Monday, 5 December 2016

The Challenges of Outsourcing Part Two: Stakeholder Engagement

In this post, part two of the Challenges of Outsourcing series, Lorraine Ellery Matthews continues to share feedback from leading scholarly publishing professionals. In her interviews she has asked about the involvement and engagement of stakeholders in the decision making process of outsourcing, what was planned and what was unexpected!

This follows the first post outlining the 10 key drivers to outsource.

Formalizing the process

One organization were lucky enough to have a specialist, qualified procurement team in place reporting to the Director of Operations. The team are responsible for all contracts with a value through its lifetime of £150,000 and over, this includes everything in terms of production work including the typesetting and printing.

However, engagement of outsourcing as a service hadn't always been managed in this way and started with just one person, albeit someone who came to the organization with a high level of industry experience working with both off-shore and on-shore suppliers. Fast forward several years and now with contracts for all suppliers and best practise from start to end in place the organization has certainly seen the benefit of having the process formalized, even if there are occasions when they have been challenged internally regarding the costs involved!

Should it be left to one team to reach decisions?

Many organizations will not have the benefit of a dedicated procurement team and instead will utilize the members of the relevant department or create a temporary cross departmental project team to manage the process. Decision making is varied, and much is dependent on the complexity of the required outsource service. Some teams had the relevant skills and resource to reach a decision without having to reach out to others in their organization. Other's had clear policies in place to ensure the decision is overseen and agreed by a committee or management team or both.

Although the final decisions maybe undertaken by a small group the input from start to finish was in most cases (although not always) widely sought.

Is stakeholder engagement key to effective communication?

Accountability is of course important as despite good intentions and best laid plans put in place to ensure that a partnership is successful (supplier relations will be discussed in my next post) there is always a risks that things don't go to plan. It is therefore important to ensure that internal stakeholders outside your team are approached early and invited to input their thoughts and provide feedback as these individuals are then more likely to support your decisions in moving forward (partners in crime). Obtaining buy-in from others will allow you not only to share the projects success but also accountability in the event of any problems down the line, reducing the risk of receiving "if only you had asked me first" comments when it is far too late.

Facilitating discussions to allow stakeholders to talk through their frustrations can strengthen the value of the final offering.

The feedback that derives from engagement also helps when considering if you have taken all the risks into account and to stop and ask if you are making the right decisions.



One platform manger took a unique and possibly risky approach when it came to external engagement which worked in his favour:

"My biggest success was not to have found the right platform vendor but to get the management board on side."

The manager was approached by a scholarly publishing organization committee looking for a keynote speaker for a conference with a theme based around "how to manage different content types". The manager had a solution, a vision for their own organization that had continued to develop into a wider vision in parallel with their request for proposal (RFP) process that was underway at the time.

The keynote presentation took place before the developing vision had been fully approved internally. The manager received positive comments and support for his vision from the industry delegates attending and these comments also directly reached the organization's management team. This approach may have been risky but one that was not regretted as subsequently the internal buy-in was significantly supported by the external buy-in generated by the industry delegates present.

To engage or not with customers?

The interviewees were asked about the level of engagement with their communities and customers during the outsourcing process. The response was mixed and some key factors for consideration emerged:

1. Whether people feel attached to the system or not!

The quality of feedback is more likely if people feel an attachment to the system. Attachment is less likely for production systems than it is for say peer review or hosting solutions.

For example, editorial board members may have to interact with the system on a regular basis, acting as academic editors as well as overseeing the peer review process. The authors and reviewers will have a lot of experience using various systems too, especially given that there are only a handful of major suppliers in the market.

The same is true with hosting platforms, even though people may not realize they are experiencing them they often have strong views about how they see things and how things are presented online.

2. Concerns over alerting customers to change

Some expressed that although they engage with their customers throughout the year they would not necessarily inform them before the decision to change suppliers was made and in some instances not until after implementation. They felt that through ongoing continuous engagement they will already have built up a good picture over time of the customers requirements and do not see the need to alert them and risk the cause for unnecessary concern.

3. Is the supplier set up to engage with the customer?

The customer is a critical partner and large publishers are likely to have user groups, focus groups and advisory boards in place to support ongoing engagement with customers throughout the year. However, a smaller publisher may not yet have these forums in place and therefore, as one interviewee recounted, was able to benefit from the supplier's ability to engage their customers directly to provide feedback on their system.

4. Engage only with a select group of customers

To ensure quality feedback you may decide to take the middle ground and obtain feedback from a select group of customers that you know you can rely on. As one publisher interview stated "if you are brave in the process you may also want to invite one or two customers in the testing of the system."



Supplier engagement

A key aim when considering outsourcing or moving to a new supplier is to establish a long term partnership.

Forge relationships early so that when you are looking to outsource or move supplier you already have trusted relationships in place.

  • Suppliers may develop new technologies, or form strategic partnerships to provide an improved or new solution for their service that you may benefit from, therefore, it is advisable to keep abreast with their developments.
  • Understand the competitor landscape and what options are available to you, even from those outside of your own industry.
  • Communication is much improved if you match relationships at various levels within both the supplier and your own organization.
  • Feedback will help the supplier develop their solution further and is important at all stages of engagement, including following an RFP whether the supplier is selected as your partner or not.

Sign up using your email to receive blog posts in this series, the next will be focusing on The RFP Process & Supplier Evaluation.

Lorraine Ellery Matthews will be presenting 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 – booking available here. Exhibition visitors can register for free.

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