Chicago Benefits as Two Providers Work Together | Article

outsourcing relationshipIn early 1999, the city of Chicago asked Gartner Research to conduct an IT user satisfaction study. It confirmed anecdotal data that the city was doing a less-than-satisfactory job. On a scale of five, Chicago scored 2.87; Gartner’s industry average is 3.56.

“User satisfaction with our helpdesk services was unacceptable and we were having a very difficult time attracting and retaining qualified employees,” says Chris O’Brien, CIO. “Our salary structure wasn’t competitive and the entire operation was not meeting any of our expectations surrounding costs or quality.”

At the same time, the city’s mayor, Richard M. Daley, promoted outsourcing non-strategic services.

Based on reviews following the city’s request for proposal (RFP) process, it hired Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based Unisys to manage its IT distributed infrastructure and Conway, Arkansas’ Acxiom to manage its data center. This was fairly significant at the time because no city and few private enterprises as large as Chicago had ever been so fully committed to IT outsourcing.

Focusing on the Shared Mission; Clarifying the Duties

Acxiom had complete responsibility for the mainframe outsourcing and related functions, such as data storage subsystems, batch and online application management, database support, and change management.

Unisys took over responsibility for helpdesk, desktop and network management, which included desktop configuration and staging, asset management, maintenance, remote network management, end-user help desk, and desktop training services. Because of the nature of these services, Unisys had responsibility for more direct contact with the 30,000+ internal end-users within the city’s infrastructure.

“Our mandate was to bring stability and currency to their mainframe environment,” says Mike Cameron, business advisor for strategic initiatives with Acxiom. “Our support and service requests arrive through the Unisys helpdesk and through that, we channel back the closure on those requests.”

Unisys implemented a single-point-of-contact helpdesk that receives all problems or service requests. This helpdesk creates an incident ticket and either directly resolves the problem or routes it to the appropriate person for resolution. It also tracks the open tickets to ensure that the proper party — Unisys, Acxiom or a city employee — follows up with the end user and closes the ticket. Unisys implemented a “common problem” tracking system and employed a knowledge management system to improve the number of tickets the helpdesk can resolve.

Denise McKeehan, portfolio sales executive for Unisys, says it was a true collaborative partnership from the beginning. “From an operations perspective, the overall objective for the city was to take its limited internal resources and refocus them on more strategic initiatives, while Acxiom and Unisys were respectively charged with the management and service aspects of the IT platform.”

“When it comes to shared outsourcing responsibilities, the providers need to develop their own coordinated operational level agreement, along the same lines as a service level agreement (SLA) to clearly define their place in how the services are provided,” says Richard Matlus, research director, Gartner Strategic Sourcing Practices.

Executing the Plan Based on Identified Objectives

Although the helpdesk service is located remotely, Unisys has an onsite team to provide the required desktop, network and application server support.

The service providers established a Program Management Office responsible for managing the onsite Unisys and Acxiom personnel and dispatching technicians. This group meets weekly with the CIO and the managers of all 43 departments to ensure they address outstanding issues and identify areas for improvement. “They’re wonderful for helping establish and clarify a common direction, as well as keeping everyone informed,” says Acxiom’s Cameron.

Meanwhile, Acxiom designed a phased approach for the migration of the city’s data center services to its suburban Chicago facility. Then it took over responsibility for managing all of the data center services and assisting with the completion of the city’s year 2000 initiatives. Later, the city asked the service provider to host and support its Web infrastructure.

To support all of these initiatives, Acxiom assigned two key client advocates: an onsite customer advocate to oversee day-to-day operations, ensuring prompt issue resolution, and a relationship manager to oversee customer satisfaction.

Diligently Monitoring the Results

During the past 18 months, the service providers surveyed end users via email after each ticket closed to determine their satisfaction. These surveys reveal that 80 percent of the respondents are extremely satisfied or satisfied with the services.

“Monitoring customer satisfaction closely is part of the Unisys best practice mission,” says McKeehan. “Feedback is very important because the end-user information we get tells us whether the process is working or if it needs adjustment.”

In addition, Gartner Measurement conducted a follow-up IT user satisfaction survey, which showed an unprecedented 29 percent increase in service level and user satisfaction over the baseline survey from 1999. Then it conducted a follow-up benchmark study to measure performance. It provided a quantifiable health check by comparing performance metrics to peer group organizations, best practice firms and outsourcing services.

The results of this benchmark confirmed that the service providers’ pricing was less than the peer average group; a further illustration of the city’s success with outsourcing its services. O’Brien is pleased with both of these elements.

“With Unisys and Acxiom, the city has seen improved resource quality in staff and management,” he says. “Initially I spent 20 to 30 percent of my time addressing end-user problems. Now I deal with maybe one end-user problem per-month.” Additionally, the city’s remaining IT staff members are free to focus on strategic issues and leave the tactical problems to these two outsourcing providers.

“One thing that that makes a good outsourcing relationship is relationship management — having good processes that enable everyone involved to work together,” says Gartner’s Matlus. “Two shared outsourcers finding a way to make a clear mission work for a client is something wonderful to watch.”

The successful experience of the city of Chicago illustrates that when a client and a service provider make a concerted effort to work together, the final results are satisfied end-users and a beneficial outsourcing relationship for all parties.

Now if the Cubs could just win the National League pennant, life would be perfect in the Windy City!

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • With an outsourcing agreement, set reasonable expectations. The real return of an outsourcing investment seldom appears overnight.
  • Pick service providers that will become long-term partners. If they are not committed to working with you as a partner, the relationship will become a deal without flexibility and will grow stagnate over time.
  • If you are using more than one service provider, make sure they can work together and the scope of work is clearly defined.


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