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Background: I am a systems guys/developer. I develop a lot of intranet websites and apps used by thousands of people at my company (almost 100K employees globally).

For the most part my company prefers using vendors for projects. We spend months and sometimes years looking at vendors for various projects, I am tasked with vetting out the technical ability of vendors, and then some higher up signs a big contract with one. For every vendor that does a decent job, there are 5 that are terrible. Once they have the contract signed and get us "live" it is all downhill, and some can't get us "live".

My job focuses on two areas. The first is keeping the vendors in line. Basically people cc me on emails about vendor issues to make sure what the vendor is telling us is true (most of the time it isn't). And then I have to offer solutions to the vendor.

The second part of my job is to develop solutions, apps, tools. These are really only developed when a vendor fails so badly that they have no choice to let me do it. The stuff I develop is fine tuned for what our company needs, is often integrated with employee info and other sites, and is much more well received (management fully acknowledges this) than vendor sites/tools.

So we have all of these vendors getting paid somewhere between 50K-2.5M a year. Management knows that I can duplicate most of the work myself, or with a small team. But every time we talk about a new project and someone brings up that I should do it I hear, "And what do we do if XXX leaves?"

How can I address this with my management? Because of this I spend countless hours on vendor calls. For some projects I could have finished the project 4 times if I had the vendor call times to do the work.

Note: This question might be mildly related to How can I prepare for getting hit by a bus? but it isn't the same thing. I am not worried about getting people ready for my departure. I want to know how to convey to management that they could hire someone to take over, how to show them how much money/time/technology edge they are losing with their strategy, and ideas on what others have done to create a structure like this before.

Addendum: It is my opinion that upper management generally likes to pay vendors tons of money. I hear our VPs mention all the time that they manage a 3 million dollar budget or even mention vendors or whatever. To me having a small group in the company de-emphasizes the "power" or "work" of the individual VPs that own the vendor budget (even though they literally do nothing with the vendors). To me getting over this hurdle almost seems impossible. I jumped this 10 years ago for a few projects because my manager at the time got to highlight a new worker and took recognition. Now that people in my company know me, my current management would get little to no recognition.

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    Related: How can I prepare for getting hit by a bus? – David K Apr 6 '15 at 17:25
  • @blankip he's not trying to jinx you, it's a very real concern voiced in a somewhat morbid, yet amusing way (some people express it as "what happens if I win the lottery and leave tomorrow?" to put a happier spin on it). It's an important question every organization has to answer when they find that they have a "critical" employee - what do we do if we suddenly no longer have this person? – alroc Apr 6 '15 at 17:33
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    This question has nothing in common with the "getting hit by a bus" question. @blankip is not asking how to prepare someone else to assume his/her role. – Roger Apr 6 '15 at 17:36
  • And just to clarify, I have two people I work with that currently do no work for me but are a lower level. I have taken them under my wings, show them the nuts to bolts of everything. I am not hiding anything from my employer. I also have taken in apps I have made outside of work and let my employer use. I don't think there is a trust issue. – blankip Apr 6 '15 at 17:40
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    I edited this slightly to make it clear how your question is different from the two linked ones. If I changed your intent too much, feel free to edit and clarify. – enderland Apr 6 '15 at 18:08
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You need to ensure your management would have a plan for support if you leave.

Likely your management sees what you do as complete magic when you program something. They have no idea how it works, why it works, only that it works -- and you alone hold the secret words to make it work correctly.

Magic is terrifying to management. An outsourced, vendor based project has most of the same risk as you doing the work (source: all your failed outsourced projects) - even if only an illusion of security that is very compelling to management.

Most management believe that if you contract out X to Cheap-Outsourced-Company then it's a no-risk thing. But Cheap-Outsourced-Company still has to deliver and support the project just as an internal resource does. The only difference is that most of those Cheap-Outsourced-Company issues (related to hiring, retention, knowledge, etc) are hidden from your management, or wrapped in a large additional cost.

The way you resolve this is discuss the issues in the bus factor question and make sure your management understands you are doing them all. They likely have no idea how your workload works, how you keep track of issues, what technologies you use, etc (again, it's magic).

Another way is to calculate the cost for you or a FTE to do the work and support. Determine what the cost to your company is for you to work on it. Emphasize that even if your company hires X more people it will still be cheaper for them, even if you build in a specific risk factor.

At the end of the day, too, your company may have different money buckets and senior management may care more about which bucket money comes from. A FTE may be a much harder sell to your bosses boss than an obscene amount in waste for "operating expenses" or "yearly budget" types of things...

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    The biggest risk with an outside vendor is when that vendor goes belly-up - do you have the source code? documentation? all the development notes that show why the application was written to work the it does? - highlight what can be done internally to mitigate those risks. Also talk about the cost involved in changing project specifications (there is no zero-cost solution, but typically changes are easier with internal development than out-sources). – HorusKol Apr 7 '15 at 0:11
  • @HorusKol - that is never an issue with our company. Maybe they sell off their product to another vendor or merge... but we pay them so much there is no way they are just disappearing. – blankip Apr 7 '15 at 2:53
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What would they do if you leave now?

From what you're saying, it sounds as if you fill a key role in your group - you're the person that can apply a BS filter to whatever the vendor is saying. Your managers look to you to do this because they don't have the knowledge to do it themselves. They can either use you fully, and take advantage of your skills - maybe saving some money in the bargain - or they can hold you back, in which case you're likely to eventually get frustrated and go somewhere else, which could end up costing them even more money.

It sounds like it's time for a frank talk with your manager about this. Make your case for what you can do, and share your frustrations with not being allowed to do it. If you don't like what you hear, it's probably time to think about looking for other opportunities.

  • Management knows how I feel. I don't think there are any issues there. Even some on the management team would rather just hand of the projects to me. But then eventually someone brings up... my question. – blankip Apr 6 '15 at 17:33
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    Have you asked your manager why this is a concern, and how you can help to address it? – Roger Apr 6 '15 at 17:38
  • They said they don't have anyone else at the company they would trust to take over these things. We have brought up that I could manage a small group of 3-4 that would handle these, and then risk might be more spread out. – blankip Apr 6 '15 at 17:43
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    @blankip It sounds to me like you have quite the portfolio. I'm sure there are plenty of companies out there who would love to hear interest from you. To be completely honest, I don't see the purpose of staying with your current employer if they're going to hold you back like this. – Thebluefish Apr 6 '15 at 23:16
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    @Thebluefish - they pay me relatively well, don't care where I work from, I make my own hours, management trusts me, and sometimes the overall incompetency allows me to do what I want instead of given rigid requirements (which may not be optimal) that other companies may do.. And I don't want to be a programmer - which seems like what most companies would rather pencil me in as. – blankip Apr 7 '15 at 0:16
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I shared the related question "How can I prepare for getting hit by a bus?" in comment, but I think further explanation is required.

Right now your employers are worried about you leaving them high and dry with no backup plan, so they are limiting your ability to work efficiently and save them money. If you are serious about sticking with this company and making positive changes to your job, then you need to convince them that you can prepare them in case you get hit by a bus. Lay out a plan for how you will document your work. Tell them how wonderful and capable your apprentices are. Make sure they realize just how much money you would be saving by getting rid of some of these vendors.

Now, you also don't want to pitch this as "You guys don't need me at all!" Your job would certainly become more critical, just not so critical that they couldn't recover without you. If this transition is successful, you could even use it as evidence to go for a promotion or a raise.

In the end, your company thinks in terms of money. Right now, they think the cost of you leaving would be much more than the gain of moving away from these vendors. Convince them that they're wrong, and then follow through with your plan.

  • I have added a note to the question that further explains. Your answer is fine although WAY too general and vague for an upvote right now. – blankip Apr 6 '15 at 22:43
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I would answer this with: How does vendor code solve the support issue? What if the vendor goes away or does not perform? The fact is we have many vendors that don't perform. You already have a number of programs written by me that will require support if I leave. Not have me write code is not going to solve the support issue. I would argue that you are much better off with me and small development team. If I leave you sill have the development team.

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    And the company would have the source code. – user8365 Apr 6 '15 at 22:51
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And what do we do if XXX leaves?

"You either hire a replacement (I'd be happy to interview him to check his qualifications), or hand the code over to an outside vendor of your choice."

The key thing to convey is that while your replacement will need certain qualifications, those qualifications are not specific to the product (website) in question: When your car breaks down, and the company who built it is no longer in business, you can take the car to another company's repair shop, and chances are good they'll be able to fix it.

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At it's core, this is an HR question. Perhaps your HR department can shed some light on how your company typically handles critical employee replacements. You should also find out what kind of communication HR has with management (e.g. one way, two way, integrated). From my limited training in HR, I have a few suggestions.

The most obvious is pointing out that many other large companies have IT/development teams and they seem to get by just fine. The key word here is team. If there are three of you, then one of you leaving is not a big deal. Further, if they regularly spend up to $2 million a year on vendors for work that you and a team could have done, I'm sure they can work the budget to use those funds toward a team that you lead. So from this perspective, the answer is "There should be a team backing me up. We can replace the need for vendors entirely and replacing any given team member would not be too difficult."

Next is money. Managers see little dollar signs on everything and hear change rattle every time you talk. If you are privy to these expenses, then you should be able to work some Excel magic and demonstrate that a team of three of you is sufficient for all software needs and is significantly cheaper than vendors. If you are not privy to the expenses, then you should at least try with your best guesses. Try to account for the money and production (i.e. hours you and a team would have to spend on a typical project and what that means for costs for the company) If you really have your stuff down, you can account for how a well tailored bit of software saves money every time it is used by all the other employees.

Then there's forward thinking, which some managers unfortunately forget about too often. If you're saving the day often enough then they already have a problem "if you leave". If you are not there and then calamity strikes via another sub par vendor, there's now no hero to save them. A dedicated development team doesn't just resolve this problem it makes it disappear entirely.

That takes us full circle. Combine this with what your HR department can tell you and you should be able to make the case and convince management that a development team is the best route for the company's needs. If they happen to be particularly obstinate, you should perhaps consider a different job where you get to develop and grow your own skills, instead of clean up after another's lack thereof. Perhaps their attitude might change if you suggest that you might be seeking other employment if they do not take your suggestion.

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