And if they are real, can anyone?
Backing up, in the beginning, there was traditional Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), which became very common in the 1980s and 1990s as the result of constant claims by McKinsey and their ilk that the only way businesses could enhance their flexibility and agility and maximize their competitive advantage was to outsource processes they weren’t good at to the Big X Outsourcing offices. (In some cases they weren’t wrong. When the business had no competence in a function, grossly overpaying someone with reasonable competence, even if that someone was not the expert the Big X claimed, generated a good return for the business. The function was done efficiently and effectively, negating the loss the business used to suffer, and it allowed the business to focus on the functions they did well, which increased their profit even as they (often unnecessarily) forked out seven (7) and eight (8) figures to the Big X every year. (And we say unnecessarily because most of the time they could have outsourced to a smaller, niche consultancy at one third to one half of the cost and achieved the same result.)
Then, as Big X tried to steal business from their competitors and niche firms tried to break in, they upgraded to “Managed Services” which was supposed to be more than just performing the service for you cost efficiently (by supposedly reducing your costs by doing it better, and thus, cheaper) and adding value. The idea was that it didn’t just take over a point-based function, but instead provided a dedicated team that basically took over an entire department for you, just offsite, and worked exclusively on your projects. They learned your business, and improved the service offering over time to not only maximize efficiency, but maximize value. If they took over your IT department, they learned the systems you used, optimized those, learned to provide quick and effective problem resolution on the help desk, and, when you needed a new solution, helped you identify the one that would work best with the systems you had. If they took over your AP, they learned your suppliers, your payment rules, your PO formats, and implemented systems that allowed them to match POs to invoices for high-value invoices to reduce overspend. They also helped you build catalogs from suppliers that could meet your MRO / internal needs at the lowest possible cost. And so on. Over time, they not only met SLAs, but improved on all key metrics.
But now a few of the Big X are saying that Managed Services is not enough to maximize value and you need premium “Operate Services” (which come at a premium price, of course). So what’s the difference? Hard to tell. The best definition we can find is it’s a “holistic approach that is focused on delivering outcomes and spurring innovation in a model that leverages automation and data insight to generate substantial business value”. the doctor thought that was what managed services was supposed to do for you? Other definitions indicate that “operate services” differentiate by providing “on demand access to expert talent”. Isn’t that why you use a managed service, so they can identify when the team needs a new expert and add that expert? Other definitions also indicate that “operate services” are more “collaborative”. Are they saying that the managed services they provided to you in the past, where they often acted as an entire department, weren’t collaborative? WTF?
In other words, while they are presenting it as a more advanced premium service model, for which they want to charge you a premium, it really isn’t, or shouldn’t be, because if it is, they are admitting they have been ripping you off for decades!
In some consultancies, it is just a specialization of managed services for IT/IT Security, Analytics-Heavy Functions like Strategic Procurement or Network Analysis, or highly technical functions like supplier identification in direct manufacturing. And it costs more because those people, who are much rarer than experts in traditional business functions and processes, are more expensive, as are the tools that they need to secure your enterprise, analyze your global spend, analyze your supply network, or analyze potential suppliers for your electronic components. And we can see how that could be fair, as long as they aren’t using “operate services” to increase costs across the board where there is absolutely no justification for it. (And only using it to differing a subclass of specialized services they offer, and admitting its nothing more than managed services, just applied to a new set of business functions.)
But if the consultancy is trying to pitch these “Operate Services” across the board with claims that these new services are better and more specialized for your business than any other kind of service, then they are admitting they are currently ripping you off in your managed services and you should just fire them (from a cannon preferably — and TikTok it — it’s all the rage, right?). Because there should be no difference with the exception that the subclass of operate services we defined in the last paragraph generally require more advanced systems and more resources with a high TQ, which usually cost more. But that’s it.
So don’t fall for this brand new business con if they try to pull it on you — simply compare what they are offering to any other firm that says they can fully meet your needs with a traditional managed services model and give the business to the firm that is the most honest among those that can meet your needs. (Basically, as far as <i>the doctor</i> can tell, some of these Big X Consultancies are just upset that they haven’t come up with a pressing new need they can take advantage of, so they are just relabeling what they have in the hopes you’ll fall for it.)