Off- or Out-Source Services

Offshoring or Outsourcing your Information function – either, neither or both? Whatever your situation, the issues raised by this question are complex and fascinating.

Globalisation and the impact of the internet has changed so many aspects of our working lives. In this seminar on 19 November 2015, NetIKX members and guests looked at one important change that is now possible – relocating your information services team to far off places, or even outsourcing your information altogether to another organisation.

We had two lead speakers – Chrissy Street, now Head of Central Information Resources at Clifford Chance and Karen Tulett, who is currently a Director at Morgan Stanley. In two speeches that revealed their long and impressive experience as information service leaders, they opened our eyes to the wide range of possibilities that is now available, and the pros and cons of different approaches.

The complexity of the situation was shown by the evolutionary path taken by the companies as they look to get more research outputs for their money. At times, using employees with lower labour costs in different locations of the same company proved good economic sense, but at other times, they used the strategy of getting a separate provider to take on their information service needs. Our speakers had experience of managing both types of change and Karen had even worked on the other side as a manager in an outsource providing company.

Outsourcing and offshoring were not simple alternatives to keeping work in the home office. Changes were made in an evolutionary way. By using a ‘mix and match’ approach, they widened the range of options to suit their circumstances.  There were serious economies to be made from the best choices.

Much of the work was focused in India, where a well-educated workforce is available to reduce costs. However, the companies continued to also have a team in the UK. Motivating staff was not a serious issue as in many ways it could be positive for all concerned. Local UK staff continued to work on the higher value, more challenging work. Offshoring workers enjoyed the opportunities offered by the routine work, as can be seen by the fact that there were examples of people staying in post for over 9 years.

Further advantages were outlined. Karen’s unit offers services almost 24/7 through a combination of onshore and offshore staff. Morgan Stanley has set up quick turnaround research unit this year, and we all recognise that change will keep on happening!

There was practical advice for organisations taking these routes. Standards have to be maintained by careful controls. Language can be an issue where the workers are second language English speakers. One important recommendation is to have a very robust quality control process. They recommended using a checklist to assess suitability of a work task for offshoring and also to ensure no copyright compliance issues arise.

At the end of the speeches, seminar groups discussed some of the key issues raised. We talked about the problems of setting standards for outsourcing or offshoring and the use of SLAs (service level agreements) and KPIs (key performance indicators) were considered – looking at their advantages and disadvantages. The group considered that these could be straightjackets but some form was of long distance control was necessary. The conversations spilled over to the networking session which followed.

Considering the changes facing information services, we move on to the next meeting to consider social knowledge management – how we keep ourselves employable while technology cuts a swathe through traditional ways of delivering services.

The meeting finished with a bubbly celebration for all attendees. It was a joyful end to the NetIKX’s three year programme.

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