Category Archives: Outsourcing

Provider Damnation 70: Outsourced Providers

Dear outsourced service provider, you didn’t think that Carriers and 3PLs were going to get all the attention did you? You can cause your clients just as many headaches as these providers, if not more. In fact, you can also cause them cold sweats, fever, panic attacks, and even heart attacks if you play your cards right (and very, very, wrong for the client).

Outsourced Serviced Providers, especially those that are experts in what they do, can be a boon to an organization trying to get some quick savings to hit some (overly) aggressive (and stupid) savings targets set by the C-Suite (that doesn’t realize Procurement should be about maximizing value, not maximizing short term savings). This is especially true if the Procurement Service Provider (PSP) outsourced to is a GPO (Group Purchasing Organization) that already has contracts for goods and services in a number of categories required by the organization at rates lower than the organization is paying now, as any categories the organization can switch over result in instant savings. It’s also true if the provider is an invoice and payment processing provider that is fully automated and can accomplish the same task as the organization at half of the price (because 2 workers can do the work of 10 and the platform subscription is only the annual cost of 3 worker’s salaries) and free up valuable resources in the organization to focus on strategic value identification activities and not tactical processing.

But these benefits come at a cost.

Handing over a category means losing control on that category.

GPOs are going to select providers that please the majority of their customers, where majority really means the financial majority. So, if the GPO has a few heavyweight Global 3000 clients that account for a significant amount of its annual revenue, guess which clients get the greatest say and the contracts they want? (Hint: Not you!)

Handing over a contract means limited control over a slew of categories.

A GPO is only going to take a contract if it can make money. Since it typically charges a small fee per transaction, it knows it needs a lot of transactions to make money. As a result, it is going to demand a set of categories that mean a minimum annual spend, and the organization is going to lose a lot of control on those categories for the length of the contract.

Handing over processing hands over control … and control over realized savings.

You are dependent on the provider to do an m-way match and detect over billings, duplicate billings, and failure to account for return credits and volume-based discounts and rebates. If they just get the invoice and pay it blindly, and the invoice for a multi-million category is still at last years prices, you could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Handing over processing hands over knowledge.

Knowledge of tactical procurement processing operations, best practices, and the best and worst suppliers from a Procurement perspective is now in the hands of the provider. As tactical processors are displaced and leave, and more and more focus is put on other Supply Management activities, the organization becomes more and more dependent on the provider for even simple tasks. This makes it incredibly hard to pull the function back in house if it ever wants to, or to even switch to another provider in the future. It’s like giving the supplier Power of Attorney. Not a good thing.

Handing over sourcing is giving them the keys to the castle.

Losing control over tactical processing is bad enough, but losing control over sourcing of a set of indirect categories makes you ultimately dependent on the provider. As the great Angus and Malcolm Young said twenty-five years ago, the service provider, she got you by the …

Procurement Outsourcing is On the Rise

But is it the dawn of a transformational era?

Everest Global just released it’s Annual Report on Procurement Outsourcing, which it called the dawn of a transformational era, where it found that the procurement outsourcing market is growing at a rapid pace (12% year-over-year in 2014) but that it is in a state of flux with record new deal signings intertwined with high end-of-year terminations (26%), indicative of service provider switching (or, sometimes, the pulling of the function back in-house because not all outsourcing decisions outsourced the right functions). (However, 2 providers, Accenture and IBM, still command over half of the Annualized Contract Value and the next two largest providers, Xchanging and GEP, command about 17% of the ACV, which means that two thirds of the market is dominated by four providers.)

This, and other findings discussed below, was based on Everest Group’s database of over 1,100 Procurement Outsourcing contracts (each worth over 1M with managed spend typically in the 50M+ range), its database of operational capabilities of roughly 20 Procurement Outsourcing providers, and ongoing surveys and interactions.

There were seven key messages in this report, including the rapid 12% year-over-year growth, but the three we are going to focus on are:

  • The value proposition is transitioning from a cost-focussed model to a cost+value model, where strategic drivers such as market intelligence, supplier relationship management, and operational excellence are gaining more importance
  • The scope of contracts is expanding to a more end-to-end approach
  • The role of technology is growing, with increased adoption of end-to-end platform-based offerings

Advancement of the Value Proposition

In the beginning, outsourcing was mainly focussed on economics (cost reduction):

  • procure goods and services at the best prices
  • optimize activities to be cost efficient

More recently, outsourcing has been focussed on efficiency (cost avoidance):

  • spend consolidation to drive further impacts (with volume pricing)
  • satisfaction of complex demands
  • quality as well as price (to reduce warranty/return costs and protect the brand)

But now outsourcing is starting to focus on value generation:

  • the outsourcer is trying to become a strategic partner and not just a cost centre
  • the outsourcer is trying to define and drive business outcomes that impact overall growth
  • the outsourcer is trying to predict market trends to help organizations adapt to, and take advantage of, macroeconomic shifts early

How? Outsourcing is becoming more interested in identifying innovative suppliers, tracking and enforcing compliance and risk management, and gathering and harnessing the power of market intelligence.

Increasing Contract Scope

While many outsourcing contracts start out as Source-to-Contract (S2C), where the outsourcer helps the organization identify savings in indirect, non-strategic, or even strategic categories where the organization just does not have the volume, many are transitioning to Source-to-Pay (S2P) contracts where the provider also takes over the back-office invoice management and accounts payable function. Similarly, those contracts that started out as (P2P), because the organization thought its first priority was freeing up resources for strategic sourcing, are transitioning to S2P as well because these organizations realize that a third party can source those categories that it does not have expertise in better than the organization can.

More Prominent Technology

“Cloud”, Big Data, Digitization, and Consumerization is reshaping the Procurement Outsourcing marketplace as organizations demand more from their outsourcing providers and outsourcing providers look for an edge over their peers. With the proliferation of S2P SaaS solution offerings on the marketplace, outsourcing providers can not only offer S2P services but also enterprise S2P platform deployments where the customer organization not only gets platform access, but the ability to use the platform for their sourcing projects as well.

These are promising findings. Given that most Procurement departments are under-staffed and that no Procurement department can be an expert in every category and every technology, it’s good that there are maturing outsource providers that can add value to the organization and not just drain dollars.

And the other findings, which can be found in Everest Global’s just released Annual Report on Procurement Outsourcing, the dawn of a transformational era, are promising as well. It’s worth checking out.

Geopolitical Damnation #31: China and the New Silk Road

China is arguably, and simultaneously, the world’s oldest culture and the world’s newest mega-economy and super-power. Not only does China have the 2nd largest GDP in the world, but it is one of only 4 countries that are net international creditors (the other three being Norway, Luxumbourg, and Switzerland). In comparison, the US, with the largest GDP (of slightly less than 18 Trillion), has an external debt that is roughly 18 Trillion. (In other words, it’s debt now exceeds its annual GDP!)

It’s also the world’s most populous country with 1.35 Billion people and the second largest country by land area. It has the world’s third longest river, 14,500 kilometers (or 9,000 miles) of coast lines, approximately 130 ports open to foreign ships, over 11,000 kilometers (or 6,800 miles) of rail, and over 180 commercial airports. It’s rail network and ships transport a significant percentage of the world’s global trade and traffic is still increasing annually.

China is no longer the emerging economy of the 80s and 90s that you outsourced to and imported from — now it is the emergent economy that is outsourcing to Brazil (to serve the North American Market, consider Foxconn) and Africa (to serve the European market). And, for most multi-nationals, it’s their newest, and most promising (and potentially most profitable) market. China already has over 220 billionaires, and this number increases annually. (The US has 442.)

And as a result, China is turning the traditional sourcing world topsy-turvy — especially now that the New Silk Road (China’s Grand Strategy has been operational for eight weeks. (Source: UNZ) As described in the UNZ article, and on SI last fall (in What Impact Will The New Silk Road Have on Global Trade?, for e.g.), this 13,000 km railroad that crosses China from East to West and then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain enables trade across most of Eurasia. And when the high-speed rail is complete, transport from China to Europe will take even less time than it does now. And China, which is home to 7 of the world’s top 10 container ports and which serves up air cargo that represents more than one-third of global trade value (even though only 1% by weight), will control even more of global trade then it does now! While also being your biggest customer.

You can’t deal with China in the old way anymore. Gone are the days when they were the low cost provider that needed your business. Gone are the days when you could fall back on Mexico. And gone are the days when you never needed to worry about the China market. Now they are a lower cost provider, due to their increases in efficiency (just like Japan increased in efficiency after WWII), but they don’t need your business. They have money and they have the world to sell you. Because Mexico was almost abandoned for China, there are few factories left that can produce modern electronics and none that can produce the volume to equal a Foxconn. And with most markets stagnant, China is one of your few opportunities for growth. Moreover, the supplier you are negotiating with to produce your cell phones for Engineering might be the same supplier your sales team is negotiating with to buy IT’s new mobile factory management software suite.

In other words, when China is across the table, they are not a vendor or supplier that can be beaten down with old-school hard-ball negotiation (even if they historically put melamine in the milk, lead in the paint, and who knows what in the pet food) — they are a partner, and equal, and must be approached as such. Even if you never sell to them, you might sell to one of their partners, and they talk just like we do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be determined in your negotiations — as you should always fight for the best deal — but be fair, realistic, and base your demands on fact and should-cost models, not empty threats or baseless demands for unreasonable cost reductions.

China is about to become your upstream as well as your downstream supply chain. You have to abandon your old view of the world, accept this reality, and start preparing for it. It doesn’t have to be the damnation that causes your undoing. It can be your salvation. Your choice.

Procurement Trend 05. Return to Regional and Local Sourcing

Just two very trying anti-trends remain. We’re one post away from fearlessly finishing our formidable burden, but the sour taste in our mouths still remains as we must continue to provide those factually-challenged futurists with counter-examples to the trends of their forerunners who saw this coming a decade ago. (Check the very early SI archives if you don’t believe me. Go ahead. Check. This post will still be here.) We want to abash them for their apathy, but we will leave their hard-earned humiliation for LOLCat, who wants to point out to these Rip van Winkles that when it comes to sleeping through life, No One Out-sleeps a Cat!

So why do these garbage hauling patrons of Quark keep pushing us trends from their flights of fantasy? Besides the fact that some of them obviously spent the best part of last decade hauling garbage, it’s probably because they look around, see the laggard organizations still struggling with the insourcing/outsourcing balance, and assume they can still sell last decade’s leftover snake oil in today’s marketplace. Thus, if most organizations are losing hand over fist in their outsourcing arrangements, maybe it’s time to pull them back, especially if

  • energy, and thus transportation, costs are going higher and higher
    and since oil, natural gas, and coal reserves ARE limited, and the dwindling supplies that remain are getting harder to extract, cost have nowhere to go but up, up, and away
  • labour costs are rising in emerging and emergent markets
    and the faster they emerge, the faster labour costs increase
  • nearby markets have low transportation costs and high automation can
    contain labour costs

    since the shorter the distance, the less energy required to cover the distance; plus, intelligent automation decreases the amount of manual labour required to product any product

So what does this mean?

Understand the Total Cost of Outsourcing

Remember, it’s not just landed cost (unit cost and transportation cost), it’s also import/export costs, communication and remote management costs, on-site visits, liability costs, return costs, and other related costs. If many of these costs are rising, then outsourcing is probably not the right idea. If only one or two of these costs are rising then it depends how much, and how fast, and what the alternatives are.

Understand the True Opportunity in Near-sourcing / Insourcing

Near-sourcing will have many of the same costs, but transportation, remote management, and return costs will often be lower. Plus, if you pick/invest in a more advanced plant with newer automation technology, the higher labour costs are probably negated by the lower overhead costs, and the opportunity costs that are often lost waiting for delayed shipments, prototypes to land in your hands for testing, and emergency issue-resolution sessions (across time-zones 8 to 12 hours apart) are often minimized as well. However, a lack of automation can result in significantly higher labour costs, a lack of appropriate trade agreements with respect to the products being purchases can result in higher import or export fees, and energy costs could be higher as well (if renewables don’t enter the equation). The whole cost model has to be evaluated (and compared to the whole cost model associated with outsourcing).

And make a decision based upon true (future) costs

One should never make an insourcing, near-sourcing, or outsourcing decision on today’s costs – make it on expected costs over the next five years. Use the market data that you are collecting for market trend analysis and predictive analytics to figure out what the costs are going to be over the next five years and then choose the optimal production strategy based upon the amortized five-year cost. Consider the hard and soft costs associated with relocating production and/or services, making a change for a very short term gain will not result in any savings being realized. Do the math and make the right choice.

Procurement Trend #19. Service Providers Excel

Sixteen anti-trends still remain but we again assure you that we are getting to the end of the series and all is ok as LOLCat is still dreaming of his grandfather’s adventures as an archaeologist cat uncovering lost tombs, and waiting for this series that is regurgitating topics of his past lives to fade into history. We will continue to lay bare each and every one of the futurists’ lies, and when we’re done, you’ll be in a better position to learn the truth and seize upon the real trends that lie ahead and the opportunities they contain.

So why do the historians keep pegging service providers excelling as a future trend? Have they spent too much time in the janitors’ closets breathing paint fumes from improperly sealed paint cans while practicing their speeches that no one really wants to hear? Hard to say, but some of the reasons probably include:

  • Outsourced Services are still improving

    in both traditional Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) and non-traditional service sectors.

  • Service Providers are mastering tech faster than their clients

    and often get a lot more experience with a platform in a shorter time frame as they are running projects for multiple clients on that platform.

  • Everything is going out

    because overpriced overly-optimistic consultants have strapped themselves to the outsourcing bandwagon in an effort to make sure that they never fall off.

So what does this mean?

Outsourced Services

Service Providers can often do things better than you, but if they do, you need to adapt or lose control. You don’t want to lose control, because one of your jobs is Supplier Relationship Management. However, at some point during the adaptation, you will, if you are doing it right, become better at managing the process than the outsourced provider, but you will still be locked into a multi-year service agreement. So you will have to transition from learning through managing through teaching. And once the service providers masters your teachings, as they will have more opportunity to practice and perfect, they will again get better than you and the cycle of the student becoming the master and the master becoming the student will continue.

Technology Progression in the Outside World

While this is one of the reasons that service providers outpace you, this is a great learning opportunity for you. Most companies don’t pick the right technology the first time around — and instead implement expensive systems in even more expensive projects that turn out to be massive failures. Then they learn from their mistakes, implement the right technology, and provide you a free lesson on what works if your processes match theirs if you choose to seek it out and learn from it.

Out, Out, and Away

Because your managers are still living two decades in the past where cost reduction was defined as outsourcing, you can, unfortunately, expect more pressure in the organization to not only outsource your tactical work, but to outsource as much tactical work for other departments in the organization as can possibly be outsourced. So you need to either prepare for this, or build the business case as to why the work should stay in and how keeping it in house will either deliver savings or add value.