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What is outsourcing? Definitions, best practices, challenges and advice

Stephanie Overby | Nov. 8, 2017
Outsourcing can bring big benefits to your business, but there are significant risks and challenges when negotiating and managing outsourcing relationships. Here, we break down everything you need to know to ensure your IT outsourcing initiatives succeed.

Creating a timeline and completion date for negotiations will help to rein in the negotiation process. Without one, such discussions could go on forever. But if a particular issue needs more time, don’t be a slave to the date. Take a little extra time to work it out.

Finally, don’t take any steps toward transitioning the work to the outsourcer while in negotiations. An outsourcing contract is never a done deal until you sign on the dotted line, and if you begin moving the work to the outsourcer, you will be handing over more power over the negotiating process to them as well.

 

Outsourcing’s hidden costs

The total amount of an outsourcing contract does not accurately represent the amount of money and other resources a company will spend when it sends IT services out to a third party. Depending on what is outsourced and to whom, studies show that an organization will end up spending at least 10 percent above that figure to set up the deal and manage it over the long haul.

Among the most significant additional expenses associated with outsourcing are:

  • the cost of benchmarking and analysis to determine whether outsourcing is the right choice
  • the cost of investigating and selecting a vendor
  • the cost of transitioning work and knowledge to the outsourcer
  • costs resulting from possible layoffs and their associated HR issues
  • costs of ongoing staffing and management of the outsourcing relationship

It’s important to consider these hidden costs when making a business case for outsourcing.

 

The outsourcing transition

Vantage Partners once called the outsourcing transition period — during which the provider’s delivery team gets up to speed on your business, existing capabilities and processes, expectations and organizational culture — the "valley of despair." During this period, the new team is trying to integrate any transferred employees and assets, begin the process of driving out costs and inefficiencies, while still keeping the lights on. Throughout this period, which can range from several months to a couple of years, productivity very often takes a nosedive.

The problem is, this is also the time when executives on the client side look most avidly for the deal’s promised gains; business unit heads and line managers wonder why IT service levels aren’t improving; and IT workers wonder what their place is in this new mixed-source environment.

IT leaders looking to the outsourcing contract for help on how to deal with the awkward transition period will be disappointed. The best advice is to anticipate that the transition period will be trying, attempt to manage the business side’s expectations, and set up management plans and governance tools to get the organization over the hump.

 

Outsourcing governance

The success or failure of an outsourcing deal is unknown on the day the contract is inked. Getting the contract right is necessary, but not sufficient for a good outcome. One study found that customers said at least 15 percent of their total outsourcing contract value is at stake when it comes to getting vendor management right. A highly collaborative relationship based on effective contract management and trust can add value to an outsourcing relationship. An acrimonious relationship, however, can detract significantly from the value of the arrangement, the positives degraded by the greater need for monitoring and auditing. In that environment, conflicts frequently escalate and projects don’t get done.

 

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