5 Tips For Increased Outsourcing in Europe

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Netherlands Foreign Ministry funds an organisation called The Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries – or CBI for the short name. CBI facilitates trade between Europe and developing countries as a way of stimulating those economies. It’s the old argument of ‘trade not aid’, but now as government policy.

CBI recently published research on the outsourcing market in Europe and how attractive it is for companies to work within at present. It’s interesting because they are focusing mainly on demand – are more companies likely to outsourcing inside Europe and if so, how would they do this?

They identified five key factors. This is advice to supplier companies who want to win business from customers inside Europe. They are quite insightful comments and especially when this is a government research project – not private sector companies already involved in outsourcing.

1.    Innovation; I was surprised to see this in a government report, however they are correct that the client and supplier relationship has moved on. Companies are not looking to just outsource business-as-usual, they want a partner who knows their processes inside-out and can offer new ideas and ways of improving those processes.
2.    Focus on Verticals; don’t claim you can offer solutions to any business. Choose the verticals you know and focus on marketing in these areas. Service providers are now expected to know far more about the business than ever before – you need to be suggesting better ways your client could be working.
3.    Open Standards; use very open publicly available delivery methods such as the app store and cloud-based systems. This makes it extremely easy for your clients to find solutions and install them – without the need for complex installation and maintenance.
4.    Smaller customers; it is not only big companies looking to outsource today. Actively targeting smaller companies with automated solutions can be a great way to tap into new business.
5.    Output based pricing; don’t charge by the number of employees you put on a project. Charge the client based on outcomes. Their success is your success.

CBI noted that nearshoring is a much more popular strategy than outsourcing across a long distance. There is a lot of opportunity for companies to engage more in Europe and this advice really demonstrates some good ideas about how to improve the client and supplier relationship. You can read the entire report here.

Global Skills – What Happens to IT When Migration Stops?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

If there is one thing that global business hates, it’s uncertainty and with all the political changes of the past half year there is plenty to go around. President Donald Trump is making endless policy pronouncements on Twitter, the UK plan for Brexit appears to be a process that will take years to resolve, and with several major European elections this year we may see even more populist leaders emerging.

One thing for sure is that the global IT and IT outsourcing business involves the movement of skilled people to places where contracts are operating and the movement of projects to people. For years there has been a constant flow of both. Sometimes the work itself can flow from a client to supplier in a remote location. Sometimes the IT supplier needs to send teams to the client. There has been a two-way flow of skills and work for many years that has created a global industry with several international clusters of expertise.

The approach President Trump is taking in the USA may give an indication of how many countries want to operate in future – with a drastically reduced inflow of people, no matter how skilled they are or how required those skills are.

In the first instance this appears to be a big concern for the Indian IT companies who account for over 70% of all H-1B visas in the US. The H-1B visa is used to allow highly skilled workers to temporarily work legally in the US. 85,000 visas are available each year and 230,000 applications are made. At present they are randomly allocated, as all valid applications are from highly skilled people anyway. Trump plans to make it much harder for companies to get the H-1B, although the exact criteria change remains undefined.

Similar fears exist for companies operating in the United Kingdom. It is clear that the free movement of EU nationals will end as Brexit is agreed, but it remains unclear how EU nationals already living in the UK will be treated. Will they be allowed to stay in return for the right of UK nationals living inside the EU to stay there? At present nobody knows and it is this uncertainty that is bothering many inside industries such as IT, that are used to a steady flow of skills across borders.

There could well be an upside for companies that specialise in nearshore IT services, if the Indian IT players find that they are going to start being seen as too far away from their customers, but for now the future remains uncertain. What is clear is that some of the largest companies in the world depend on sourcing IT expertise globally, yet some of the biggest governments in the world don’t appear to be listening to the companies that create the jobs.

Regionalisation Beats Globalisation After Election Surprises

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

There was an interesting analysis of the trend towards regionalisation published in business magazine Forbes just before the recent holiday season. It explored how the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as the US president might change business behaviour.

Politics went through something of a shock in 2016 and 2017 may hold further surprises in Europe with elections in the Netherlands, France, Norway, the Czech Republic, and Germany all coming soon…

But what does Forbes mean about a change in business attitudes and how does it affect those in the IT business?

The answer lies in the growing nationalism seen in the USA and many European countries. There is a growing desire to show that jobs are being created and managed close to home, or at least closer to home than before.

In European technology circles this is likely to manifest itself with less trust in technology suppliers from Asia – particularly China and India. Many of these companies are highly professional leaders in their industry, but as consumers start becoming more wary of strategies such as outsourcing and offshoring, it is likely that managers buying IT services will look closer to home. As Forbes suggests, the trend will be towards European regionalisation, not globalisation.

It is unlikely that markets such as the UK or Germany will create enough new technology professionals to ensure all work can be performed locally – and the cost would be prohibitive for most organisations anyway – but these consumer attitudes will favour technology companies in Eastern Europe.

The Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region has long marketed itself as a European alternative to China and India. Allowing European companies to work with partners that are close enough for a day trip to be possible. Now they will have an additional advantage, the growing political and social unrest about long distance offshoring.

It’s good news for European technology companies as Europe remains close – organisations in Europe buy 69% of their goods from other European companies. The USA may be a more complex scenario as President-elect Trump has already talked about scaling back drastically on the H1B visa that most foreign IT professionals use when working in the US.

Whatever happens with the politicians, the direction of travel is clearly towards nearshoring as a preferable solution. The era of the world being completely flat appears to be over. Welcome to an era of regionalisation.

How is The European Nearshoring Market Changing?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Is there a new world of nearshoring emerging in Europe? A recent feature by Ilan Oshri of Loughborough University in Computer Weekly has suggested that the market is changing fast, in particular as a reaction to every country sounding the same when making their sales pitch.

We have all been to those conferences where one country representative is talking about the advantages of their region over others, but when several regions do the same type of talk they do all sound the same. We have great people, we have universities, we have great companies. The same check-box of advantages is always ticked for every presentation about outsourcing to a particular region – so what is changing?

First, there is a big wave of repatriation taking place. Projects that were outsourced to far off locations are coming much closer to home so nearshoring is becoming a much more important strategy for European companies.

Second, a wider array of services can be delivered by suppliers today and this is especially true when the supplier is relatively close to the customer, so the range of services offered through nearshoring deals is becoming more diverse.

Third, companies are increasing their expectation on suppliers. A supplier is no longer just the lowest cost way to get a job done. Many suppliers are the expert in their field and are delivering a service that the client simply could not perform internally anyway. The clients are now expecting suppliers to offer ideas and new innovations. Nobody is talking about innovation as a nice to have function these days, it is becoming an expectation of nearshoring that the supplier can come up with ideas on how to do business better.

Professor Oshri raises some very interesting points in his article. He believes that nearshoring locations still attempting to compete on labour price are thinking with a very short term view of the world. The ability to offer expertise and advice to clients will become the single biggest advantage and this may also require clusters of expertise to develop. He cites some examples of regions where competing firms are operating in the same physical location, so even if it does not sound logical, it does mean that for each specialist activity there are areas where clients can go and confidently find the expertise they need.

I believe that we are seeing a new type of nearshoring emerging and all three of the points raised by the professor are playing out across Europe today. The final point is the most important though. Clients used to be so powerful that they could pick and choose and drop suppliers at will. Now the suppliers have some very detailed knowledge that the clients cannot manage without. Real partnerships are developing and that will lead to genuine innovation.

What do you think about the ongoing development of nearshoring in Europe? Please leave a comment here.

How Will Brexit Affect The UK and CEE Nearshoring Relationship?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Europe is in a state of flux at present. British people recently decided that they should leave the European Union – now known as Brexit – and the latest book from Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the Euro currency will tear the rest of the union apart.

In this uncertain environment, does the old idea of European nearshoring still work? There are many countries within the EU block and part of Western Europe that now have very high unemployment and low labour costs – look at Greece, Portugal, and Spain for examples. Is it still valid to think of Eastern Europe as a supplier of technology skills to the rest of Europe?

I was thinking about some of these uncertainties when I read an article on the GSA Sourcing Focus site. The article explores some of the issues around Brexit and how it might affect outsourcing relationships.

The three main issues mentioned by Sourcing Focus are:

1.    The cheap pound; it’s no longer so cheap to buy services from outside the UK so with the economic advantage eroded will more UK companies buy services locally or look beyond Europe for better value?
2.    Legal situation – data transfers; The UK enjoys the protection of the entire EU regarding company law and international agreements protecting issues such as data privacy across borders. How will this change if the country has to legislate for every possible situation individually?
3.    GDP collapse; if the UK becomes a much smaller economy as many economists suggest then how will this affect the relationship between UK companies and suppliers across Europe? It doesn’t look good.

The fears raised by Sourcing Focus are valid. It’s clear that the UK market in international services could change dramatically in the next few years, but I think that it is premature to start defining issues just yet. The UK government has not even triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty yet. This would indicate the formal request to leave the EU and begins a two-year process of negotiating how to leave.

At present the situation is that the UK population voted to leave the EU and the government has said that they will follow the wish of the people, however they are now engaged in a process of negotiation before any formal negotiation begins. Nobody really knows what will happen to the UK at present.

The issue for UK companies at present is this uncertainty. Any UK company bidding for business internationally cannot predict what kind of tariffs or taxes might be applied to their services in a few years and therefore they are at a disadvantage. This could lead to a reduction in international services being delivered from the UK and therefore it could be advantageous for Eastern Europe, but if UK customers suffer in this environment and they are already working with suppliers in the CEE region then this would not be such a great situation.

The real problem now is the uncertainty. The UK government should take action as quickly as possible so that however this story plays out, at least there is more certainty about how the UK will interact with the rest of Europe in future.

SSON Celebrates Ten Years of Focusing On Eastern Europe

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It’s great to see that the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON) is now celebrating ten years of activity in Eastern Europe. SSON has long been a source of useful research and information on outsourcing and over the past decade their research has formed a useful body of knowledge on nearshoring in Europe.

To celebrate the tenth year of activity there will be a conference in Hungary in October featuring over 65 speakers all focused on the opportunities available within the European nearshoring environment.

Typically with these regional-focused conferences there is a competitive element to the talks, where one region will compete with another to describe how they have more graduates each year, or more skilled IT personnel. This approach is rather tired and ignores the wider benefits of working across many European countries as a whole so it’s great to see that the SSON conference is looking at the big picture for nearshoring in Europe and how it affects different industries, such as finance and HR.

I was particularly interested to see that there is also a focus on how the millennial demographic is changing business in Europe today. This is something I have often spoken about in recent years. The millennials (those born from 1980-2000) have a very different attitude to work and technology because most of them grew up in a post-Internet era – they have only ever known a connected society so they are different as both employees and customers.

Many of the people in this age group are now in managerial positions and are determining where their company should invest. It is therefore extremely important for companies aiming to work with other companies B2B to understand this changing dynamic.

It’s great to see that the SSON understands this change in the outsourcing client and supplier relationship and in particular how this can affect European nearshoring. I look forward to hearing more from the event in October.

Gartner Highlights Advantages of IT in Belarus in New Report

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The analyst firm Gartner recently published their latest evaluation on offshore outsourcing for the EMEA region in 2016. The report paints a positive picture of nearshoring within Europe with labour rates substantially lower than most western European countries.

Gartner found that the Eastern European countries can also compete on their geographic and time zone proximity to other nations within Europe, and on the availability of language skills beyond just English. Countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria also offer political and economic stability through EU membership and close cultural affinity with Western Europe and the U.S.

What is interesting for companies such as IBA Group is that Gartner did explore the options further east. When commenting on countries such as Russia, Belarus, and Egypt the report says: “[these countries] offer lower labour rates, but entail higher risks concerning legal maturity, intellectual property protection, security and ease of doing business.”

Belarus scores well on several measures that Gartner mention in their analysis, particularly the high level of government support for business and the low local labour cost. The Belarus government has invested in education to create a workforce skilled in IT – it has been growing at 35% per year since 2006. Some of the government incentives include a 0% corporate tax rate and a flat 9% income tax rate – for companies using the Hi-Tech Park Initiatives.

Gartner cites the Payscale index and suggests that a software developer in Belarus earned $14,000 to $16,000 per year based on data from last year. The labour inflation in Belarus is 5% per year and employee attrition/turnover rates are also around 5% per year – both figures are relatively low compared to other European countries.

Most IT activity in Belarus is focused on Minsk, but other locations are rapidly growing and also featuring technology parks, such as in Gomel, Grodno, Brest, Vitebsk, and Mogilev.

The Eastern European nearshoring is well known already, but it’s exciting to see that companies such as Gartner are now seriously covering locations such as Belarus.

Nearshoring Back On The European Outsourcing Agenda

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The debate over nearshoring and more remote offshore outsourcing has rumbled on for years in Europe. The debate over voice contact centres was fairly conclusively resolved a while back, with it becoming clear that most clients prefer their contact centre to be closer to home, but the broader IT and IT services market has still embraced all kinds of outsourced model.

However in all the outsourcing predictions for 2016 I have seen the resurgence of the European offshoring model several times. For example, a recent report by the analyst Global Remote Services says:

“Nearshoring will continue to gain momentum in Eastern Europe – nearshoring is fast becoming an option which is seen as being more skill specific for businesses with a mixture of complex, high-end projects as they realise the value in keeping outsourced work close to where the business generally is. Nearshoring in Eastern Europe will continue to grow as it becomes attractive and competitive to the UK market, and also much ‘nearer-to-final-customer’ and ‘easier-to-manage’ versus far-shoring.”

We all know the typical arguments when comparing Eastern Europe to a more remote location, such as India, but I think it’s important than advisors are now focusing heavily on skills availability.

Outsourcing has long been considered a “lift and drop” business strategy, which is how it got the reputation for being all about saving cash. Let’s take a process, lift it out of the business and drop it completely into a supplier and get the same work done for less. That’s the old approach, but times have changed.

The boundary of organisations has become more blurred, particularly when expert skills are needed. Organisations are hired to provide those skills, but they work in the office of the client, with the client team. The client and supplier merge together to create a solution today, rather than the client firing an entire department and dropping those processes offshore.

Outsourcing has become a more mature business strategy and with a greater value placed today on skills and partnership, it’s no surprise that nearshoring is returning to the boardroom agenda.

Is This A Resurgence In Status For Nearshoring?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

New data published this month in Logistics Manager magazine has indicated that nearshoring is a strategy that is gaining in popularity – particularly in Europe. In their data, 56% of respondents indicate that they favour “rightshoring” over offshoring to the lowest possible cost location.

The Logistics Manager data is focused mainly on manufacturing businesses ensuring that their manufacturing facilities are as close as possible to the end customers while also balancing production costs, but the strategy can be applied equally to other industries. The reason for this is that what is actually changing is the way we manage supply chains.

Any hand-off of a process between different departments, or from one company to another, takes time and involves risk. This is true of services and manufacturing. When a process is passed between teams internally there is a risk of failure during the transition. This risk is multiplied when offshore outsourcing means that a process has to be handed to another organisation in another location – often far away on a different time zone.

The traditional metrics that decided how to organise an outsourcing strategy focus on three areas; what is the cost? Can the quality be maintained or improved? Can the time required to deliver be reduced so factors such as time-to-market can be improved?

Nearshoring has always had an advantage over more general offshoring in all of these metrics, except for the cost. But with a renewed emphasis on the supply chain, it may well be that the correct focus is the quality of the team, or service, anyway.

Low cost services are no good to any company if they don’t work. Imagine a luxury goods retailer using the cheapest possible contact centre company for the customer service? How would that reflect on the brand? Likewise, an innovative drug company would not want the cheapest, least innovative, technology service. What companies really need when they outsource today is a partner.

Partnership is what sales teams used to talk about before the sale, but it’s become a reality because what has actually happened is that companies providing different services into a supply chain have really become a part of the team. Outsourcing has become a standard strategy and companies have got so good at doing it they slot in and work as if they were a part of the client.

This means that nearshoring – as opposed to focusing on the cost only and offshoring – takes on a renewed importance. If you want a better price for services, but not necessarily the lowest, because the quality and time factors are most important then European companies working with partners in Europe becomes the ideal business solution.

What has really happened as outsourcing has matured is that the boundary of the organisation has become flexible. Instead of thinking of the client with a supplier, it’s better to now just think of the client having flexible organisational boundaries that include some of their own team and some suppliers – but whoever actually does the work, they all exist within the organisational boundary of the client.

This is a big change and it certainly makes nearshoring an attractive option. Have you considered the differences between nearshoring and offshoring in the context of the way that company supply chains have changed in the past few years? Please do leave a comment with your own ideas here.

CEE is more attractive than ever as uncertainty looms

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

When the global financial crisis struck the world in 2008, many predicted that there would be a boom in offshore outsourcing. It didn’t really happen.

Why? Because at that time most companies slashed all project budgets and retrenched employees. It was a time when nobody was certain of what the future would bring and it costs money to run outsourcing projects – even if they can create longer-term savings. Nobody wanted to invest all that money in setting up in a remote location hoping for gains in the future.

We are once again in an uncertain time, but this time there is a far more mature option for sourcing in the central and eastern European (CEE) region. The setup costs for running a project in the CEE region are far lower than for a full-blown offshoring programme where work needs to be transferred to India or China.

So there is a much more credible alternative available if companies in western Europe are seeking to stabilise costs in the short-term and build a pan-European delivery model for the long-term.

The CEE region has never tried to compete head on with countries like India in terms of absolute labour cost, the advantage has always been the cultural compatibility with Europe, the expertise, and the ability to be close to the customer – it’s possible to make a day trip to a development team from any other place in Europe.

And now, with the economy looking uncertain once again in both the US and Europe it seems that the nearshoring option is looking far more attractive than the full offshore model, because much less initial investment is needed to make it happen.

We have been talking about the advantages of CEE for a long time on this blog, but it is interesting to see that the issues in the wider European economy are making it even more attractive to work with the region. Have you taken another look at how nearshoring compares recently?