Although the reality is very different, a recent article in computer weekly (a UK based IT Magazine) suggested that companies are being more flexible and attempting to spread the risk by outsourcing to different suppliers in different countries. As Leslie Wilcox of the LSE suggested the process looks like ‘spread betting’. Although this was a nice idea at least in print the practice of doing this for real is proving more difficult as the basis of off-shoring is often to move low value commodity call-centric services to locations where the language matches that of the home country. Accordingly much of the UK based off-shore market has naturally gravitated to India where a large number of skilled, low paid and disciplined people are available to man the phones.
The Indian subcontinent turns out twenty to thirty thousand IT graduates a year for example and as a corollary of their degree course often speak English to a high standard. Another factor that causes management heartache with multi-shoring is the problems of managing several off-shore suppliers – its bad enough with one as the practice has shown. Although innovation is appearing as more important at least in surveys when deciding on outsourcing the main attraction for off-shoring still remains labour arbitrage – i.e. cheaper wages. However in India of late they have been ‘enjoying’ 25% wage inflation in the outsource industry as highly skilled graduates are demanding better salaries – furthermore the attrition rate is extremely high and it seems that graduates do not relish a long term ‘career’ in a call-centre but treat the job as a stepping stone into the world of work.
It is these factors (rather than risk reduction) which is causing companies to explore the world more carefully looking for the next low wage spot. Unfortunately there are not many options and talk of using Malta, Singapore are fanciful and only really in the margins, and Russia and China have immense language barriers to overcome before they can be considered Another remark was made in the article that rather than always going down the low cost route ‘companies are asking for more innovation’ from their suppliers – this is not borne out by any evidence of course and is not clear what is meant by innovation but there is something useful in this comment. That’s the idea is that outsource providers can take up the proposition of innovation and actively improve their service, be more efficient, deliver in more up to date means, whilst constantly improving the cost base.
In my view you can have innovation and cost improvement at the same time and suppliers rather than resting on their laurels after the deal is closed should from day one start to improve the service and pass on a fair part of this to the customer. Can you imagine what it would be like to be a customer of such an outsource provider? Working to improve their part of your business to make it more efficient and effective whilst reducing your bill year-on-year – rather than the account manager just turning up once a month to make sure you pay the bill and renew the contract!
If suppliers did this they would probably have continuous rights to the business and be invulnerable to critique and outsourcing would look something more like a real partnership based on performance rather than just a mechanism gaining access to the market without much risk.