Municipalities that outsource their ICT face major changes within their organisation. A well-guided change is usually an improvement, but a change that does not pay sufficient consideration to the people is not a great start to an ambitious cooperation.
There are many reasons why a municipality may decide to outsource ICT to external specialists. The most positive motivation is that this is the best way to make the ICT system future-proof. But in reality, a municipality does not always have much choice. The ICT Benchmark Gemeenten 2018 of M&I/Partners reveals that the need for specialised IT staff continues to grow, partly because of the growing digitisation of society and the increasingly strict privacy and cyber security requirements. However, this also generates greater competition on the job market, making it increasingly hard for municipalities to recruit suitable staff on a permanent basis.
Effects of outsourcing on people
This has consequently reduced the outsourcing threshold, although the motivation is not automatically obvious to the existing staff. In 2017, the ICT outsourcing of the city of Groningen led to great unrest, with considerable opposition among IT staff and even local politicians because 64 jobs were in danger of being cut. It is a fact that organisations in the public sector are subject to close scrutiny from local residents as well as municipal staff. Municipalities are often confronted with IT outsourcing for the first time (the so-called first generation outsourcing), and that lack of experience sometimes results in decisions that look good on paper but are experienced differently by the people.
One of my colleagues joined Solvinity a while ago as a result of an outsourcing process. He believed that the process could have been much easier if he and his colleagues had been involved sooner. His former employer wanted to ‘avoid unrest’, but this backfired. He then took the plunge himself and started conversations with Solvinity before it was officially known that Solvinity was going to take care of the outsourcing, otherwise he would not be my colleague today. His former colleagues knew that something was about to happen and left as soon as the die was cast. I am sure they all have good jobs now, but their knowledge of the organisation was lost in the process, and this only caused greater unrest.
On the flipside
For municipal ICT staff, outsourcing means that roles and responsibilities will shift, that people will have to consider further training, and that some positions will simply cease to exist. When dealing with outsourcing, a municipality may face a transfer of an undertaking, which sometimes even entails an obligation to offer its employees a new position with the party that will take over the ICT duties. There are many ICT specialists who are not happy about this. At Solvinity, we have a different opinion. We see it as an opportunity to bring in people who can help us to make the transfer as smooth as possible because they already know the systems (often legacy) and internal politics through and through. We like to bring in people with that much experience.
Furthermore, we believe it is better for all parties to discuss at the earliest possible stage how the potential outsourcing of IT should be organised. This way, the change causes less resistance and gives us a good and realistic picture of the vision, objectives and challenges of the municipality. In our view, it is important in every outsourcing process to build up a good and pleasant cooperation with the team that will continue to manage the client’s affairs. The sooner we can lay a good foundation for this cooperation, the better.
That is an important reason for Solvinity’s desire to have multiple offices throughout the country instead of a single office tower in the capital. In addition to the head office in Amsterdam, Solvinity has offices in Assen, Amersfoort and, more recently, Den Bosch. Not only does this strategy maintain regional employment, but it also ensures that local talent does not have to bend over backwards to get an appealing job. This was also an important consideration for the new colleague. Travelling to Amsterdam was not an option for him, but because he had the opportunity to work in Amersfoort, his travelling time has barely changed.
As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, it is very important for municipalities to map out in advance what they want to achieve by outsourcing and how they can remain in charge of their ICT in the new situation. It is equally important to talk about it, not just with the responsible officials but also with the employees who are currently responsible for ICT and will undoubtedly feel the consequences of outsourcing. By preparing the change well, you can avoid considerable unrest and work together to find a solution that benefits everyone. A smooth transfer will also allow you to start focusing on future-proof digital services as soon as possible. I would like to tell you more about that in my next blog.
If you would like further information or if you have questions or comments in response to this blog, please contact Rob van Ewijck, Sales Manager New Business at Solvinity, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read also our blogs about digital transitions of municipalities and how ICT outsourcing can function as an accelerator for municipalities, how municipalities can maintain control of ICT, the importance of control for digital municipalities and how municipalities can make their digital strategy future-proof.