In Part I we discussed the starting point of your outsourcing project and how you go about selecting service providers to issue RFPs to. In Part II we discussed proposal evaluation and in Part III we discussed the dispute resolution process that needs to be addressed up-front in the contract. Then in Part IV we discussed the service level agreement. Today we will discuss what you do after the deal is signed, and remind you to check out the full series on outsourcing risk management by Alsbridge, as printed by SourcingMag.com, that the first four parts of this series is partially based on as well as 4 dimensions to managing your service provider that today’s post is partially based on.
Now That The Deal Is Signed, What Do You Do Next?
You manage the relationship. It’s important to remember that risk management is a continual process of planning, monitoring and control that will last the lifetime of the project. It might seem intuitive, but a lot of companies believe that once the deal is signed, it’s the vendors problem. It’s the vendor’s responsibility, but it’s still your problem as it’s still your liability. You’re the one that can be fined and imprisoned under SOX (like poor old Fox) if you file incorrect financial statements, fined and imprisoned under IEEPA if you buy or sell the wrong kind of product from or to a denied party, and fined or imprisoned under a host of other import and export control and financial acts.
An outsourced function requires continual oversight and change management. There should be weekly oversight meetings between project managers and immediate escalation of any issues that can’t be amicably resolved within the allowed time-frames, and issues should be primarily identified on an exception basis. The meetings should only focus on issues and yellow and red-light metrics — anything green and going well doesn’t need to be discussed. In addition, all information on issues to be discussed should be made available on the corporate intranet well in advance of any meeting so that all parties can be briefed on the issue before hand and the meeting can focus simply on resolution.
After Months and Months of Work, Your Outsourcing Project Finally Hit ROI. Now What?
You keep monitoring, you keep managing, and, more importantly, you look for ways to improve the initiative. You didn’t spend weeks defining and negotiating that iron-clad contract with extensive SLAs, Change Management Provisions, and Staged Milestones for nothing. You put all that effort in up-front so that you could continue to extract better and better returns on the back-end. So look for areas of improvement, streamline the processes, and move it forward.
So How Do You Manage the Relationship?
Carefully. The first thing to remember is that vendors work for other people’s shareholders. To gain the payoff while minimizing costs and risks, vendors must be carefully managed, otherwise the full ROI will never materialize. The next thing to remember is that vendors feel they are getting paid to deliver results as fast as possible, not to manage the life-cycle their work product is part of. Some vendors are more than willing to sacrifice quality for “quick results”, especially if they believe they are only being paid for the latter or that they won’t be around to deal with the eventual consequences of cutting corners.
It takes a lot of time to manage outsourcing. In addition to the usual technical guidance, you also have to manage the HR issues. Not only might you find yourself in the position where you have to hound them to fill vacanacies, but you might have to pressure them to replace staff if the staff they assign you aren’t good enough. Then you need project manager buffers to keep the more aggresive service providers at bay who will be all over you to outsource even more activities or start new projects. And your compliance and legal staff will have to constantly monitor their performance with respect to the contract to make sure that they are holding up their end of the agreement. The reality is that everything you were monitoring before still has to be monitored, and probably has to be monitored more regularly. Plus, you will need to review their performance on a regular basis against every function they are doing for you. That’s why you only outsource functions that have associated economies of scale. For example, invoice processing in a mid-size or larger organization that requires ten or more staff to process the invoices is a good candidate. Invoice processing in an organization that only keeps three full time staff busy is not, because they’ll still need to retain one or two people to monitor throughput and handle exceptions and you want the cost of the monitoring resources the organization needs to maintain to be less than the savings obtained from outsourcing the function.
Essentially, for each function you outsource, you need to retain at least one person internally who did that function to monitor the perfomrance of the service provider and help resolve issues as they arise. And then they have to pass on any issues that go unresolved for more than a minimal amount of time to the project manager to get resolved at the next meeting. Outsourcing can pay off where there are economies of scale to be had, but only if you remember to monitor it carefully and help the vendor improve their performance year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter. Otherwise, you’re better off just hiring more people internally to tackle more strategic sourcing projects and increase your savings that way.