PC Expo: Facing staffing shortages, IT looks to outsourcers

Computer World –

NEW YORK -- When New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) launched E- Z Pass, it faced a tough IT staffing challenge. E-Z Pass, a program that bills people electronically for tolls when they use bridges, tunnels and roads, needs to be up seven days a week, 24 hours a day, noted Cary B. Peskin, director of technical services and support. However, he said, "It's very difficult to find a Unix administrator to work midnight to 8 a.m."

That was a major reason why the MTA decided to outsource its project, Peskin told a panel this morning at the PC Expo conference and trade show.

And the MTA isn't alone in facing such personnel scheduling problems.

Several speakers said saving money -- a traditional reason for bringing in outside contractors -- isn't always tops on the list. "The biggest single issue is staff shortage," said Dan Prichard of Entex Information Services, a Rye Brook, N.Y., outsourcer that focuses on 10,000- to 25,000-seat contracts.

Outsourcing is becoming more popular as information technology departments face more and increasingly complex demands that "stretch the resources of the 'internal service provider,' " noted Stephen Clancy, an analyst at Dataquest in Lowell, Mass. However, "there's a lot of risk to bringing in someone who isn't on your payroll," he cautioned.

Panelists advised attendees to write their contracts carefully. The MTA included penalty provisions for downtime that could be traced back to its outside vendors, Peskin said. "We have yet to exercise those provisions," he added. The MTA uses a consortium of contractors led by Lockheed Martin IMS Corp. in Teaneck, N.J.

Speakers also urged IT executives to work with their outsourcers to improve business processes and streamline costs.

"Many people have likened the word outsourcing to application -- if you're doing it, I don't have to worry about it," said John McKenna, vice president at CompuCom Systems Inc. in Dallas. "Sorry, it doesn't work that way. ... We're partners."

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