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What is outsourcing? Definitions, best practices, challenges and advice

Stephanie Overby | Nov. 8, 2017
Outsourcing can bring big benefits to your business, but there are significant risks and challenges when negotiating and managing outsourcing relationships. Here, we break down everything you need to know to ensure your IT outsourcing initiatives succeed.

To make an informed decision, articulate what you want from the outsourcing relationship to extract the most important criteria you seek in a service provider. It’s important to figure this out before soliciting any outsourcers, as they will undoubtedly come in with their own ideas of what’s best for your organization, based largely on their own capabilities and strengths.

Some examples of the questions you’ll need to consider include:

  • What’s more important to you: the total amount of savings an outsourcer can provide you or how quickly they can cut your costs?
  • Do you want broad capabilities or expertise in a specific area?
  • Do you want low, fixed costs or more variable price options?

Once you define and prioritize your needs, you’ll be better able to decide what trade-offs are worth making.

Traditionally, IT organizations have spent six months to a year or more on the IT outsourcing transaction process, finding the right providers and negotiating a suitable contract. But as IT services — and, increasingly, as-a-service — deals have gotten shorter, that lengthy process may no longer make sense. While the selection process still demands diligence, there are some more iterative transaction processes that can reduce the time required to procure IT services.

 

Outsourcing advisers

Many organizations bring in an outside sourcing consultant or adviser to help figure out requirements and priorities. While third-party expertise can certainly help, it’s important to research the adviser well. Some consultants may have a vested interested in getting you to pursue outsourcing rather than helping you figure out if outsourcing is a good option for your business. A good adviser can help an inexperienced buyer through the vendor-selection process, aiding them in steps like conducting due diligence, choosing providers to participate in the RFP process, creating a model or scoring system for evaluating responses, and making the final decision.

Help can also be found within your organization, from within IT and the business. These people can help figure out your requirements. There is often a reluctance to do this because any hint of an impending outsourcing decision can send shivers throughout IT and the larger organization. But anecdotal evidence suggests that bringing people into the decision-making process earlier rather than later makes for better choices and also creates an openness around the process that goes a long way toward allaying fears.

 

Negotiating the best outsourcing deal

The advice given above for selecting a provider holds true for negotiating terms with the outsourcer you select. A third-party services provider has one thing in mind when entering negotiations: making the most money while assuming the least amount of risk. Clearly understanding what you want to get out of the relationship and keeping that the focus of negotiations is the job of the buyer. Balancing the risks and benefits for both parties is the goal of the negotiation process, which can get emotional and even contentious. But smart buyers will take the lead in negotiations, prioritizing issues that are important to them, rather than being led around by the outsourcer.

 

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