This week on NVTC’s Blog, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting shares potential benefits and risk factors of outsourcing your tech department.


Maintaining an in-house IT department is the right decision for many businesses, especially those where IT is a central, or critical aspect of the business.

But for many companies, maintaining an IT department that is fully equipped to tackle any IT need your company may encounter can be costly and inefficient.

outsource

Outsourcing certain functions of your IT department may deliver a number of benefits to your company. But, in assessing whether outsourcing is the right decision for your company, you should also consider the potential risks.

Let’s take a look at some of the potential benefits, and consider some risk factors of outsourcing your tech department.

The benefits…

  1. Accommodate shifting projects and priorities. IT needs fluctuate constantly. It may be difficult to shift full-time employees who were hired for a specific skill set around as your company’s IT needs change. By outsourcing, you can easily accommodate changes as your IT projects and priorities shift.
  2. Deploy resources where you need them, only for as long as you need them. Going through an operating system upgrade? Implementing a new ERP system? These are projects that will require a temporary increase in resources. Hiring full-time employees to fulfill short-term needs is expensive, and time consuming. Through outsourcing, resources can quickly be scaled up and down to accommodate project needs, or occasional increases in departmental workloads.
  3. Gain access to talented specialists. Certain IT functions, or software require support from highly-qualified specialists. These specialists often have years of experience, extensive training, and a hefty price tag. Bringing them on full-time is expensive. And that’s if you can even find such specialists in the first place. By relying on an external vendor who will either already have these specialists in-house, or experience recruiting these specialists you can drastically reduce the time and money involved in recruiting and retaining such specialists.
  4. Free up internal resources. Roles and responsibilities change over time sometimes for the better, sometimes for well, the not-so-better. Your IT team may have picked up responsibilities overtime they were never supposed to support, thereby neglecting their original scope of responsibility. By outsourcing certain functions, especially those functions that can be easily outsourced, your staff can gain back the critical time they need to perform their role effectively.
  5. Cost savings. Ultimately, when done right, outsourcing your IT needs, can significantly reduce you IT costs. If you’re able to better accommodate shifting projects and priorities, deploy resources where you need them for as long as you need them, gain access to talented specialists when needed, and free up your internal resources, you can reduce costs across the board, and improve the effectiveness of your overall IT department.

And now for the risks…

  1. Your vendor’s approach and plans may not align with your strategic plan. Are you planning to rely on an ERP system to support your back-office functionality? Is there a desire to move to the cloud now or in the future? What are your plans for scaling and growth? Before you consider outsourcing IT functions you need to have a thorough strategic plan laid out so you can understand where an outside vendor could provide support. If you simply start trying to outsource an IT function without considering your longer term plans, you run the risk of engaging a vendor that is not aligned with your strategic vision.
  2. Some IT functions can’t be easily outsourced. Some IT functions lend themselves naturally to outsourcing. Project management support, help desk support, etc. But other functions don’t fit so naturally with outsourcing. If you are considering outsourcing, it’s important to fully evaluate the ease with which you might be able to outsource the function, as well as whether you will easily realize benefits by outsourcing that particular function.
  3. Employee morale may drop. If you plan to cut current staff to accommodate a transition to outsourced tech support, you need to be prepared for decreased morale amongst remaining staff. Lay-offs are never easy, especially if cuts are occurring purely to save costs by outsourcing certain functions.
  4. You run the risk of “getting stuck”. One of the things we emphasize at Providge is documentation and training. We do this because, consultants, and consulting companies, by nature are a finite resource. Eventually, we will leave. The project will wrap up, or the additional support will no longer be needed. If the efforts undertaken by your consulting team during their engagement are not well documented, and/or no training has taken place with your team  you may find you have to continue to to unnecessarily rely upon your vendor. No documentation? No training? Get used to the extra bodies in the office.

Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

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Find the Top Programmers for the Job

October 27th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s blog, member company Robert Half shares three technical questions you should ask in an interview in order to find the top programmers for the job. 


The technical interview for a software developer position should give you a clear picture of the candidate’s ability to perform the most important aspects of the job: writing quality code and fixing broken code.

The interview should include specific questions related to the technologies your organization uses; ASP.NET or JavaScript might be some examples. Beyond these general knowledge questions, you’ll need to ask technical interview questions that determine the candidate’s understanding of software development itself.

Here are three questions that will help you uncover top technical talent.

1. Please describe the architecture of your most recent project.

Ask candidates to describe a recent project in depth. Invite them to use a whiteboard or a large pad of paper to draw diagrams, if needed.

You’re looking to accomplish two specific things with this type of question. First, you want to look beyond what is listed in the candidate’s resume and confirm that the developer truly understands the work. This process will also help you determine just how active the software developer was in the example project and give you a good idea of that person’s level of decision-making.

The other goal is to see how well a programmer can present a technical concept. Evaluate the developer’s answer as if that person were presenting to both technical and nontechnical business leaders and project stakeholders. Would every person in the audience walk away with a solid understanding of how the application works and why things were done in a certain way?

The ability to communicate well with nontechnical colleagues is a critical skill if you want someone who can be a lead developer or software architect.

2. What lessons have you learned from your current project?

Every project presents an opportunity for a software developer to expand skills and knowledge. A candidate who has the curiosity and open-minded nature required of a top programmer can take away something valuable from every project they work on.

One of your technical interview questions therefore should be designed to give candidates an opportunity to share what they have learned on previous projects. Another version of this question is “What do you like about your current assignments and what would you improve?” The candidate you want to hire will be able to answer this in a way that shows the ability to learn from their experiences, whether they were positive or negative.

3. Let’s see some code.

Many interviewers fail to ask technical interview questions that require candidates to prove that they can do exactly what the software developer job entails: write code.

So, be sure to have the candidate write a few simple pieces of code. Two or three small code samples (about the size of a function, roughly 5-10 lines of code) should tell you very quickly if the candidate actually knows what he or she is doing.

One popular version of a short programming test is FizzBuzz. You might want to give  a time limit on this test or the results could be misleading. HireVue shows how long it takes candidate to complete challenges set up by the hiring manager. Another example of a test is to ask the candidate to write a function that finds the maximum value in an array of integers.

These tests do not merely help you identify unqualified applicants, they also can provide insight into how a particular candidate thinks. Does this person launch into a problem without proper planning only to realize he or she made an easily foreseeable mistake? Is the developer’s code clean and demonstrating sound coding practices? Does the candidate listen to instructions and follow them properly to solve the problem?

Try asking these technical interview questions in your next interview with a software developer candidate. You might just be surprised how many professionals with impressive resumes you’ll end up weeding out.

If you’re hiring software developers or any other IT pros, check out our Salary Guide for current starting salaries and hiring trends: 2016 Salary Guide

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Finding the Right Teaming Partner

December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. This week, Stu Funk of LMI and Amy Deora of Summit share teaming insights from a recent project.


Many factors drive teaming partner success. Whether you are looking for the right set of skills to meet client requirements, or the ability to quickly turn quality proposals, it is important to be strategic about teaming. Stu Funk of LMI and Amy Deora of Summit recently partnered on a cost savings analysis of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) energy investments. They share their insights on teaming strategy.

Q: What do you look for in teaming partners?

Stu Funk: We view small business partnerships as essential to LMI’s health. We look for small businesses with strong management that help us better understand client problems and meet niche needs. When an opportunity arose in support of HUD, we felt that Summit was a great fit, given its strong track record with the client. We also felt the project showed promise in advancing how agencies measure energy efficiency. Summit brought key analytical capabilities and organizational knowledge.

Amy Deora: We often look for the opportunity to be on a team where we can use our core competencies in partnership with a firm that has a different set of competencies, which ultimately allows us both to reach a greater breadth of projects than either firm could complete alone. For example, for our current partnership, LMI brings subject matter expertise in best practices in energy efficiency programs, whereas Summit provides methodologically rigorous utility consumption modeling, while other teaming partners bring expertise in affordable housing policy. In this way, we’re more than the sum of our parts and can provide comprehensive approaches to client problems.

Q: How does “culture” affect your choice in partners?

Stu Funk: As a not-for-profit consultancy, a client-focused culture means everything. We are fortunate that profit is not the driving force behind how we vet and deliver projects. We place our clients first and we like our partners to do so as well. We find this mindset makes a difference in the quality we deliver. Summit showed care for solving our client’s problem before worrying about the bottom line.

Amy Deora: Summit’s most fruitful teaming partnerships also come from mutual client focus. LMI has been a good fit for us because of this shared priority. In cases where teaming hasn’t worked well or we decide against embarking on the project together, it usually is because the firm lacks the same focus on client satisfaction.

Q: What do you bring to your teaming relationships?

Stu Funk: We strive to be an excellent teaming partner. While we need to consider the financial success and sustainability of our small business partners, we are committed to supporting them where we can — from offering access to project management systems to providing training and market intelligence. With Summit, we have discussed “capture” on other opportunities and our current work led to some new work for Summit within the same office.

Amy Deora: Even though Summit is a small business, we know it’s a two-way street when teaming with a larger business. We don’t just expect a large business to bring us opportunities; we need to provide them as well. We have strong client relationships and subject matter experts that can bring our partners, even those that are much larger firms, into new lines of business, or engage them to provide additional support on our ongoing projects. Small businesses can be the leader in this way, opening up networks for larger businesses, while benefiting from larger firms’ bench strength.

Q: What advice do you give someone who is testing the waters of a new teaming relationship?

Stu Funk: The ultimate goal with teaming partners is to craft a plan that solves a client problem. Make sure client needs are being addressed up front, so that you not only bid and price effectively, but you deliver on your promises. From the outset, you and your teaming partners should be in agreement on what needs to be delivered.

Amy Deora: Setting clear expectations from the beginning is key, especially in large, complex, and fixed-price projects. Even in the business development stage, clear roles and responsibilities should be determined. Be honest with your potential teaming partner about any potential staffing “holes” or any areas in which you do not have strong qualifications so that you can all better prepare to serve each other and your client.


Stu Funk leads the energy and climate change practice at LMI, a not-for-profit consulting firm dedicated to advancing the management of government. He has 38 years of experience in energy and logistics planning and execution, climate change planning and management, strategic planning, facility planning and recapitalization, weapon-system acquisition, and resource analysis

Amy Deora is senior manager in the applied statistics and economics practice group at Summit, a data analytics advisory firm that guides federal agencies, financial institutions, and litigators as they decode analytical challenges. More about her background and experience can be found at the Summit website.

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