ManagementSpeak: We’re implementing a self-service portal.

Translation: We’re implementing a “good service costs too much” portal.

Thanks to Doug Johnson, who took advantage of KJR’s easy-to-use email-me-your-ManagementSpeak “portal.” Why don’t you?

“We don’t,” my client explained, “want to be in the data center business.

It’s a common negative want shared by IT and business management alike in many companies, especially in the context of pursuing a Cloud strategy instead.

It leads, or should lead to a diplomatically phrased version of the contrapositive question: What business does the decision-maker in question want to be in?

Enter the dreaded mission statement, which in principle should be the go-to source for the definitive answer, which in theory should yield a very short list (it should contain no more than three items and I’m being generous) of the business functions the company won’t outsource.

If, for example, you run General Motors, and thanks to KJR you figured out you want to be in the sell-cars-people-want-to-buy business and not the bribe-people-to-finance-cars-they-otherwise-would-never-buy business, you’d easily figure out the importance of outsourcing everything except Marketing (to understand what people might want to buy) and Advertising (persuading people they want to buy GM cars).

And maybe Distribution given that, except for Tesla, car-buyers mostly buy cars from dealerships.

Design, engineering, manufacturing, accounting, human resources, and information technology? These are all businesses you don’t want to be in.

They aren’t, in ConsultantSpeak lingo, “core.”

This brings up an important dimension to getting the right answer to a question. The obvious dimension is the research, comprehension, and analysis smart people undertake to arrive at the best response.

The second, less obvious dimension, which even smarter people explore, is making sure they’re asking the right question.

In this case I’m not entirely sure deciding what business you want to be in, or, if you prefer, what business functions are and aren’t core, is the right question.

The right, or at least the better question is whether your business can run a given function better internally or by contracting it to an external provider.

If you run a small or medium-size business, you should probably outsource any business function that doesn’t differentiate you from your competitors. Outsources will have economies of scale you can’t possibly match, so whether it’s IT or advertising they can probably do it better, faster, and for less than you can.

Does that mean large enterprises should always insource? They can, after all, match or even exceed the economies of scale achievable by many potential outsourcers.

Not necessarily. In particular, an executive culture rooted in control and distrust can cripple whoever is managing an insourced function but will happily delegate most decisions to an outsourcer so long as the outsourcer meets its contractual obligations.

Which clears up what “We don’t want to be in the data center business” frequently means – that what we really don’t want to do is delegate the authority and responsibility for managing a data center to in-house IT management.

Bob’s last word: Often, behind not wanting to delegate authority and responsibility is the thought that “we” – we being whoever doesn’t want to delegate whatever it is – don’t think we can do a good job of hiring someone to run the function in question.

Which implies that “we” do think we can do a good job of selecting a vendor, negotiating a contract, and managing the vendor once it’s signed.

I’m not clear why “we’d” think that. But, it appears “we” do.

Bob’s sales pitch: In the end, this week’s column is all about when and how to delegate. If you’re looking for the KJR perspective on delegation, check out a copy of Leading IT: (Still) the Toughest Job in the World. It has my personal endorsement … and I wouldn’t steer you wrong, would I?