The #CensusFail was undoubtedly the most embarrassing moment of 2016 for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
As people across the country logged on to complete the Census online for the first time, thousands were met with the message that the website was ‘unavailable’. The issue went unresolved for nearly two days – practically a decade in internet time.
The ABS had outsourced the project to IBM, a well-known global technology company that’s worth billions and operates in 170 countries.
While many worried about hacking and data security, there was a deeper issue lurking in the background: outsourcing.
It’s not surprising that the ABS decided to outsource the project. In a 2014 survey by Deloitte, more than half the businesses surveyed reported that they outsource work, and planned to increase this in future.
The main attraction of outsourcing is cost-cutting, as overseas-based teams can usually complete projects for far less than an Australia-based internal team.
On top of that, if a project requires specialist knowledge outside the scope of the internal team’s capabilities, companies can save themselves the cost of training up a new internal team.
In theory, this makes outsourcing a great solution: the company provides a detailed brief and the outsourced team does the hard work. However, when you break it down, the goals of external and internal teams tend to be very different, which has a significant impact on the final product.
An outsourced team will fulfil the brief and get the job done. They’ll tick all the boxes within the allocated timeframe and collect their payment. In contrast, a well-managed internal team’s attitude will be to find the best solution possible. While cost and deadlines will still be important, there is far more flexibility for innovation.
They’ll also have a strong sense of ownership over the project, which will result in employees going above and beyond to deliver high-quality work.
This difference in attitudes becomes even more clear when something goes wrong.
At the first sign of an issue, an internal team will dive in head first. They know that the issue is their responsibility and will work quickly to resolve it.
Alternatively, outsourced teams are likely to become bogged down with questions about contractual obligations. If you haven’t outlined the terms of the Service Level Agreement clearly or in enough detail, you’ll be hit with extra fees and a delay while these charges are negotiated.
In the case of the Census, delays left Australians feeling frustrated with the incompetence of the ABS and hostile towards the decision to move the Census from paper to online.
It was also revealed that the Census website crash cost taxpayers an extra $30 million!
At the end of the day, you can’t put a price on the relationship that internal teams will have with a project. They understand why the project is important to the company’s overall strategy and are far more committed to its success.
Instead of being one of many short-term projects for an outsourced team, an internal team will see the project as their own – vital to the company’s growth and success.
The question is, is it worth giving up the best solution for a ‘good enough’ solution for the sake of a few hundred dollars?
I would argue that it’s not. Especially when it comes to launching new technology which, to be successful, must be tested extensively, run smoothly and be easy-to-use.
For a company to stay competitive in an increasingly crowded marketspace, I strongly believe that it needs to upskill and strengthen its internal teams, rather than cut corners.
If we expect exceptional work from our internal teams, it’s time to start investing in them.
About the Author:
David Hobley is the Chief Information Officer at GlobalX.