A couple of years ago I talked to Computacenter about what it called 'out-tasking'. Even then, the concept seemed fairly straightforward: instead of outsourcing, say, the whole support function, you bring in a specialist just to deal with a particular aspect of it, either for a specific project or for a short time after a product has been installed.
So it surprised me that people in the trade had to have this concept explained to them when it cropped up in conversation. But now it is really starting to happen everywhere, even in the smaller dealerships. If it's not something you have already latched on to, this may be the time to revisit your customers and ask them again what they really need. This could be the future for many reseller businesses.
According to the client of a small dealership that was using its supplier for just this type of service, it seems to work really well. The user company, which is likely to have IT projects coming out of its ears, does not have to recruit specialists, and if a roll-out is eating up more resources than expected, it can just call on the dealer to send more troops in.
The dealer gets the fee income.
Why don't these companies go to the temp agencies? Well, that's not always quick, easy or cheap. Often, agencies don't have staff with the right experience who can integrate with the IT department easily. Being sent people from a regular and trusted supplier, who knows the business and probably already knows many of the staff involved, can make life a lot easier.
Another small dealership is having to turn away engineering contract business because it can't get enough staff to deal with the demand. In the corporate sector, demand for installation services is strong. At least two main reseller businesses are reorganising their technical services operations to cope with the need for big roll-out programmes.
Why is this happening? The skills shortage and year 2000 projects are the main reasons. Demand for engineering staff is so great that the former Digital engineers who worked on the Dell contract have been snapped up by the likes of ICL, EDS and Wang.
While much of the hand-wringing that goes on over the year 2000 is probably unnecessary, there is no question that it is taking up company time.
There's also no question about the continuing growth in the economy and the rapid decline of unemployment. But although salaries and contract fees are undeniably going up in a way that might stoke up inflation pressure, the lack of people to do the work is a more worrying problem.
If we don't have the people, we won't be able to do as many jobs as quickly as we'd like to. This is already happening in business and it is why there is so much opportunity to out-task a lot of the IT functions.
That's good short-term news for the channel. But there are also long-term dangers. If we are not careful and try to move too fast, we might become victims of our own success.
Simon Meredith is a freelance IT journalist.
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