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Utility Sets IT Department On Path To Self-destruction 478 478

dcblogs writes "Northeast Utilities has told IT employees that it is considering outsourcing IT work to India-based offshore firms, putting as many as 400 IT jobs at risk. The company is saying a final decision has not been made. But Conn. State Rep. and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, who is trying to prevent or limit the outsourcing move, says it may be a done deal. NU may be prompting its best IT employees to head to the exits. It also creates IT security risks from upset workers. The heads-up to employees in advance of a firm plan is 'kind of mind mindbogglingly stupid,' said David Lewis, who heads a Connecticut-based human resources consulting firm OperationsInc, especially 'since this is IT of all places.' The utility's move makes sense, however, if is it trying to encourage attrition to reduce severance costs." Because it's worked so well for others in the past.
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Utility Sets IT Department On Path To Self-destruction

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  • Just a moment! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:38PM (#44929487)

    Just finishing my last trojans and timebombs...now they can fire me.

  • by djupedal (584558) on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:40PM (#44929501)
    . . .to re-emphasize how bad of a decision this will become if put into effect. The issues waiting to occur have been well documented many times here, so I won't bother with them in detail. And know I won't take any satisfaction in saying I told you so later . . . well, maybe a little.
  • Ok (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Cat (19816) * on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:44PM (#44929541)

    Publicly traded utilities should be prohibited from hiring foreign companies to perform these kinds of jobs, in much the same way those companies are also prohibited from hiring foreign attorneys, architects, construction companies, doctors and certified accountants.

    Almost all utilities are regulated industries, since they enjoy government-enforced monopolies. They should not be allowed to leverage taxpayer-subsidized market exclusivity in order to engineer the destruction of those same taxpayer's careers.

    This applies equally to cable television providers, ISPs, gas and water companies.

  • Can't fix stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:44PM (#44929547)
    When Dell outsourced it's help, I tried it a few times, and it was almost impossible to understand "Chris" and "Bob". So I just never bought another Dell product again.

    It just doesn't work.

  • by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:48PM (#44929581)

    Why would you outsource like this? It would mean:

    1) Different timezones - cannot communicate in realtime;

    2) Different culture - harder to understand requirements;

    3) Language barrier - even in the unlikely event that the developers all speak excellent Indian English, it is *not* the same as Americna English;

    4) Lack of face-to-face contact - being able to watch someone communicate, point at the screen, sit in a room together makes for far faster problem resolution;

    5) Lack of mutual value - a permanent employee is entirely your investment, and in return works and trains only on your systems, dedicating their work day to understanding what you need, and spending years at your company becoming intimately familiar with your processes;

    6) Lack of open-ended requirements - this is one of the most important things of all: all contractors bit you in the ass by working to spec, whereas permanent employees will be there to do whatever you want, when you want it.

    In short, paper estimates of monies saved by outsourcing are always - without exception - a crock of shit. Someone wants a hefty bonus, possibly by fooling executives re apparent saving, or possibly because they have an interest in the outsourcing firm. Most likely both.

  • by cavreader (1903280) on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:55PM (#44929629)

    I would have thought every IT professional with a pulse would now know that outsourcing development or support always ends in a gigantic cluster fuck.

  • Re:Ok (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:56PM (#44929641) Journal

    Lawyers, doctors, and construction unions have better & more lobbyists than IT workers.

    We live in a bribocracy. Pay up or be economic road-kill.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday September 23, 2013 @07:56PM (#44929649)
    It's also not a very bright move when you consider that former offshorers have been pulling their operations back to the U.S. in droves.

    Over the course of the last few years, on the international software contract boards, I have more and more seen posts that say such things as "N. America or Europe Only" for hire.

    There have been way too many bad experiences with offshoring. The main complaints have been: [A] Overselling (i.e., the person or firm really had little or no experience in the particular specialty involved), [B] inferior work, and [C] incomplete work (project simply abandoned after a couple of initial payments).

    When other corporations are changing direction in a big way, why would they choose to do this? Are they unwilling to learn from the mistakes of others?
  • by sribe (304414) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:07PM (#44929731)

    When Dell outsourced it's help, I tried it a few times, and it was almost impossible to understand "Chris" and "Bob".

    Wouldn't have mattered. I guess I'm better with accents, because I understood them perfectly. But they were flat-out lying to me (on two different issues, several years apart) so the outcomes was the same for me as for you: determination to never buy a Dell product again.

  • by amiga3D (567632) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:08PM (#44929737)

    I think it's that in house IT people constantly frustrate them by telling them why the stupid shit they want to do wont work. The foreign center will simply go "Okay, if that's what you want." This is usually why outsourcing IT doesn't work. Someone in house wants the company to survive because he's invested a decade or so of his life to it while the foreign unit simply works as a contractor and has little interest in the firm he services except to collect the fee.

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:10PM (#44929751) Homepage Journal

    Seeing as how vital utilities are to our Nation's livelihood and welfare, I can't possibly see any scenario in which outsourcing the IT duties to any Foreign National should be considered anything but a gigantic security risk. It's no secret that any given network on the electric grid can cause widespread outages beyond it's customer base. Congress needs to pass a law requiring all Utilities to employ their own IT departments comprised of US Nationals on US Soil.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe&jwsmythe,com> on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:11PM (#44929757) Homepage Journal

    Why did this part only make it to page 3?

    One issue that has yet to arise is whether offshoring the utility's IT services would create long-term security risks, particularly if work is moved offshore.

    Of course it does. IMHO, IT shouldn't be outside of a secure environment's walls. Even with "good" IT people, when they can VPN in from home computers and do things, it can compromise the security of the network. When your entire shop is off-shore, there's no one standing guard to make sure things are safe.

    The risks are huge. It can range from malware on a workstation, to malicious actions by a 3rd party or employee.

    The "what could possibly go wrong" goes from the confines of their office, to ... well ... the whole world.

    I'm surprised DHS hasn't said no to this. They're worried about critical infrastructure, including power utilities, being compromised by outside attackers. When all the work is being done by someone other than in-house staff, it's inviting exactly that kind of trouble.

    I guess "best case" here is that they're trying to get a bunch of people to quit, so they can get fresh locals in for less pay, screwing the existing staff in the process.

  • Re:Ok (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:17PM (#44929801) Journal

    I'm not sure what your point is.

    Generally, the wealthy buy protection from competition and taxation (havens and loopholes), while the rest take the blunt impact of offshoring face first. It's one reason why inequality is ever increasing (even with a "socialist" prez.)

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:21PM (#44929825) Journal

    There really is a reason why companies make the announcement ahead of time before outsourcing. Really, there is. It's part of the formula. The outsourcing company sells the patsy... client, sorry. Sells the client on the idea that the client tells their employees that they're planning to outsource, so that the employees can then be directed to spend their remaining time in documenting their jobs well enough that an untrained person in a third world country could do the job.

    The outsourcing company will insist on this, and the sap, ur... client for God only knows what reason will think this will actually work, and the employees will go "sure, yeah, that's what I'm doing with my remaining time here. Sure. Not spending my entire shift looking for a job in a down economy. No sirree. My job doesn't take any original thought, creativity, or diagnostic skills, it's just a lot of button pushing and answering questions. Here, let me print out ... say ... everything in My Documents. That should stack up real nice."

    ...so all the regular employees exit carrying their sad cardboard boxes, cutover occurs, and it's a disaster.

    ...and the outsourcing company says, it's all the abused spouse's... there I go again! Sorry... it's all the client's fault, for not documenting their processes well enough. And for some reason the client will BELIEVE THIS ALSO. So the outsourcing company will say, we can't do this job as originally bid, it'll require many more 3rd and 4th level people (IE, people with actual skills and experience) and will cost more. A lot more.

    Five years later, the outsourcing company will assure the chump... what's wrong with this spell checker? CLIENT. The client, that the break-even point is just around the corner, really it is, and will volunteer to help sell this concept to the board. Meanwhile, the victim's argh... client's business has suffered, it's harder to do even the smallest office task, change in any reasonable amount of time is impossible, and employees are saying things like "for God's sake, please don't make me call the helpdesk".

    And this will be called Progress.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:30PM (#44929903)

    I'm sorry, so now we call companies "mindbogglingly stupid" for being open and honest with their employees?

    No, that's not right. We're saying that technologists are so untrustworthy that if we ever get laid off, we'll clearly wreak havoc and destroy the company in our wake?

    No, wait. Oh, I've got it. Companies facing hard and unpopular decisions can't win. If they're open and honest about it, they're morons out to ruin morale who deserve to be sabotaged. If they don't say anything they're...lying scum sucking weasels who...um...deserve to be sabotaged?

    Look, I don't like the threat of being outsourced, or laid off, or getting a pay cut, or any of the other threats facing workers. Sometimes companies make those decisions. Sometimes the reasons are bad - greed and short-term profiteering. Sometimes the reasons are good - long-term survival being impossible without change. You don't know their reasons here. Neither do I.

    But calling a company stupid for talking to it's employees when making hard choices? Call me crazy, but I'll work for that kind of stupid over the slimy "everything's fine" lying weasels every time. Being honest deserves respect, not scorn.

    May you get the employer you deserve.

  • Re:Middleman (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:59PM (#44930123)

    >...Corn from the Indians! Tobacco from the Indians! Dakota from the Indians! New Jersey from the Indians! New Hampshire from the Indians! New England from the Indians! New Delhi from the Indians! ...

    No points, please someone mod up this Firesign Theater skit?

  • Re:Just a moment! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eth1 (94901) on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:00PM (#44930129)

    Just finishing my last trojans and timebombs...now they can fire me.

    You don't even need anyone to do that. My experience is that competent IT people can pretty easily find a new gig - and they will, now, before all the good local openings are taken. The deadwood that's left has the potential of causing just as much damage accidentally or out of ignorance as someone malicious.

  • by geek (5680) on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:11PM (#44930179) Homepage

    You're a fool. IT is infrastructure and an insurance policy when/if something goes wrong. IT does not produce anything, they do not sell anything, IT has no product for which a customer will pay. That in the eyes of an exec is a drain on the company and therefore will always be the first to get cut when they need a new yacht.

    Keep deluding yourself that IT is a revenue generator. Try pitching that to the VP of IS/IT while he stares at the spreadsheet showing the hundreds of thousands of dollars you requested that quarter to upgrade XYZ.

  • Re:Just a moment! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:15PM (#44930207) Homepage

    The deadwood that is left? You must not have experienced Outsourced IT.

    The sheer incompetence of the outsourced IT will do far more damage. It's amazing how clueless and completely useless most of these offshore companies are.

  • Re:Just a moment! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:20PM (#44930229)

    It's amazing how clueless and completely useless most of these offshore companies are.

    Not really. You get what you pay for.

  • by Hotawa Hawk-eye (976755) on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:35PM (#44930325)

    On occasion, if the power company fucks up badly enough, there are [courant.com] consequences [courant.com]. Frankly, regardless of whether or not it was a good idea to give the IT staff advanced notice (it wasn't) offshoring your IT in New England will likely come back to bite them in the ass in the winter. It's not like there are snow and ice storms that would interrupt power and communications and the ability to remotely connect to IT systems, after all ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:40PM (#44930357)

    Caller to tech support:
    Will chips with CAS latency 9 or lower be better for gaming than the ones that came installed with latency of CAS 11 ?
    Tech support:
    Hello, this is Tim, did you try rebooting the PC ?
    Caller to tech support:
    What? No that has nothing to do with the question, what about the latency ?
    Tech support:
    Sometimes a loose cable causes problems, first be sure all cables are inserted properly then let's try rebooting again.
    Caller to tech support:
    Let me talk to a supervisor:
    Tech Support:
    Ok... hello I'm a supervisor, my name is Jim, let's try rebooting the PC.
    Caller to tech support:
    You sound like Tim, are you Tim or Jim.
    Tech Support:
    One moment I'm connect you to Tim
    Caller to tech support:
    Are you really a tech or another fucken stupid offshore phone zombie ?

    And they wonder why we stop buying some major brands !

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:43PM (#44930387)

    IT is not a revenue generator.

    Neither are the lights.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:53PM (#44930471)

    Here are the facts Todd.

    1: Northeast utilities is a regulated power company, outsourcing anything but the "build it there, use it here" shit (Transformers, regulators, software, hardware, etc) WILL get you in SERIOUS Shit with your local government 5,000 ways from Sunday not just from the IT Security standpoint but also from the downtime-is-not-acceptable standpoint.

    2: A 10k man company with 400 IT Staff probably means they aren't secure anyway because they haven't updated shit in years. 1:25 is seriously out of what IT to Employee ratio and IMO, they deserve to be replaced if they are that lazy. 1:50 to 1:100 is much more reasonable.

    3: Outsourcing doesn't work; nobody is ever happy with the results, which are often catastrophic.

    4: This stinks of control fraud. The moment management begins acting like they are committing control fraud, leave.

    Fraud starts with big companies undergoing mergers and acquisitions; execs and investors get payoffs as the bag is passed from sucker to sucker. Execs receive multimillion dollar golden parachutes and leave while bringing in bright shiny new people to take their place (the suckers) who try the same game over and over; the last set of managers are the bag-holders, and they don't get to leave so easily. Money is somehow lost in bad deals, or outright fraud (we bought $1,000 hammers, oops).

    Ultimately the objective is to asset strip the company and the people within the company by diverting revenue to executive and investor payouts. Asset stripping people means they reduce your pay, remove your job title, let other people go and see if you can do what they did (we made them redundant), and so on. Properly operating companies don't play games like this; they do not hire unless they have to, they solve problems permanently where they can, and they motivate employee's with revenue (stock options, 401k, no hocus-pocus ponzi shit either, real cash externally held from the organization) because they know "thank you" has always gone as far as "fuck you" and paying peanuts means you get peanuts in return. If "The economy" was really an issue, workloads would go down and then they'd get rid of people in the appropriate departments.

    This manifests as I don't care disease which is the result of plain burnout. The rot shows up as employee's not giving a shit and getting away with it (they are not paid enough to care or are not motivated to care, plus their boss is a sucker and just plain stupid). Money gets flushed down the toilet. When burnout starts to show up, and outrageous waste begins to show up (start job searching, be VERY particular).

    Once you see the "we need you to do the job of 3 people" crap start, get your foot out of the door. When you leave, let them, their boss, and their bosses boss (right up the chain to the exec) know in no uncertain terms the reason and that there are no excuses.

    Truth is with Northeast, The good ones left a long, long, long time ago.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @04:56AM (#44932155)

    Lots of Western programmers and IT workers convince themselves that their jobs and their industry are safe because of the low quality of outsourced IT from India. I think this is dangerously complacent.

    First of all there are many, many incompetent programmers working in the US and Europe. Do you think that all the snippets on TheDailyWTF were written by Indians? Do you think the numerous examples of crappy, bug-ridden production software, going back to the start of software as an industry, are all done by Indians? Huge, wasteful, disastrous public IT projects, many cancelled at huge expense without any working deliverables, all cocked up by Indians?

    Secondly, even if many outsourcers in India do provide low quality work, this isn't always going to be the case. There is no inherent reason why an Indian should be less good at programming than an American. Many Indians working in the US (not to be ambiguous, people with Indian nationality who went to high school there, not American-born people of Indian origin) are extremely successful and well-regarded by their peers. There might be some factors which have historically meant that the US produces more extremely talented programmers than other countries, including many Western European countries. However, these advantages will all erode in time. The top tier of Indian technical education is world-class. India is doing huge amounts of cutting-edge research in math, CS, all the things that feed down to more balanced and clueful hackers. India's middle class is expanding and many more Indians will soon have the benefit of good colleges. There are lots of Indians who have either studied or worked in the US and have been exposed to US IT culture and working practices returning to India to set up businesses and teach. The huge amount of IT workers, even though many might be doing drudge work, means that India will develop its own culture. All these people are keen to develop themselves to become more knowledgeable and better paid. People make fun of clueless Indians on technical forums, but they are forgetting that these were for the most part young kids or people with none or very limited education, trying to emulate their better paid peers by teaching themselves to program in their spare time. Their US analogues are in general not on these forums asking even stupid questions, they are playing console games and doing drugs. The companies involved are also aware that they are getting the cheapest share of technical work done in the West, and are keen to develop their companies and workers so that they can compete with more skilled and higher paid domestic workers than currently.

    There are some innate disadvantages to outsourcing (workers are less loyal, etc.), and of having IT workers on the other side of the world to their clients. But the main reason that outsourcing resulted in crappy work in the past was probably because the clients involved either didn't know good work from crappy work, or were only prepared to pay for crappy work. While this was the case, it made business sense for outsourcers to provide crappy work at low cost. As management of outsourcing projects gets better and demands quality, the work provided will get much better.

    You shouldn't imagine that good coding is some big secret that the US and Western Europe will keep to itself and leverage against the superior numbers of Third World workers. Various Eastern European countries have gained a reputation for having the best coders in the world. 25 years ago no-one in those countries had a computer at home or in their high school. They got to the top just based on a solid mathematical and scientific tradition, decent education, and a lot of hungry young people (metaphorically and in some cases literally hungry). India, China and Brazil can and will do the same.

    If you are not world-famous in your field (think the inventor of a language) and you think that your unique skills will keep you in a high-paying job for life (or that your industry is precious to your government and will be protected from foreign competition) you are deluding yourself. This is what you want to happen and not necessarily what will happen.

  • Re:Just a moment! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sphealey (2855) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @07:17AM (#44932615)

    - - - - - They're outsourced not to save money, but to make the department more agile. They can have 20 guys today and 50 next month if they want. - - - - -

    And how exactly does that magic work? 30 people who are not only highly technically competent but who understand the intersection of business and technology unique to your organization just sitting around waiting for the call? Like the fire dept?

    Somehow, it has never really worked out that way any time I have seen it tried. And I've been on the receiving end of many a call from recruiters (ironically now themselves offshored) desperate to "fill this req by tomorrow morning" for minimum-dollar staff augmentation subcontracts to EDS, etc. $25/hr to the subcontract technician billed at $75/hr to the contractor billed at $150/hr to the client. Very agile.

    sPh

  • by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:37AM (#44935073)

    The issue isn't the quality of IT worker in India, but the age-old problem of hiring mercenaries. Some merc outfits are going to offer top notch fighters with lots of in-the-trenches experience and a good track record. They will not be a bargain. Other merc outfits slap any old loser into a uniform as cannon fodder, and pocket the difference. Both outfits will bail on you the instant it looks like things are going to go against you, and find some other sucker to pay the bills.

    More, as India's domestic industries mature, and they are at speed, their best and brightest will be moving to local projects, where their co-workers speak the same language and work the same hours. There was a narrow window of time where outsourcing your IT operations wholesale to India seemed like a good idea. In addition to not being a good idea after all, the window has now closed - they have their own businesses to support and economy to grow. If you want to outsource just to save money, you're really only going to get the dregs, now.

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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