Monday 14 November 2016

The Challenges of Outsourcing Part One: 10 Key Drivers to Outsource

An organization outsources many different services and processes to experts and those who offer specialist tools and systems to support their requirements. In the first of a series of guest posts, Lorraine Ellery Matthews outlines what the key challenges are when thinking about outsourcing. In this post, she considers what the key drivers are for a company that can lead to outsourcing. These articles are based on interviews conducted with experienced scholarly publishing professionals in 2016.

1. Strategic

Ask yourself, are you are a technology company or are you a publisher, library, etc? Do you want to be both or do you want to be one; what’s the balance, what’s the return on investment?

The key reasons for outsourcing for the first time can be a strategic one, based around where you wish to continue to invest your time and money and if you already have - or not - the necessary resource and in-house expertise to provide a quality service to your internal and external stakeholders.

You may still decide that there are strong competitive advantages to developing your own custom solution, however, in weighing up the pros and cons you may decide that it makes sense for your organization to focus your time and effort on your core business and therefore will seek a trusted partner that you expect to deliver a cost-effective quality, scale-able and timely service.

2. New technologies

The potential that changes in technology can provide will prompt a review into previous decisions. You may need to re-work you platform, re-work your strategy, remain flexible and re-invest.
APIs and open technologies create new opportunities: it is no longer necessary to host all your content on one platform as independent silos and systems can be integrated and meaningful content relationships created.

However, as one commercial publisher I spoke to who undertook a supplier review when their current hosting agreement was up for renewal, found that if you have already invested heavily and you are happy with your current supplier then despite the advantages that new technology may bring the potential up-front cost of decoupling your content and migrating to a new platform, particularly if you have specialist content hosted in a monolithic system may act as a major barrier to change.

3. New entrants

When you have already settled on outsourcing a services you may find that players in the space change over time, new entrants come into the market or there are other approaches to now consider, this can lead to the need to review that space and the cost of moving suppliers.

4. How much time and resource do you have available?

Consider whether you have enough experts in the organization to cover everything at once. Sometimes it is not just a cost based issue, but how much change you can manage, in how many places, and how many resources you have internally from an expertise perspective. The lack of availability of resource is a key driver when reaching a conclusion to outsource, particularly if you are heavily involved in a large in-house platform project.

5. Forced to move

The verdict to review and select a new supplier can sometimes be forced upon an organization, for example, through mergers and acquisitions. The time constraints associated to implementing changes in policy or the undertaking of an acquisition can provide huge challenges. The planning normally invested in the process of outsourcing is dictated by the situation rather than by you and more often than not will come at a time when not all stakeholders are available to provide their input into the strategic and tactical decisions that need to be agreed before deciding to enter into the process of evaluating and selecting a new partner.

6. Stability of your supplier

If there are signs that a supplier is becoming unstable, it is good business practice to undertake due diligence to ensure you are informed about the issues concerned and are fully aware of the options available to you if in the event you need to re-negotiate or exit your contract.

7. Breakdown of relationship

You may decide to review your options if you increasingly find that your supplier is no longer in tune with your business goals, are unable to communicate effectively, unwilling to consider your requests or are not delivering the agreed service level. The supplier may no longer offer an appropriate value proposition, may make promises they do not keep, or are not developing their service offering to keep up with market developments and requirements and standards. A combination of or even just one of these scenarios will be challenging and may even lead to a breakdown of relationship that is not always recoverable.

8. Company policy and/or best practice

You may have been with your current supplier for a number of years and would like to ensure you are aware of what the competitors offer so that you can be confident that you continue to receive value for money. Many organizations will have a company policy in place to ensure there is a constant review of all suppliers and the services they provide. This may happen every year or every two to five years depending on the complexity of the service and the organization’s internal policy.

9. Ensuring you are offering a good service to your customers

Many decisions are usually motivated by the desire to ensure you are offering a good service to your customers. In one example, a publisher was tasked with looking at their publishing set up, the systems and processes they were using currently, and over time, with the main objective to consider how these could be more efficient and how the organization could offer a better service for their authors and reviewers. Once their board approved the recommendations, they reached an agreement to look at their peer review systems, production systems and other related services.

10. Adopting a hybrid approach

You may decide to continue holding onto the reigns and not to outsource, but to develop your services in-house. You may also decide to in-source additional skills and technology components by partnering with specialists in their field. Rather than outsourcing this allows you to develop a hybrid solution and to share the cost of ongoing development for your service offering with your chosen partner.

Lorraine Ellery Matthews is the Proprietor for Ellery Matthews Consulting. She is writing a series of posts on The Challenges of Outsourcing on the ALPSP blog; the next will focus on The Process of Outsourcing. Sign up using RSS or email above. You can also read them on the Ellery Matthews Consulting blog.

Lorraine will present on The Challenges of Outsourcing sharing further recommendations from leading publishing professionals on Wednesday 7 December at 2.15 p.m. on Stage 1 at the London Info International exhibition. Attend and join in the discussion – book your place here. Exhibition visitors can register for free.

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