Look outward to fix the IT worker crisis
- By John Monroe
- Aug 07, 2000
Government agency managers concerned about the dearth of high-tech workers
have long days and sleepless nights ahead of them: The problem, in all likelihood,
will get worse long before it gets better.
Such pessimism sounds unproductive, but it isn't. Sooner or later, agencies
at all levels of government must come to terms with the economic conditions
that have created and sustained the information technology worker shortage.
Then — and maybe only then — they will be ready for the solution available
Think about it in terms of supply and demand. In many parts of the country,
people with the right technical skills and experience can pick and choose
among dozens of jobs in their area or relocate to areas where the shortage
is even more pronounced. The result is akin to a bidding war.
Government agencies, in most cases, cannot win that war. Private companies
can often absorb the financial shock because they can adjust the prices
of their products and services accordingly, ensuring a return on their investment.
Or they can pay employees with company stock, which ensures that payroll
rises only as the companies' returns increase.
Agencies have no such options. They may win battles occasionally by
crafting more flexible and creative employment policies, but that will only
stem the loss of employees, not reverse the trend.
But agencies are not helpless in this market economy. Rather than put
themselves in a position where they are bidding for IT services, they should
put the services they require up for bid. That is, they should outsource.
Like their commercial counterparts, many government agencies are earmarking
more money each year for technology, buying new and better networks and
computers, and investing more money in management services.
Those products and services — packaged together across a state, county
or city government and put up for bid — could attract offers from a large
number of IT services firms. The recent outsourcing deal in San Diego County,
for example, brought offers from Computer Sciences Corp., Electronic Data
Systems Corp. and IBM Corp.
In addition to the more commonly cited benefits — including more predictable
IT costs and better management services — outsourcing gets government agencies
out of the business of recruiting, hiring, training and replacing high-ticket
employees and allows them to focus on putting that technology to good use.
No one should underestimate the difficulty of outsourcing. Connecticut
put together a billion-dollar deal with EDS only to see it fall apart because
the two sides failed to agree on terms of the deal, including the projected
savings. But such difficulties, though complex, can be worked out, as appears
to be the case in San Diego County, where a team led by CSC is entering
its sixth month on a project.
The prognosis for hiring skilled IT workers is grim. At least with outsourcing,
government agencies can get themselves on the right side of the bidding
John Stein Monroe