Alternative Sourcing Strategies at Menlo College

min read
  • As part of revitalizing itself as a Silicon Valley business school, Menlo College tackled its unsatisfactory campus technology support and infrastructure by hiring a new CIO.
  • To address multiple technology issues affecting students, faculty, and staff as quickly as possible, the IT department mixed in-house staffing, outsourcing, and cloud sourcing.
  • In less than two years, this sourcing mix helped IT launch new solutions and achieve significant improvements in the campus community’s opinions of the IT department’s services.

In 2007, Menlo College set itself on a path to revitalize the institution and return the college to its business school preeminence and roots. With a new president and largely new administrative team in place, by 2009 much of the college had been transformed to support its vision of becoming “Silicon Valley’s Business School.” But, the IT department was still in a state of flux. I was hired in August 2009 to complete this transformation within IT.

Goal and Strategy

The overarching goal for IT was clearly established even before I arrived at Menlo:

Build an IT infrastructure and organization that supports the mission of the college, is leading-edge, and reinforces the college’s Silicon Valley location and positioning.

After evaluating our objectives and options, we decided to utilize alternative sourcing strategies—from moving systems and services to the “cloud” to outsourcing IT functions—to provide the flexibility, coverage, and cost savings our short- and long-term needs required.

Our Timeline

Lessons Learned

We learned many lessons during our alternative sourcing strategy adventures. Here are just a few:

  • Working successfully with outsourced staff requires strong oversight, clear expectations, and good communication. Outsourcing might seem like a way to reduce time spent overseeing staff or managing projects, but my experience shows that outsourcing requires more, not less, management.
  • Know your environment, intimately. From server utilization and bandwidth required to cost structure, if you are making the decision or case to move to software as a service (SaaS) or the cloud, you’ll want to make sure you know what, exactly, you’re going to need and the costs associated with that. Some of the cloud pricing models are pretty complex.
  • Expect that tasks will take longer than you think. We wanted to have mostly migrated to the cloud within the first year. This didn’t happen, not only because cloud computing wasn’t a viable option for every need we had but because clean-up and maintenance of our existing environment took longer than we expected. We encountered (1) constraints on outsourcing hours and (2) the problem that the more we did, the more we uncovered that needed to be fixed.
  • Constantly evaluate, check, and qualify your goals and strategies to meet them. Don’t be afraid to change your strategies to attain your goals, if warranted. You know the old saying “When your only tool is a hammer, everything becomes a nail”? Know when your problem really is a nail and when you need to go find another tool.
  • Companies that don’t work primarily in higher education really don’t understand our cost structure or culture. No surprise there, but that doesn’t mean they can’t offer improvements and cost reduction—you just have to be willing to work with them. Every cost analysis provided by one of our partners was way off based on our costs, so we had to review, discuss, and adjust the numbers before proceeding. But the cost savings were still there following this process.
  • Don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks, whether on a new technology or a new vendor. Sometimes it seems like we’re only willing to try things that others have tried before us, whether moving to hosted software or contracting with a particular vendor. Be willing to go first, or even strive for it, at least every once in awhile.

Our overarching goal remains unchanged: to build a leading-edge IT infrastructure that supports the mission of the college. We will continue to evaluate and redefine our strategies to achieve that goal as our circumstances evolve and as technology advances, and adjust accordingly.