Bench International

IT Outsourcing Perspectives: It’s Actually the Name on the Back of the Jersey that Matters

IT Outsourcing Perspectives: It’s Actually the Name on the Back of the Jersey that Matters

Insight by: Steve Martin

In the movie Miracle, the true-life story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team’s gold medal triumph, coach Herb Brooks hits a boiling point after a particularly bad practice game where individual players were trying to make heroic plays at the expense of the overall performance of the team and quips, “When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back.”

While that may very well be the case for a hockey or basketball team, when a hospital or biomedical manufacturer outsources its mission critical IT infrastructure or applications to a third party supplier, they would be well-advised to ensure they vet the key individuals supporting the account from the supplier’s team, not merely the supplier itself.  To be sure, the supplier organization as a whole needs to have the tools, methodologies, industry-specific experience, and capabilities to serve their healthcare customers, however despite how well they may perform during a competitive process as an organization across these dimensions, when it’s time to upgrade an electronic medical records system or develop and roll-out a virtual home care platform, it’s not the “company” that develops the code or tests the system throughput, it’s the individuals that are assigned to run the projects that define success or failure.

To be sure, as indicated above, there’s a low probability of sustainable high-quality outsourced service delivery without a strong set of tools, methodologies, and overall supplier experience, but the most highly correlative factor associated with end-user satisfaction with their outsource supplier is the individuals assigned to the account (i.e., the names on the backs of the jerseys).   The outsourcers will argue that the combination of committed service levels and detailed project work orders (infused with timelines, quality controls and performance guarantees) are sufficient to hold them accountable in delivering anticipated outcomes, however, if experience has proven anything, the key individuals assigned to the team make or break those outcomes.

So why do some hospitals and other healthcare organizations have success with their outsource relationships while others end up terminating their suppliers prior to contract expiration or worse yet, engage in protracted litigation due to the supplier’s failure to perform?   In the vast majority of cases, it goes back to the boots on the street.  Success starts with vetting the outsourcer’s so-called “key personnel” (e.g., domain leaders, technical leads, project managers) through a combination of reference checks, in person interviews and other due diligence steps – all processes that the outsourcer will attempt to dismiss, but ones that savvy customers will insist on performing.  In tandem with the vetting process, customers need to negotiate clear provisions around hard limits on supplier key personnel turnover (e.g., supplier must retain at least 80% of the key personnel assigned to the customer’s account each contract year) as well as the customer’s right to obtain replacements for underperforming supplier resources.   While these terms are among the most challenging to obtain from the outsourcers who will claim that it’s the “company” backed by the contractually committed SLAs (i.e., not the individuals) that drive high quality performance, the data is clear that customer satisfaction is directly related to their satisfaction with the key personnel assigned to their operations and projects.

Most of us that were around will never forget that 1980 US Olympic Hockey team nor deny that it was the “team” not just a couple of players, but as it relates to outsourced IT services, healthcare organizations are well advised to make sure they pay attention to the names on the backs of the jerseys, not just the name on the front.