IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Outsourcing has never been a business strategy with much prestige. Often seen as a way of handing over business problems to a partner or slashing costs, it is a strategy that has always had an image problem.

In recent years this has improved. As many processes have become far too complex for companies to manage in house there has been a rebalancing and outsourcing is more often seen as necessary – it’s just one business calling in the experts in the same way that you would call in an electrician to rewire your entire house rather than attempting it alone.

But the role of the service provider is changing and although it might sound a bit like the tail wagging the dog, there is a likelihood that the only way many companies will change quickly enough to survive in the present environment will be if they can trust and work with their suppliers in a new way.

In a recent blog Phil Fersht of HfS Research published some research from his company that outlines how suppliers and clients see their roles in the future. Barely half of all clients are looking to their suppliers for any value in their relationship beyond the business support that is contracted.

But this is highly likely to be a mistake. Outsourcing to expert suppliers and only ever using them for the business processes you have contracted means that you miss out on their vision of how your industry is changing. Look at how fast fintech is changing financial services. If an app is released offering a financial service more easily and at a lower price then that can fundamentally change how the industry operates.

Doing business today is not just about doing what you did yesterday a little cheaper or faster. It is easier than ever for competition to be created and new companies often just tear up the rule book and deliver services in an entirely new way. The big difference is that new companies are usually designed around the needs of the customer from day one. They are able to offer better services at a lower price – this is going to affect many industries and yet a new approach to outsourcing could help mitigate the risk of it happening to your business.

As the HfS research suggests, there is a role for outsourcing to support and enable disruptive business models. Incumbent companies have the advantage of brand recognition and many years of working with customers. New disruptive players can change the market, but if the incumbent innovates first then they have distinct advantages in being able to offer better services with a large existing customer base.

But it needs a new approach to outsourcing. Suppliers need to be considered genuine business partners and trusted to have vision and ideas – the ability to combine innovation with technical expertise. If suppliers are only ever treated as a cost centre then this approach will be lost and many large companies will find that the app-based startups eat their lunch.

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