Outsourcing

Two organizations may enter into a contractual agreement involving an exchange of services and payments. Outsourcing is said to help firms to perform well in their core competencies and mitigate shortage of skill or expertise in the areas where they want to outsource. In the early 21st century, businesses increasingly outsourced to suppliers outside their own country, sometimes referred to as offshoring or offshore outsourcing. Several related terms have emerged to refer to various aspects of the complex relationship between economic organizations or networks, such as nearshoring, crowdsourcing, multisourcing and strategic outsourcing.

Reasons for outsourcing

Companies outsource to avoid certain types of costs. They outsource the non core activities. Among the reasons companies elect to outsource include the avoidance of regulations, high taxes, high energy costs, and costs associated with defined benefits in labor-union contracts and taxes for government-mandated benefits. Perceived or actual gross margin in the short run incentivizes a company to outsource. With reduced short-run costs, executive management sees the opportunity for short-run profits, while the income growth of the consumer base is strained. This motivates companies to outsource for lower labor costs.


Implications

Management processes

Greater physical distance between higher management and the production-floor employees often requires a change in management methodologies, as inspection and feedback may not be as direct and frequent as in internal processes. This often requires the assimilation of new communication methods such as Voice over ip, Instant messaging, and Issue Tracking Systems, new Time management methods such as Time Tracking Software, and new cost- and schedule-assessment tools such as Cost Estimation Software.

Quality of service (QoS)

Quality of service is best measured through customer satisfaction questionnaires which are designed to capture an unbiased view.

Language skills

In the area of call centers end-user-experience is deemed to be of lower quality when a service is outsourced. This is exacerbated when outsourcing is combined with offshoring to regions where the first language and culture are different. Foreign call center agents may speak with different linguistic features such as accents, word use and phraseology, which may impede comprehension. The visual cues that are missing in atelephone call may lead to misunderstandings and difficulties.

Security

Before outsourcing, an organization is responsible for the actions of their entire staff, sometimes a substantial liability. When these same people are transferred to an outsourcer, they may not even change desks. But their legal status changes. They are no longer directly employed by (and responsible to) the organization. This creates legal, security and compliance issues that are often addressed through the contract between the client and the suppliers. This is one of the most complex areas of outsourcing and sometimes involves a specialist third-party adviser.

Qualifications of outsourcers

In the engineering discipline, there has been a debate about the number of engineers being produced by the major economies of the United States, India and China. The argument centers around the definition of an engineering graduate and also the disputed numbers. The closest comparable numbers of annual graduates of four-year degrees are United States (137,437) India (112,000) and China (351,537). Companies looking to outsource their engineering activities should evaluate the capabilities of the providers. There are many benchmarking reports by independent research and consulting firms which analyze the vendors' capabilities.

Diversification

The early trend in outsourcing was seen in financial constructs where a function's associated capital and personnel were sold to a vendor and then rented back over a series of years. Early benefits were a boost in expertise and efficiency as outsource vendors had more focus and capability in their specialization. As time progressed, the year 0 benefit was off the books, customer needs evolved and contracts generally aged poorly. Rigid contracts hampered the ability of customers to respond to emerging business drivers, and simultaneously tied the hands of the vendor's team who was focused on increased efficiencies for static problems. The result tended to be additional "project" contracts for incremental changes in a monopoly environment. Many deals became contentious, and many customers have become very uncomfortable surrendering so much power to a single vendor. As the contract aged, it became increasingly difficult to even negotiate with vendors with confidence, because the customer began to lack any real knowledge of the cost structure of the function, or the competitive situation of the vendor.

Industry leaders turned to each other, trade journals and management consultants to try to regain control of the situation, and the next answer that grabbed hold of the industry was labor cost arbitration; leveraging cheap, offshore resources to replace or pressure increasingly expensive legacy outsource vendors. Pressure led incumbent vendors to move resources offshore, or to be replaced wholesale. As this renegotiation was under way, many customers seized the opportunity to restructure to gain more control, transparency and negotiating power. The end result has been fragmentation of outsource contracts and a decline in mega-deals. Many companies are now relying on several vendors who each offer specialization and / or lowest cost.

In-sourcing

Outsourcing has gone through many iterations and reinventions. Some outsourcing deals have been partially or fully reversed, citing an inability to execute strategy, lost transparency & control, onerous contractual models, a lack of competition, recurring costs, hidden costs, and so on. Many companies are now moving to more tailored models where along with outsource vendor diversification, key parts of what was previously outsourced has been insourced. Insourcing has been identified as a means to ensure control, compliance and to gain competitive differentiation through vertical integration or the development of shared services. Insourcing at some level also tends to be leveraged to enable organizations to undergo significant transformational change.