The Asia-Pacific business unit of LEP International, a global transportation and logistics organisation, outsourced its network five years ago to IBM Global Networks (GN). The man who made the decision was Tom Bish, LEP's Asia-Pacific IT director. Bish spoke with ARN's Richard Noone last week about the pros and cons of outsourcing.
What integrator and/or VAR partners do you deal with and how long have you been associated with them?
Bish: We outsourced our network five years ago to IBM Global Networks. Our industry is in the business of moving cargo internationally - including cargo distribution and materials procurement for manufacturing. To provide for over 1000 users in 11 countries across the Asia-Pacific region we needed to provide a computer system, which is available to our customers 24 hours a day. So LEP went to tender and IBM looked like the best option.
What made you decide to partner with IBM Global Networks to begin with? Was it a network upgrade, migration or didn't you have the resources to do the work in-house?
The ongoing cost of outsourcing the network wasn't the initial driving factor in the decision. It hinged on being able to provide a reliable system and infrastructure, which could maintain response and up-time.
There were a number of issues that also came into play such as not wanting to take the skills in-house where ongoing staffing issues including retention, morale and training would become a responsibility. Also, as an international network we didn't want a structure where we'd have to deal with the local telcos in each country.
If you can imagine what that would be like, it would be extremely time-consuming.
What have your impressions been of IBM GN as a partner? Has it lived up to your expectations? If not, what were the problems and how were they resolved?
IBM has been a good partner over the five-year period. However, there were a few teething problems in the beginning which were to be expected. It was difficult at first because we were breaking new ground. IBM GN was beginning to operate on a more regional level and it was just starting out in this space. Now the structure is in place and it's working fine.
I put the early problems down to the culturally specific nature required of working with a global network. They were just people problems, like wanting to speak to someone in Malaysia when they were at prayer. Or trying to speak to someone in Hong Kong, where you had language barriers.
What are your impressions of the broader integration market? Has the standard of services and workmanship improved, stayed the same or worsened?
I believe most companies looking at outsourcing as an option are too concerned with using it as primarily a cost-saving exercise, neglecting its role in the business practices of an organisation. I think people need to look at "aligning what the business needs" rather than the easiest ways to save money.
IT managers are often too technically focused and don't understand the business needs, but that's changing. There's more people moving from a software background or [an IT] industry background and coming back to work in-house.
I can't stress enough that IT managers need to be able to get into the boardroom and "fight" to sell the technology which is going to fit into and enhance the business practice of their companies. When it came time for us to make the decision to run with IBM, we had the industry background and could "bang on the boardroom table" for what he wanted.
Are you quite happy to stick with IBM GN for now or will you pick and choose depending on the project at hand?
As part of the outsourcing partnership, IBM GN also houses a component of LEP's hardware in a facility management capacity. I run a pretty skinny shop here of about five people and then we have IT managers in each country. So a lot of stuff is outsourced. While I look forward to sticking with IBM as LEP's outsourcing partner there is every chance I would look at bringing in another company for a particular project if it was the right company for the task.
You have to get the right skills and the right support for any project.