Halfway through the first year of the three-year contract with Sytec, Bone got a wake-up call over the Love Bug virus. He already had the McAfee antivirus application in place, but he was told its current status within Datamail meant it would not be able to protect the organisation at the time the Love Bug first made itself known. Sytec phoned Bone at 7am with the bad news that the Love Bug had reached Australia. What was he going to do about it? “By 10am we had sat down and squared off what had to be done,” says Bone. Sytec’s remedy was to install Trend Micro antivirus software, which had a Love Bug remedy in place. “This has been a real asset to us because other worm attacks have been going on since that time,” says Bone. “The beauty for us is that we pay on a seat basis for the antivirus licence and that service basically costs me the same as what my earlier licence used to cost me. And it is maintained 24x7.”
Bone acknowledges that, as in any relationship, there are occasional tensions between Datamail’s internal staff and Sytec. Increasingly, though, the two sides are getting along with each other.
Bone says one of the reasons Datamail chose Sytec was because it could offer well-qualified people with sound technical qualifications. While some Sytec people work permanently on site, others come in when their expertise is required. “We engage the right person for the task at hand, rather than having the same people all the time on a project,” says Bone.
When it comes down to business development, Sytec’s focus on technology highlights a few differences. Sytec plays no role in Datamail’s steering committees — these tend to be driven by high-level managers. But, as far as Bone is concerned, the Sytec people are just an extension of his team. “They are so involved with us that — even though people know they are with Sytec — for all intents and purposes the way they engage with us makes them seem like part of our team.”
On the technology strategy side, the differences are strongly in Sytec’s favour. Its founders have been fashioned by the disciplines of mainframe management, whereas Datamail has grown in a somewhat haphazard fashion from start-up to where it is today. Sytec’s consultants also have the luxury of being able to come in without the encumbrances that inevitably go with any internal assessment.
Bone says it has taken a long time for some areas of the business to accept that certain approaches can add value. Parts of the business have been able to adapt quickly while others have struggled. “Sytec makes us have a good, hard look at ourselves. Often we hear what they have to say and we respond, ‘It would be nice to do if it was an ongoing requirement …’ A lot of work we do is project-based and that means you have to ask how far you could go towards streamlining something when you know you are going to throw it away. On the other hand, a lot of what we do could be repeatable if we ‘componentised’ it. This was being thought about at high levels anyway, but getting a degree of tension from outsourcing input has forced people to address the way we do things. Hopefully we will find a better long-term solution — re-using components would lower the cost of development.”
Returning to business strategies, Bone says he has issued a challenge to Sytec. That company’s technological focus means its management does not always have a good understanding of Datamail’s business objectives, he says. The relationship management function is handled by Sytec directors and senior members of the consulting team. “We recently had a frank discussion and I challenged them to do more on the business objectives side,” says Bone. “In fact, as a consequence of that I took the first step this week by going to them and saying, ‘Look, here are our top 21 business issues for this year. Let’s just talk about them, even though many don’t have a technology component.’ The interesting point was that they said, ‘You know, we are grappling with the same things’. And we are saying, ‘This is where you guys are missing out because we could solve these issues together’.”
Bone’s general satisfaction with the Sytec contract is reflected in a comment relating to the fact that the contract runs out next April. “We don’t see ourselves wanting to go back to the market,” he says. “I own the relationship but, at the end of the day, other people within Datamail will give them a pretty good thumbs-up. They have delivered.”
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