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Category Archives for "Outsourcing Strategy"

Outsourcing Tasks Does Not Transfer Responsibility For Those Tasks

Outsourcing Tasks Does Not Transfer Responsibility For Those Tasks

President Obama quipped in an interview with CNN. On May 14, 2010 "you had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else...The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn't." The legal wrangling continues and will take considerable time and expense to resolve. We need not go into the gory details of dollar numbers too big to even fully comprehend, but from our perspective in this Chapter three key points stand out:

  • When you outsource a task, service or suite of services, you could still retain significant responsibility for its full and proper execution.
  • Brand-names, size of the company or even their experience is no guarantee of performance of the outsourcing service contracts.
  • No matter how close the 'partnership' is at the start, the test of a successful outsourcing contract is how it ends.

While these 3 key take-aways are still relevant to our discussion here, what is more relevant is the fact that all the companies in question will have to continue to outsource (and insource). So the practice of outsourcing itself will continue unabated. What will change after this learning experience is that the practice will be carried out in a much more sophisticated manner. That is the whole point of this book.

Before more on to newer, more sophisticated models of outsourcing that are emerging and examining them in more details in the next few chapter, let us consider the evidence on the satisfaction from current outsourcing arrangements.

Data, anecdotes and case histories abound on the misapplication of information technologies for supply networks. Not too many years ago, a very large corporation operating worldwide, made news with the downgrading of their earnings expectations due to supply chain system’s implementation setbacks. The expectation was that the new system would reduce the new production cycle from 1 month to 1 week. Furthermore, it would better match the demand and supply of its products to place the correct products in the right locations and quantities, all at the right time - a very lofty goal. The company spent an enormous amount of money, exceeding US $400 million in order to achieve its aim. However, the software system 'never worked right'. It caused the factories to crack out too many unpopular products and not enough of the trendier ones in high demand. While making the earning downgrade, the CEO asked the rhetorical question, ‘is this what we get for $400 million?’

The market analysts were not surprised. One respected market analyst [AMR] commented, ‘fiascos like this occur all the time but are usually kept quiet unless they seriously hurt the bottom line.’ Another respected market analyst commented that while the CEO made it sound like it was a surprise for him, if he did not have checkpoints for the projects, he does not have control over his company. A third analyst commented that companies are confused by escalating market hype and too often underestimate the complexity and risks. Another [Forrester Research] commented 'when the software projects go bad companies are more likely going to scurry up and cover it up because they fear that they are the only ones having trouble. But far from it; our conversation and research reveals this company was not unique or the only one having this kind of trouble'.

Despite their lofty goals, many of the large information technology deployment projects derail. It takes time for the word to filter out because, in most cases, the executives involved in the process are far too embarrassed to talk about what happened. They do mutter among themselves; after several similar instances the mutterings become more vocal and a trend emerges where a number of people start talking about the shortcomings of the system itself or the implementation process or of the time taken for implementation. Because the cost of this failure is so high – greater than $400 Million in the above case – it is instructive to understand the real root causes of this failure. I am not looking to apportion the fault or apportion the blame in this chapter.

Why do so many outsourcing arrangements fail?

Why Do So Many Outsourcing Arrangements Fail? 

It is common knowledge that the failure rate of complex outsourcing arrangement remains stubbornly over 50% depending on which survey you read. With such a long history and accumulated lessons from outsourcing, this is simply unacceptable. 

However, it is not only outsourced projects that fail. Internal projects – especially large scale IT systems development or technological developments have an equally unimpressive track record. For an amusing example of the reasons, I encourage the reader to peruse this blog post:

 "WHY ARE SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT ESTIMATES REGULARLY OFF ?"

So, what exactly  do we do in the preparation stage? We should ask and answer several key questions:

  • What are the services to be outsourced? Why? How does this plan fit with our corporate strategy?
  • What are the Key Service parameters? How will we know that the outsourced service is meeting our strategic objectives?
  • What budget for Service?
  • How many Service Companies?
  • How long contracts? 
  • How to select Service Companies?
  • How to manage relationship/s?

So what happens when you fail to prepare? The obvious answer is that the outsourcing arrangement turns out to be sub-optimal, and sometimes even disastrous. 

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30 Years Of Accumulated Wisdom Is Now Available

30 Years Of Accumulated Wisdom Is Now Available

However, it will be a fallacy not to learn from all the accumulated wisdom of the past. After all, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes again and again. This will enable us to understand the steps we can take from the very beginning to increase your probability of success. This will also allow you to confidently move forward with Business Network Information Technology system selection, integration and use in order to achieve the results that you set out to achieve.

The supply networks information technology projects have become bigger and bigger over the last 15 years. It is quite customary now to start with an expectation of spending around $ 50 million but end up spending in excess of $200 million on systems renewal projects.

Rough estimates indicate that, even today, about one third of these projects are cancelled without delivering any benefits, after spending more than $100 million. Another third of the projects are not cancelled, but fail to deliver significant parts of what they set out to achieve. Only one third of the projects achieve most of their strategic goals, but many still incur several budget upgrades and time overruns.

Why is this pattern of failure repeated over and over again?

To answer the key question above, let’s first examine a typical project cost structure. It is estimated that the software costs are no more than 15-20% of the overall cost of systems renewal. Programming and configuration costs run from 20% to 25%; external consulting costs generally associated with process changes run from 15-20%, data conversion costs run around 10-15%, training costs  run from 10-15%, systems startup costs run around 10%, applications support costs are between 5-10% and hardware costs are between 2-5% of the overall cost structure. Out of these costs only the software costs generally remains fixed through the systems renewal cycle. Pretty much all the rest of the cost buckets are estimated ambitiously at the start and tend to run over quite considerably as the project progresses.

Outsourcing is a fact of life in business today

Outsourcing Is A Fact Of Life In Business Today

We will however, briefly focus on three relevant parties - BP, Transocean and Halliburton for the sake of discussion relevant to this Chapter - on modularized outsourcing. BP had outsourced the task of drilling to Transocean. At the same time Transocean had bought the Blowout preventer from Cameron International Corporation. Whether it can be argued that BP or Transocean had outsourced the task of Blow-out Prevention (BOP) to Cameron is not certain; neither is the liability on malfunction of the blowout preventer because of allegations of lack of proper maintenance. Cameron agreed to settle all claims related with the Deepwater Horizon tragedy with BP for $250M - without any admission of guilt. The situation with Halliburton is still unclear. As per a CNN news-report:

BP and Halliburton sued each other in April 2011 claiming each is to blame for the deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and resulting disastrous oil leak. Halliburton was in charge of cementing the Macondo well and claims that its contract with BP indemnifies (releases) Halliburton of any legal action resulting from its work as a contractor...

In a response filed Sunday, BP asserted that "maritime law prohibits indemnification for gross negligence."

As part of that four-page filing, BP reiterated that it was seeking to recover from Halliburton "the amount of costs and expenses incurred by BP to clean up and remediate the oil spill." BP has estimated in the past that the total cost will be around $42 billion, and by the end of November 2011 the oil company it has paid out or agreed to pay out $21.7 billion to affected individuals, companies and governments around the Gulf.

In an e-mail to CNN, Halliburton spokesperson Beverly Stafford said "Halliburton stands firm that we are indemnified by BP against losses resulting from the Macondo incident."

What Two African Entrepreneurs Have Learnt from Amazon.com – Globalization in Action Serving Humanity

Boasting exponential growth since its inception in 2012, Jumia became the first e-commerce site to bring the coveted Play Station 4 to Nigeria. The company announced the offering after just two days of the release in the US. The Nigerian would-be Amazon is following the global giant’s footsteps in becoming a super networked business, although there is still a long way to go.

Jumia started with a relatively similar aim and manifesto to Amazon, which puts customers at the heart of its operation. In the same vein, the Nigerian site also reaps benefits from being one of the pioneers in Africa’s emerging online retail market. “Being first is good, but it is not everything. What fuels Jumia’s success so far is somewhat akin to Amazon’s evolution into a Five-star business network” – said Vivek Sood, CEO of Global Supply Chain Group.

Jumia is not shy of innovation either, given the fact that people are still skeptical about online retailing as well as online payment in Africa. The Lagos-based retailer launched a range of online payment options but steers its technology-shy consumers by accepting cash on delivery and offering free returns. “It’s very important that people know it’s not a scam,” said co-founder Tunde Kehinde. They even take a step further and deploy a direct sales team of 200 to educate Nigerians about secure online shopping, which also serves as a means to build trust. Now with pick-up stations spanning over 6 locations, a warehouse facility, 200 delivery vehicles in Nigeria and 4 other country-specific microsites, Jumia seriously strives to become a one stop shop for retail in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Here you are collecting cash and reconciling payments almost like a bank desk, here you are building a logistics company,” said co-founder Raphel Afaedor.

Both co-founders and Harvard Business School graduates built the business from $75 billion in funding and are bringing “a couple of million” dollars in monthly revenue, a growth rate of nearly 20%. Vivek Sood, author of the book “Move Beyond the Traditional Supply Chains: The 5-STAR Business Network”, said: “Jumia is taking the right steps towards building the five cornerstones of a super networked business: innovation, efficiency, profitability maximisation, product phasing and result-oriented outsourcing. With the promising results so far, perhaps we could see the next perfect example of a 5-star business network besides Amazon.”

Value of Trust in Supply Chain Management, and Outsourcing

Supply chain management Recently an owner of a medium sized business (who was trying to be one of our well-wishers) showed me (and one of our new recruits in sales management department) the way they were using dummy websites to generate leads for their business. He also mentioned that nowadays this is a very common practice to create dummy websites, even dummy companies and fake addresses for the sheer ease of doing so and anticipated potential benefits.

He wanted to encourage us to do the same thing. We listened to him politely, thanked him for his opinion, and refused to go down that path.

He was firmly in the camp of people believing that you have to fake it till you make it.

Obviously there is a huge contingent of people who follow this philosophy. To justify themselves they often quote Richard Branson saying this:

I don’t know if this phrase was truly said by the man himself. However I would feel a little bit uneasy if pilots in their airlines adopted this mantra. It basically means that they accept the job as a pilot hoping to figure out how it works later, meanwhile they are going to fake it till they make it.

I know I have carried the example to an extreme, and pilots do need certification before anyone offers them a job as such.

However, I am also aware that there are more subtle considerations such as aircraft types, routes and even airport characteristics where most pilots will not accept command of an aircraft till they know for sure they can do the job.

Like them, I am firmly in the camp which says ‘make it real and keep it real.’ The risks are far too high; and the numerous opportunities to train and learn without exposing your passengers (or business network partners) to the unnecessary risks make it almost callous to do otherwise.

Yet, many people persist.

Trust deficit and its side effects

This belief – fake it, till you make it – is usually based on the assumption that nobody will offer you a job if you’re perceived as not qualified for it.

On the contrary, you are the best person to judge whether you are truly competent enough to take on a job. At the same time, with the job offers comes the responsibility of choosing, whether to accept it, or not; the responsibility of evaluating your own skills, experience and competence for this particular job.

Unfortunately, there are far too many people forsaking this  responsibility that can only apply at a personal level.

That is also the reason why there is a lot of trust deficit in the business world.

If you are faking it, your reader, your audience, your client, your customer will most likely know that you’re faking it. It is just a matter of time.

Whether you are a motor mechanic who’s faking the knowledge of the type of motor that you’re repairing or you’re a heart surgeon or any job in between. Faking it is definitely not going to make you happier or more successful for the simple reason that your customer will always be uneasy with you. Furthermore, in your heart you will always know that you are faking it, which is not the best thing for your self-confidence and self-respect.

Supply chain management is not a unique field which requires a large amount of trust between people to collaborate. In fact, trust is a fundamental requirement for all collaboration, cooperation and joint activities between human beings.

It becomes even more significant in supply chain management where it is both individual trust and institutional trust.

Why is trust so important anyway?

There is an important reason why I mention it.

As supply chains become more and more sophisticated, as they become more entangled and evolve into business networks, the need for trust within the supply chains becomes more and more intense.

Let’s take a specific example to make this generic statement more real.

Suppose you are a soft drink manufacturer, and the suppliers of empty cans has a captive plant right next to your bottling plant, you have a good chance of hearing about their business ups and downs and know well in time about events that might affect your supply. Now just substitute this captive supplier of packaging by a bunch of suppliers half way around the earth who might have significant cost advantage (because of manufacturing cost, for instance), and see how important it will be for you to keep open clear lines of communication in order to run your business smoothly and efficiently.

Companies typically want to engage with supply chain partners who will be able to deliver on what they promise, barring a totally unanticipated event. If your business network partners are not fakes themselves, most likely they will not engage with you further when they find out that you’re faking it.

Components of trust

people in roundAlthough trust in supply chain management is a very popular topic, it is evident that establishing trust within the business network can be very challenging. It takes time, patience and effort of each and every supply chain partner. It can be even more difficult to maintain trust over time. As the concept of trust is rather abstract, it is also hard to measure. At the same time, despite all the difficulties and efforts you can be sure that developing trust with your suppliers and customers is worth the efforts.

So what is trust and what are the components of it?

How to make sure that there is enough trust between you and your supply chain partners?

Is it always worth the investment of your time and effort?

Is there such thing as too much trust within the business network?

First of all, trust in supply chain management, as in any other cooperation between people, includes numerous factors.

You should maintain good communication at all times between you and your partners. Communication also means honesty and openness. Fairness and loyalty can also be very helpful in establishing trust. Another integral part is the competence and your openness about whether you are qualified for this particular job or not. This kind of relationship requires goodwill and willingness not to exploit your partner’s vulnerabilities. This is even more important because of the confidential information which is shared between supply chain partners and with management consultants.

Levels of trust

exercise-in-groundMy colleague, who was at the meeting mentioned at the start of this article, wondered aloud about the advisability of trying to create some websites to generate additional leads for our training business.

And my answer was an unequivocal “no”.

The reason was very simple.

I like to make it real – and keep it real.

I gave my colleague an example of the difference between level of trust required for a pharmacist, a general practitioner and an open-heart surgeon.

When you go and buy a medicine from a pharmacy, you do need a certain amount of trust. You need to be confident that the pharmacist will indeed give you the formulation that the doctor has prescribed. You need to be sure that it is pure, unadulterated and sold at the market price.

However the level of trust required from a general practitioner is much higher. Because you will have to literally remove your clothes in front of him. In this case you need the confidence that your general practitioner is able to examine you, to find out what was wrong.

This trust requirement further multiplies when we are talking about a heart surgeon. You need to be completely sure of your heart surgeon as you need to entrust him your own body, because he will be actually cutting you open and looking literally at your heart. Imagine a heart surgeon who lives with the philosophy mentioned earlier.

In the situation where people need to share confidential information, where the profitability of your business depends largely on the competence and honesty of someone else, it is critical to make efforts in order to develop trust. A low level of trust in this case may give a bit more independence and space at first but later on it will definitely result in lower productivity and profitability in supply chain.

Trust in management consulting

Management consultants by their nature need to establish a very firm bond of trust with their customers. The clients need to be able to entrust them with a lot of confidential data and information as well as their innermost strategies so that management consultants could work successfully and effectively.

To be able to establish this kind of firm bond of trust you have to make sure that there is no possibility that your customer misunderstands any of your marketing messages. You should be unambiguous about your market position. It takes us to the next point.

It is always better to say clearly and honestly if the required skills or competences for a particular project are not within your company’s skillsets.

Let me make it real with another example. Very often when we formulate segmented supply chain strategies for our clients’ business, we need to understand the customer segmentation criteria. As part of that activity we need market research data, which is obviously outside the competency set of our business. I am very clear with my clients when such situations arise. I also say that I am in a position to recommend a few good market research firms, if necessary, but customers are welcome to choose any others that they want to use so long as the required segmentation data is available at the end of the exercise.

Sophisticated clients always appreciate a consulting company which is honest about where their competency starts and where it ends. On the other hand there are consulting firms who pretend that they are able to magically do everything.

In most cases they end up doing nothing well enough, and in the long term they usually lose not only the trust of their clients, but also their own self-respect.

Trust in the 5-STAR Business Network

Looking beyond management consulting, as mentioned before, trust is important for collaboration between supply chain partners. When you are working with your supply chain partners – suppliers and customers – in innovation, in order to create new products faster, in enhancing the profitability and reducing the cash-to-cash cycle, you know that relying on fakes will only come back and bite you at the worst possible time.

Typically deep understanding of customer segments is required to be able to configure a segmented supply chain so that the end-to-end business strategy is in coherence. This activity obviously requires an immense amount of trust running all the way through the entire business network.

However, similar to the example comparing a pharmacist, a general practitioner and a heart surgeon, the required trust will always depend on the situation and on the level of collaboration that we need from each participant within the 5-STAR Business Network.

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