ICT outsourcing has become a popular model, both in South Africa and across the world, as it enables organisations to leverage scarce ICT skills in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
However, this model also creates something of a dependency on skills outside of the company, and means that organisations are reliant on the ability of the outsourcer to retain the skills and create the necessary business continuity. With the current drain on ICT resources in South Africa, the challenge lies in creating sustainable skills transfer in order to develop skilled resources both within ICT outsourcers and the organisations themselves. Centres of Excellence (CoE) are the ideal framework for solving this challenge, helping to create sustainable development along with relevant business knowledge and understanding.
The skills gap in South Africa is a well-known phenomenon, and is a hindrance to the economic development of the country. While outsourcers may wish to protect their interests by maintaining their skills in-house, the reality is that if the necessary skills are not created within South Africa, the country will become entirely dependent on international competency centres. This in turn will negatively impact the local economy.
A CoE represents a collaboration between an ICT outsourcer and the public or private entity they are servicing, aimed at ensuring skills transfer so that after an outsourcing contract has expired, the organisation is able to sustain the integral and peripheral process including first level of support and user training themselves. This also enables the development of skills that can be added to the local skills pool, increasing knowledge and reducing reliance on international organisations.
Corporates, including ICT outsourcers, need to play their part in promoting sustainable economic development. CoEs are a mutually beneficial investment that will create a mechanism for training people, not only in ICT skills, but also basic life and business skills, enabling them to become productive members of society. This also helps to create skills retention, both for the organisation and the outsourcer, adding value to all areas of the South African economy.
The reality is, given the high levels of churn within the ICT sector, relying on any individual or even group of individuals can introduce an element of risk. For example, when they leave an organisation, whether this is the outsourcer or the organisation itself, ensuring business continuity takes time and can lead to business disruption. Processes and standards need to drive all ICT practices in order to address this challenge and create greater efficiency, and a CoE offers the ideal platform to achieve this. A CoE helps to implement best practice standards and frameworks, for example ITIL and CoBIT, and ensures that all processes are standardised and repeatable. A process-driven architecture is key to the operation of a CoE, and also critical in reducing people-related risk and creating a sustainable pool of skills in the local economy.
The skills shortage in South Africa is an unfortunate reality, and corporate South Africa needs to find a mechanism to address this challenge. Without a sustainable economy local businesses will no longer have a market to operate within. Ultimately, CoEs are about creating competency in various areas, and can be applied to any industry, not just ICT. They provide a stable environment for training in a variety of skills, as well as mentorship and practical skills for trainees, creating a pool of experienced professionals that will greatly benefit the entire South African market.
Collin Govender is the VP of Systems Integration at T-Systems in South Africa.