Research & White Papers
Outsourcing - What is Outsourcing?
So, what is outsourcing? Outsourcing is contracting with another company or person to do a particular function. Almost every organization outsources in some way. Typically, the function being outsourced is considered non-core to the business. An insurance company, for example, might outsource its janitorial and landscaping operations to firms that specialize in those types of work since they are not related to insurance or strategic to the business. The outside firms that are providing the outsourcing services are third-party providers, or as they are more commonly called, service providers.
Although outsourcing has been around as long as work specialization has existed, in recent history, companies began employing the outsourcing model to carry out narrow functions, such as payroll, billing and data entry. Those processes could be done more efficiently and therefore more cost-effectively, by other companies with specialized tools and facilities and specially trained personnel.
Currently, outsourcing takes many forms. Organizations still hire service providers to handle distinct business processes, such as benefits management. But some organizations outsource whole operations. The most common forms are information technology outsourcing (ITO) and business process outsourcing (BPO).
Business process outsourcing encompasses call center outsourcing, human resources outsourcing (HRO), finance and accounting outsourcing, and claims processing outsourcing. These outsourcing deals involve multi-year contracts that can run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Frequently, the people performing the work internally for the client firm are transferred and become employees for the service provider. Dominant outsourcing service providers in the information technology outsourcing and business process outsourcing fields include IBM, EDS, CSC, HP, ACS, Accenture and Capgemini.
Some nimble companies that are short on time and money, such as start-up software publishers, apply multi-sourcing -- using both internal and service provider staff -- in order to speed up the time to launch. They hire a multitude of outsourcing service providers to handle almost all aspects of a new project, from product design, to software coding, to testing, to localization, and even to marketing and sales.
The process of outsourcing generally encompasses four stages: 1) strategic thinking, to develop the organization's philosophy about the role of outsourcing in its activities; 2) evaluation and selection, to decide on the appropriate outsourcing projects and potential locations for the work to be done and service providers to do it; 3) contract development, to work out the legal, pricing and service level agreement (SLA) terms; and 4) outsourcing management or governance, to refine the ongoing working relationship between the client and outsourcing service providers.
In all cases, outsourcing success depends on three factors: executive-level support in the client organization for the outsourcing mission; ample communication to affected employees; and the client's ability to manage its service providers. The outsourcing professionals in charge of the work on both the client and provider sides need a combination of skills in such areas as negotiation, communication, project management, the ability to understand the terms and conditions of the contracts and service level agreements (SLAs), and, above all, the willingness to be flexible as business needs change.
Offshoring - What is Offshoring?
So, what is offshoring? Offshoring is a type of outsourcing. Offshoring simply means having the outsourced business functions done in another country. Frequently, work is offshored in order to reduce labor expenses. Other times, the reasons for offshoring are strategic -- to enter new markets, to tap talent currently unavailable domestically or to overcome regulations that prevent specific activities domestically.
India has emerged as the dominant player in offshoring, particularly in software work. Three factors came into play to make this possible. First, in the 1970s the Indian government put in place regulations that mandated that all foreign ventures have Indian majority ownership. Fearing government takeover, many large U.S. corporations, such as IBM, departed, leaving India in the position of fending for itself to maintain its technical infrastructures. This quickly forced the creation of schools to train students in technology.
Next came the global ubiquity of the Internet and massive telecommunications capacity, which enabled companies to get computer-based work done seemingly anywhere, including India.
Third, as the year 2000 approached, organizations hired service providers to update their legacy program code. Much of this work was handled in India, where English was commonly spoken, where there was a large and highly trained population of software engineers, and where labor costs were much lower than in developed countries. Y2K work proved the merits of an offshore labor force, and companies have continued tapping the talents and skills (and cost savings) made available by Indian offshore service providers. Major companies working as offshoring service providers in India include Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys and Wipro.
Russia, Ireland, Czechoslovakia and Poland have also surfaced as popular offshoring destinations for specific types of software expertise.
The Philippines, which has a highly literate and educated population, as well as language and cultural affinities with the United States, has become a popular offshoring region for call center and customer support work.
The dominant location for much of the manufacturing outsourcing (in the form of offshoring) by U.S. companies is China, which has made a push in recent years to also become a provider of services. The Chinese central government has made the "third industry" -- services -- a priority for its national development plans in the coming decades. English is taught in China starting in the third grade, and its technical schools and colleges graduate tens of thousands of software engineers annually.
At the same time that other countries were coming to the forefront in areas such as software and call center work, the United States was experiencing an economic downturn that struck in 2000 and 2001. The resulting job losses and insecurities created an offshoring backlash, especially among technical workers.
Both the potential for negative publicity and concerns about data security and privacy have prevented some companies from taking work offshore. However, that doesn't always prevent them from outsourcing. Rural sourcing -- having work done in domestic locations where salaries and operating expenses are lower (such as the Midwest for the United States) -- is an alternative for companies that want to avoid the negative aspects of offshoring.
BPO - What is Business Process Outsourcing?
What is business process outsourcing (BPO)? BPO is the process of hiring another company to handle business activities for you.
BPO is distinct from information technology (IT) outsourcing, which focuses on hiring a third-party company or service provider to do IT-related activities, such as application management and application development, data center operations, or testing and quality assurance.
In the early days, BPO usually consisted of outsourcing processes such as payroll. Then it grew to include employee benefits management. Now it encompasses a number of functions that are considered "non-core" to the primary business strategy.
Now it is common for organizations to outsource financial and administration (F&A) processes, human resources (HR) functions, call center and customer service activities and accounting and payroll.
These outsourcing deals frequently involve multi-year contracts that can run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Often, the people performing the work internally for the client firm are transferred and become employees for the service provider. Dominant outsourcing service providers in the BPO fields (some of which also dominate the IT outsourcing business) include US companies IBM, Accenture, and Hewitt Associates, as well as European and Asian companies Capgemini, Genpact, TCS, Wipro and Infosys.
Many of these BPO efforts involve offshoring -- hiring a company based in another country -- to do the work. India is a popular location for BPO activities.
Frequently, BPO is also referred to as ITES -- information technology-enabled services. Since most business processes include some form of automation, IT "enables" these services to be performed.