Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Bangalored" ... (How much is too much..?)

(Sum's take on Outsourcing ....although comes a little too late. Kudos......"Bangalored" is how Oxford Dictionary pronounces "Shipping of Jobs")

Outsourcing is a term used to describe almost any corporate activity that is managed by an outside vendor, from the running of the company’s cafeteria to the provision of courier services. It is most commonly used, however, to apply to the transfer of the management of an organization’s computer facilities to an outside agent. This transfer of management responsibility is frequently accompanied by a transfer (from the buyer of the outsourcing service to the vendor) of the specialist internal staff who are already carrying out that activity.

Outsourcing has three main advantages:

• The greater economies of scale that can be gained by a third party that is able to pool the activity of a large number of firms. It is thus frequently cheaper for a firm to outsource specialist activities (where it cannot hope to gain economies of scale on its own) than it is to carry them out itself. Some firms gain the economies of scale by taking on the activity of others, becoming an outsourcer themselves.

• The ability of a specialist-outsourcing firm to keep abreast of the latest developments in its field. This has been a particularly significant factor in the area of information technology, where technological change has been so rapid that companies’ in-house capabilities are hard pressed to keep up with it.

• The way that it enables small firms to do things for which they could not justify hiring full-time employees.

The most commonly cited disadvantage of outsourcing is the loss of control involved in derogating responsibility for particular processes to others.

Outsourcing is not a new phenomenon. Companies have outsourced their advertising, for instance, for almost as long as advertising has been in existence. According to one estimate, in 1946 only 20% of a typical American manufacturing company’s value-added in production and operations came from outside sources; 50 years later the proportion had tripled to 60%.

Much of the increase came from the outsourcing of IT functions. This was bolstered later by the outsourcing of other functions (such as logistics) that were in areas that themselves had a high degree of it content. Banks, for instance, began to outsource the IT-intensive processing of financial instruments such as loans or mortgage-backed securities. The savings from such moves could be dramatic. By deciding to outsource the origination, packaging and servicing of all its personal loans, both old and new, one British bank cut the average cost of processing by over 75%. In the car industry in the 1990s, firms with the biggest profit per car, such as Toyota, Honda and Chrysler, were also the biggest outsourcers (sourcing around 70% to various suppliers). Those that outsourced the least (General Motors, for example, which outsourced only 30% of its value-added) were the least profitable. TATA has virtually pulled out of Singur on account of protecting its outsourced functions. The land TATA project needed for its vendor park was as important as the project itself.

The nature of outsourcing contracts has changed over time. What started off as a straightforward arm’s-length agreement between a buyer and a supplier moved on to become structured more like a partnership agreement. In this, not only is any increase in the clients’ volume of business reflected in the outsourcer’s scale of charges, but both parties in some way share the risks and rewards of the outsourced activity.

Relationships like this vary over time and require firms to learn how to work together in entirely new ways. In the early 1990s, in a groundbreaking five-year outsourcing agreement with BP, Accenture (then called Andersen Consulting) took over responsibility for running the day-to-day operation of BP’s accounting systems. BP retained control of accounting policy and the interpretation of data for business decision-making. In return, Accenture guaranteed BP that it would reduce the cost of running the service by 20%.

Some firms have been so taken with the idea of outsourcing that they have left themselves with little to do. An American company outsourced the manufacture of its computers as well as the ordering, delivery and the accounts receivable. Only the design was left to be handled in-house. Question remains how much is too much?
(I'll follow this up with a critical evaluation of Outsourcing Processes and how India is loosing its competetive advantage)

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