Professional Associations React to the Challenge
Quint, Barbara, Searcher
With a wave of outsourcing affecting information professionals across the country, many turn to their professional associations for guidance and assistance. This month's column will interview leaders of two of the most prominent associations representing multiple sides of the question -- the Special Libraries Association and the Association of Independent Information Professionals. For the sake of editorial honesty, let me confess to Searcher readers that the interviewer is a member of both associations.
David Bender Executive Director, Special Libraries Association (SLA)
BQ: Outsourcing is such a complex, multi-sided issue. But it must be especially complicated for an organization like the Special Libraries Association. Your members must come from all sides of the issue -- targets and outsourcers and professionals who use outsourcing as a tool. I know the issue confuses me as a professional searcher. Where does SLA stand on outsourcing?
Bender. Well, if you're confused, I'm not sure where I stand either. It was easier in the early days of federal government outsourcing. The Association took a position that straddled the issue. Ten percent of our members were entrepreneurs going after the "contracting out" business; the other 90 percent were against it. Today we're still kind of caught in the same situation. A number of our members do contractual work; a number contract out and are happy with it; some are frightened to death; and others haven't thought about it.
Some time ago, the Association put together a paper on the issue. It said that the Association considered outsourcing as an issue that deserved attention and needed careful examination and study. Before any company or institution went into outsourcing, they should ask four questions. How would outsourcing this function affect the corporate memory? How would it affect the integrity of our data? What is the standing and/or reliability of this contractor? What are the cost advantages and disadvantages? Those are the issues. If outsourcing could satisfy one's needs in some way, then there's no reason not to pursue it. We have never said outsourcing is a good or a bad thing, just that you had to investigate it yourself and weigh the merits.
At this point, that's still basically the position the Association has followed and continues to pursue. We have held back a little because of more recent happenings like Teltech's takeover of GE libraries and activities in Boston of the Yankee Group.
BQ: The Yankee Group? Bender. Yes. They're an overall outsourcer, much broader than Teltech, which is a member of AIIP, by the way. Their corporate services include accounting and all areas of business operations. They ran a study on outsourcing in Forbes last year as an ad section. In the article, a number of companies ran ads for outsourcing that were broader than just information services. But the article was significant because it brought out information technology and databases as one area of possibility for outsourcing. It never mentioned libraries specifically, but it implied this as an area for consideration. With all that, we have gone to a couple of small groups of members and, based in part on their reactions, decided not to get actively involved with an outsourcer yet.
Mainly we have looked at information services to see where one would place it in benchmarking. Is information a core competency? And it kept coming back that information in any company is a core competency.
We feel our members should handle outsourcing like any other issue. Outsourcers may have a role to play in a well-managed information service, especially for mechanical things like online searching, pulling together reports, arranging statistics.
BQ: Hey! What do you mean mechanical things like online searching" Hmmph.
Bender. GE kept a covey of information professionals to do some searches, like patents and product development. But some kinds of searching are very standard, three to five word matches or historical ones where the researcher just needs some help. …