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Outsourcing, governance, and nursery school

To govern outsourcing you need to establish service levels, check the supplier's development skills, and negotiate costs. But how can you make sure that the supplier will maintain and improve the systems?

What do you look for in a good nursery school (preschool)?

  • Service. You need to find a nursery that is open for the days and hours that you need your children looked after. There is no point in a nursery that does not open until 9am if you need to be in work for 8:30.

  • Development. You want your child to learn and develop. You need to check that the nursery staff are qualified, and can help your child to learn and grow in basic skills.

  • Cost. And you need to understand how much it will cost.

But these are not the most important. What's really important is that your child will be looked after well, and given the care and love and attention that you would give them if you were looking after them yourself. In comparison, the other factors hardly matter at all.

If you decide to outsource your IT, you need to look for similar things.

  • Service. You need to understand what service you will get from the outsourcer. You can use tools like service level agreements (SLAs) to define and then track performance against service targets.

  • Development. If the outsourcer is going to provide development services, you need to know that they are competent. You can ask for evidence, such as an assessment against the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), which measures the maturity of an organisation's system development processes.

  • Cost. And of course you will negotiate costs.

Important though these are, they miss one vital element.

If you have entrusted the care of your system to an outsourcer, how do you know they will look after it? Will they keep the documentation up-to-date? Will they upgrade the databases to the latest versions? Will the code be as well structured and documented as when you gave it them, or even improved? Will there be up-to-date test packs? Will the system still comply with all necessary regulations? Will the system be as efficient as it can be? Would it be easy for you to take the system back if you had to?

These questions are critical. They determine how well the system can support day-to-day business. They make a big difference to how easy it is to change the system. They dictate how long the system will last. Without care and attention, systems regress in all these areas. If you have outsourced your systems (or even if you have not), what have you put in place to manage this?

System governance can answer these questions. System governance is a framework for gathering and analysing this information, so that you can monitor these system characteristics. Just like an SLA, it is a way of setting targets for your service provider. But it goes much further than an SLA. It looks beyond short-term service delivery measures, into every corner of your system's well being. It's a way of checking that your systems are giggling and smiling, and not crying quietly in the corner.


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