21 November 2010 1 Comment
Due to the current economic climate and the need for belt tightening in the public sector many organisations are now exploring various forms of outsourcing to try and ‘reduce costs whilst still maintaining services’. Hmmm. The latest one that I’ve heard of is Suffolk County Council who are doing this wholesale to a single outsourcing supplier as a “megadeal” – There’s an article in Computing Magazine about this. There are many other articles about this and the common theme seems to be outsourcing is more likely to be a consideration during recession.
I have however read many articles which say there are risks with outsourcing within the public sector, and I know these from my own experiences and those of my colleagues, the main risk being outsourcing can be beneficial in the short term but have negative impacts in the longer term because you lose skills internally which you may need down the line. However more outsourcing and shared solutions within the public sector is inevitable, and I think healthy. We are moving to a more commoditised view of services and therefore we should all be looking to move ‘up the value chain’ and deliver at the level that is most appropriate.
For example why are Universities investing in infrastructure and IT Support, in management of those services and in server rooms and hardware and system software when these things can all be bought off the shelf through a IaaS, SaaS and PaaS providers like Amazon?
The question senior management should ask is where is the right balance? – We have had fifteen years at least of commercial vendors such as Microsoft and Sun creating products for the educational market with mixed success however the landscape is changing and products like Blackboard and Moodle are now fully featured, mature and relatively low cost options compared to creating bespoke environments. The amount of customisation varies, blackboard is more of a “blackbox” solution, allowing the value to be added through the way it is used, whereas Moodle allows for more customisation at lower levels which can be powerful but also costly.
But the models aren’t just limited to LMS. Outsourcing could apply to the course (module) materials, and in fact to the assessment services and assessment of courses. If you go down this route you get more into the realms of the ‘for profit’ organisations like Kaplan and you then do look at the bottom line all the time in assessing your curriculum. I’m not sure that’s always a healthy way to be but there is a need for Kaplan, just as there is a need for open and free educational resources.
Each organisation has to assess the level of outsourcing and how the quality and values of that organisation work within the proposed model. If you add value through the richness of the engagement with students and that requires specific adaptations then you must either have environments which allow that customisation, or work with partners who can understand your organisations needs and allow you to have control of the quality assurance.