Outsourcing - Where in the World Is the Virtual IT Worker?

Although broadband connections, collaborative technologies, and remote diagnostic tools have facilitated telecommuting in IT, there are some jobs that still require "face time. "

Outsourcing - Where in the World Is the Virtual IT Worker? - The long economic slump in technology has put many of the issues behind telecommuting and "telework" -- working at home, a satellite office, or on the road -- on the shelf. Organizations forced to slash staffing costs are more tied up with figuring out who to lay off than trying to retain existing employees with enticements to work from home.

However, as the surge in IT outsourcing demonstrates, more and more IT jobs can be performed remotely, in the U.S. or offshore.

But, is letting IT staff work from home -- especially administrative and support people -- a good move? What IT tasks are better done on site? And does telecommuting -- and outsourcing, for that matter -- really save a company money?

Farming Out

Outsourcing, particularly offshore, is catching on. In a survey of 315 information technology executives that Gartner conducted in June 2003, about one-third of the respondents said that they outsourced, or planned to outsource, at least some of their IT functions.

The executives mentioned such IT infrastructure layers as servers, clients, help desk, storage, WAN transport, and on-premises voice and data as appropriate for outsourcing. On average, the survey respondents that outsourced said they did so for about 43 percent of their IT infrastructure. One quarter of respondents outsourced more than 75 percent of their infrastructure, and about 6 percent outsourced 100 percent.

"Outsourcing is happening more frequently in large organizations," said Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates, a management consulting firm. The increasing complexity of IT is causing executives to offload non-core infrastructure services to outsourcers. "They're saying 'Let's have our people work on core competencies --applications that increase profits,'" Janulaitis said.

Home Bodies

Letting IT administrators and support staff work from home or from other remote locations also has its benefits. Improved management technologies, better wireless connectivity, and more secure and robust communication channels are enabling telework to happen on a large scale, Janulaitis told NewsFactor. In short, productivity improvements are now hitting the IT world.

"Why should I end up commuting two or three hours a day when I can do most of the work from home or other offsite locations?" Janulaitis says.

The cost savings can come from reduced office space, for example. It is not unheard of for a Fortune 100 company to save as much as $3,000 per worker by enabling telecommuting. Increased productivity and gains resulting from better employee retention and recruitment are also possible.

Warning Signs

After a company realizes it is possible to do an IT support job from a remote location, the next step may be to wring out even more costs -- like the cost of labor. If a company can get a database programmer in Korea for $10,000 a year, why should it pay someone in the U.S. $70,000 a year? Janulaitis asks. "Telecommuting makes outsourcing a much more likely outcome," he said.

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