Outsourcing – making good business sense in a skills scarce environment

17 October 2008

There is a shortage of Information Communication Technology skills in the South African market. That is a fact. It’s affecting the optimal running of ICT departments and thwarting ICT projects. Under-qualified professionals and ICT engineers are further hindering the efforts of business and Government to close the yawning skills gap, creating a resource pool of watered down skills that aren’t geared for ‘real life’ ICT crises and challenges. For many organisations the answer to this increasingly complex problem is to outsource their ICT functions/projects to a trusted partner.

Businesses are faced with staff and skills challenges that include high staff churn, poaching and demands for exorbitant remuneration packages. In addition, a primary reason for the distinct lack of high level ICT and consulting skills in South Africa the ‘mass exodus’ of skilled individuals to other continents.

This is according to Craig Moir, Technical Director at RDB Consulting, a company that offers professional database and operating system support, consulting, project management, solutions architecture and more.

He says, “Although Government and corporates are all too aware of this challenge, their efforts are not creating a big enough ‘funnel’ to support the demand for more ICT skills in the local market. However, the real issue lies in the ever-diminishing ‘strength’ or ‘quality’ of ICT qualifications.

An increasing number of crash courses promise highly qualified ICT professionals and engineers. This has been spurred by the fact that sectors of ICT specialisation continue to fragment, forcing resources to focus their skills development in specific areas. This is not an appealing proposition or a graduate that wishes to carve a career within the ICT industry.”

“Ten years ago, the qualification available for someone that, for instance, wished to become a programmer included identifying whether the person had the aptitudes required for the job and, of course, intense study of methodologies – all within a structured approach. This is lacking in certification curricula available today.”

A typical example is training provided by Van Zyl & Pritchard, one of South Africa’s leading training organizations. It offered, and still does, one of the most highly regarded qualifications for programmers. Armed with this qualification, individuals are never without work for long. However, today there is an increased demand for business related degrees. These have more appeal to a keen and ambitious student force.

ICT now one of the least ‘professional’ industries Vendors jostle for a leading position in the market along with short-term solution certification and training providers. This has led to a host of quick-fix crash courses that provide a superficial level of competence that cannot be compared to a formal degreed qualification coupled with experience. And current software developments are fuelling this phenomenon.

Adds Trevor Bezuidenhout, Principal Consultant at RDB Consulting, “The emergence of ICT solutions or applications built using many diverse programming languages initially created complexity. However, software development today relies on a certain amount of ‘intelligence’ in the form of wizards that automatically complete a task or function that would previously require manual skills. So, in essence, software is replacing the requirement for resources that understand the ‘nuts and bolts’ of technology.”

One would think that this is a positive development but, upon scrutiny, these intelligent applications do not offer problem solving. Snags and hitches remain that, at worse, lead to the complete failure of the application. A typical product of these ‘crash courses’ include programmers that are good front end Java specialists but have no back end skills. Formal qualifications that incorporate the technical foundations of ICT have thus become ever more important. A thorough knowledge and understanding of ICT at a grass roots level is required.

This has given rise to the ICT industry becoming one of the least professional industries. Says Bezuidenhout, “Take, for example, the formal studies and the qualification process required in the medical, engineering, accounting and legal professions. Many years are spent behind books and in front of lecturers in order to gain a solid theoretical foundation that covers all – not some – aspects of the job. An internship is then required in order for these students to ‘marry’ their theoretical knowledge with practical skills, resulting in ’rounded’ resources that are qualified and proficient in their field.”

In comparison, a candidate wanting to enter the field of ICT can obtain an informal qualification within 10 working days, complete two exams and go onto to climb the corporate ladder commanding a salary on a par with individuals that have studied for the greater part of seven years. It is no wonder that the ICT skills pool is not being properly addressed.

This has given rise to the business case for companies to outsource or co-source their ICT projects to a professional team of experts.

The outsource advantage “An outsourced team offers the benefits of cost-containment through a lower cost to company and defined deliverables that are supported by service- and operation-level agreements,” explains Moir. “In addition, companies using these resources do not have to concern themselves with retention strategies and staff churn.”

However, the co-sourcing model is fast gaining popularity as this addresses the problem of an under-developed ICT skills pool in the short-term. A co-sourced service is pivotal to skills transfer, providing ‘on the job’ training and experience which bolsters the businesses level of ICT skills within the organisation.

Moir concludes, “Co-sourcing is not the panacea to the global skills shortage. There is a dire need for a longer-term approach that raises the bar with regards to ICT certifications and qualifications. This will assist to develop industry standards and encouraged students to pursue careers in technology.”

About RDB Consulting

Established in 1995, RDB Consulting is a Database and Operating System outsourcing and consulting company that also offers project management, solutions architecture and more. Our services are designed to provide businesses access to expert technical resources whether full time, part time, co-managed or via remote administration. We worry about your database systems so that you can focus on your core business.

For further information contact:

Mark Robinson
Service Delivery Manager
RDB Consulting
Tel: 011-6123013
Cell: 082 893 0925
E-mail: mark@rdbconsulting.com