all the time or they become sick and despondent.
I also remember that the cute and fluffy little guys can inflict a very nasty bite if they feel they have been wronged.
There are ways I.T. people differ from hamsters, too. Like the whole "eating their young" thing.
But every metaphor has a limit.


Shana said...

*rises slowly from seated position to applaud with awed enthusiasm*

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Pamela Moore said...

I don't patronize Exxon or Mobil because they're the pace cars for gas pricing. It looks like I'll have to stick with 76 and Arco now.