Outsource the source code? Robert Gordon considers it

Staff dismay as consultancy recommends farming out entire IT department. Hannah Fearn reports

October 7, 2010

A university is considering outsourcing its IT provision in what would be one of the first examples of a British institution farming out an entire department to an external provider.

The move at Robert Gordon University has left staff fearing for their jobs and unions concerned about the future of its academic services.

A briefing note distributed to staff says IT consultancy HHES had been enlisted to consider the future of the department, in light of developments such as cloud computing changing the demand for its services.

"The outcome of this process has been a recommendation that the IT provision of the university, currently delivered by staff providing IT services and related technical functions to the university, be moved to an outsourced arrangement," it says.

Staff are told that the recommendation would allow "capacity for step change and economies of scale". It would also reduce risk for the university, the briefing suggests, as the external provider would be obliged to deal with any unexpected problems and give the institution "increased certainty of delivering objectives".

An academic close to the process said the announcement had been "very demoralising", with many of Robert Gordon's IT staff already looking for jobs elsewhere.

Concerns about redundancies appear not to have been assuaged by the briefing's assurances that the affected staff would be considered for transfer to the chosen external provider through the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations.

In a letter to Lydia Ross, head of human resources at Robert Gordon, Julie Yackiminie, the university's Unison convenor, says: "We have not been party to or been made aware of the scope, nature or potential outcome of this review...We consider the process to be flawed and believe (it) should be halted."

Colin Jones, lead web and applications developer at the university and a Unison representative, said: "We've all heard horror stories about outsourcing. It's a complete unknown, really. Until the tendering process and the consultation, we won't know what partner we are going to select and how it intends to deliver the service."

After the consultation and tendering process, it will take a further 12 months to select an external provider if the plan goes ahead.

Andrew McCreath, executive director (information technology and communication) at Robert Gordon, said: "No final decision has been taken at this stage, and the university will ultimately pursue whatever option is judged to best support its future ambitions and deliver long-term value for money.

"We understand that staff may feel some uncertainty at this time and we are sympathetic to this. We have briefed staff who may be affected and will be consulting with Unison as the process progresses."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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