A strategy used by many Sourcing and Procurement organizations to get quick wins is to outsource tactical Procurement operations and/or Category Management to BPOs or expert (niche) consultancies. This can be very successful if the BPO is reasonably efficient in processing compared to the organization or if the expert (niche) consultancy has considerable expertise and can quickly find a lot of savings the organization never could. But that doesn’t mean that you are getting the best value. These organizations are trying to maximize their profit, and if you’re happy with the value you are getting, why should they try to optimize their costs?
Before we continue, let me be specific here — we are NOT attacking the hourly rate for their (top) talent. Good category managers are worth their weight in platinum, and you should expect to pay top dollar for them. But you should also receive top value in exchange, not mid-level value and definitely not mediocre value. But that’s what you could be getting if you are not evaluating these services as closely as you would be evaluating your strategic direct material buys.
And, before we continue, let’s make it clear that while we are focussed on Supply Management, these hidden costs could be found in any outsourcing arrangement — marketing support, legal support, engineering support, etc. So what are the hidden costs?
- Rate Markup this can take many forms, including A rates for B staff or onshore rates for offshore staff; you could be paying 200/hour for the expert, but a relatively inexperienced mentee could be doing most of the work, or you could be told you are being supported on-shore when really 90% of the work is being offshored to low-cost locales in Eastern Europe
- Temporary Labour if the provider falls behind, they might hire temporary labour and bill you for it; this is okay if you ask them to, but if they do it without your permission for a fixed-cost task, this is definitely NOT ok
- Shelfware/Bloatware where you are being billed for software not being used or you are being billed for a suite license when the organization is only using one module
- Pass-through Expenses some organizations will try to pass through any and all expenses they think they can, even if they require explicit pre-approval or the contract says they are the responsibility of the outsourced company
- (Hiked) Commissions some organizations will charge-back a percentage of savings, a value fee for a successful value-add negotiation, a percentage of a recovery, etc. this is usually okay as this is usually part of an agreement, but there are usually restrictions — minimum value, maximum percentage, and so on; sometimes an organization will charge commissions beyond what they are allowed to
- Taxes some organizations will charge taxes based on their locale, taxes you may not be technically required to pay — double check the tax lines carefully
And these common overcharges could be just the tip of the iceberg. So be sure to be as cognizant about sourcing your services relationship as you are about sourcing your strategic products and services.