Corporations assigning duties

Bad title, I know.

I used to work for a global corporation (headquarters in England, North American headquarters in Southern California). Now I work for a company that does business with them. A large part of my job was writing programs to reformat data. This saved a lot of time and money, since I would get data in the morning and have it reformatted before lunchtime instead of having to send it to the programming department where it might take weeks to be done, and because as a ‘data analyst’ I got paid less than the programmers. Eventually we got a program with a Windows interface that allowed the rest of the analysts to reformat data, but many files still needed the mainframe-based programs.

The company I work for now is one that sends the data I used to work on. Most of the data is simply sent in Excel files. My former employer already has programs (many of which I wrote) to reformat them. But now they’re requiring that we send new accounts to them in their format. That’s good; I like it. Then they changed their format to a much more complicated one. Piece of cake. Any new data gets reformatted into the new format and the old format, since we still use the old format internally.

So why, if I’m sending data in the proper format, does it take forever to process?

Turns out my old department is down to a skeleton crew. Many of the things I used to do are now done in South America. And I just found out today that the new format data can’t be loaded into the database until it’s already been loaded in the old format. So programming needs to be done. In South America. Any issues must be collected and may only be discussed once a week in a conference call with a translator. And to make matters worse, even though there are still at least two people in the department who can write or at least modify the mainframe programs and more who are well-versed in the Windows-based system, they’re not allowed to make any changes. New reformats or ad-hoc changes they’ve been doing for years are now ‘hands off!’.

So our customers have to wait for their reports because something that used to be accomplished in a day now can take weeks. The people at my old company are goaled on the quickness with which they load data. And yet TPTB have taken away the tools they need to do this and have turned them over to an offshore company. I spoke with a former coworker today, asking her about data issues, and she said the way things are now they’re virtually limited to typing ‘sub’ on the command line. She said another coworker, my best friend at that company, told her she’s about ready to slam her pending data report down on Management’s desk and walk out. We agreed that if there were any issues with the data (the Excel files, not the ones I program because their format doesn’t change) she should email me and I’ll fix it on our end rather than pushing it up the chain. We get our data loaded more quickly, and she gets closer to her goals. And no politics.

So what is it with large corporations? Obviously they want to make the highest possible profits, and offshoring has until recently been one way of doing it. (Though with the dollar where it is, the margin has narrowed.) But in ostensibly saving money, they’re losing time. And time is money. Thousands of businesses rely on their product. If it isn’t fresh, there are other options. And now that we’re not under an exclusive contract with them, we can send data to their competitors and sell their competitors’ products.

This is just my own example. I’ve read other stories here where companies (Management, TPTB) have made ‘business decisions’ that leave the people who actually produce the products scratching their heads.

My experience at my last job was similar. It was for a large pay TV company doing app support (which absolutely sucks). 95% of our CRM system was really developed and supported by an onshore vendor, either through server administration or through actual development and troubleshooting. Some of the dev support was in our building, and the leads for middleware support were in our onshore vendor’s building a few states away, but most of the middleware worker bees were offshore in India or The Philippines. We were supposed to go through the offshore middleware layer before engaging the dev people right in our building, and similarly before engaging the MW leads in Colorado.


The guys in Colorado got things solved and done in about a half-hour, generally. The offshore people ran about in circles for three hours and then called the Colorado team, and then the issue would be fixed quickly. I don’t think it’s a reflection on the skill or intelligence of the offshore workers, it’s just that, IMO, going from the enterprise of reference, to an onshore vendor, to the vendor’s offshore team is too many steps removed from the operation.

Similarly the people who actually did the testing of some of this software were in Brazil, but our testers, who really managed the Brazilians, were here and there around the U.S. Everything had to be done by teleconferencing, and virtually every day something had to be scheduled at lunchtime, to find a time when everybody could participate. For instance, not by choice, I had to work from 9 to 6, and one of the test managers whom I worked with a lot worked from 5am to 2pm (that was by his choice). What with different starting and ending times of shifts, everything had to be set up in the middle of the day.

Offshoring is a fad, and every manager who wants to look like an up-and-comer is going to offshore something, even if it makes no sense at all. Look at Boeing; they outsourced almost all the design of their new airliner, and now they’re, what, a year-and-a-half behind schedule? But by god, they managed to poke their local unions in the eye, so it was all worth it.

I’d say don’t worry about it; your old company has made a bad decision, but what the hey. Hopefully they’ll realize they made a bad decision and pull the work in-house again (but I’ll bet ya $50 they won’t).

You don’t even have to bring offshoring into the equation to see this. I’ve witnessed inter-departmental squabbles over roles like this destroy productivity, where everyone involved was local. This was at a rather large (one of the largest) banks in the country.

The problem as I saw it was the size of middle management, and that middle management was isolated from pretty much everything. Many of these managers want only to get ahead in their careers, and a popular way to get ahead in a large company is to increase the headcount of your department. To justify increased headcount you need to take over more responsibilities for your group. To get more responsibilities for your group, you usually have to undermine an existing group so that you can convince someone in charge to transfer that group’s responsibilities to yours.

I’ve been involved in this ugly process (on the technology/operations side of things), and it works kind of like any modern day snake oil sales pitch. The first step is to find any data you can that can be painted in a bad light, such as outage times, complaints from other departments, whatever. You massage this into a report that looks way worse than it is, and then you put together a snake-oil plan detailing how you can fix all of this, and you do everything you can to make sure that anyone opposing you will end up coming off as “not forward thinking” and “entrenched in the past”. Then you pitch it to management. If they don’t buy it, you still get a good annual review (for being proactive!) and if they do like it, congratulations.

Now that responsibilities have shifted to the new group, the most important thing is to keep the key people who used to own those responsibilities away from things completely. The last thing you want is someone who is more effective at the job than you are touching things. Guarding your turf at this point is absolutely priority one.

Anyways, this is why I left.