There was a glorious case of outsourcing a couple of years back when a software developer found someone in China to do his job for him. He turned up and surfed the internet for cat videos all day, leaving his counterpart to do the grunt work. The arrangement cost only one sixth of his salary. The deal only came to light when Verizon conducted a security audit and found data pinging back and forth to a Chinese IP address.
Crazy? Brilliant? Both maybe. It just goes to show what can be outsourced. Right now we tend to be pretty limited in our thinking. Stuff like payroll, human resources and call centre are mainstream. But what’s next? We may soon see outsourcing eating further and further into company’s structures, even into the core itself.
A salesforce is normally seen as an in-house activity. Its role needs commitment and expertise, which grow over the years. The only sales jobs which get outsourced are the contact centre ones. Well not anymore.
Salesforce-as-a-service is the idea that businesses can tap into skilled sales reps whenever needed. Universal Avenue is one of the pioneers in the space, with clients such as Spotify Business, iZettle and social gift service Wrapp.
Universal Avenue handles the recruitment and training of the sales reps. When qualified, they become freelance brand ambassadors, selling on their turf. Founder Johan Lilja says: “The brands we represent benefit from having access to an on-demand workforce of dedicated freelancers who can introduce their product, in-person, in front of key decision-makers.”
The model is commission only. The idea is to help companies crack distant markets where their normal team might struggle to reach. British firms thinking of exporting to Sweden, where Universal Avenue began life, should take a look.
Outsourcing product design
Product design is another traditionally in-house activity. Yet there is an increasing readiness to bring in outsiders to help.
Aegon is a giant in the insurance field with assets of £250 billion. When it discovered a serious issue with pension provision in the UK, it called up an external agency to work on a remedy.
In a nutshell, Brits don’t save enough for retirement. Only 7 per cent have decent provision. So Aegon wanted to create a tool to display the customer’s financial position and talk them through the various options. It opted to work with Market Gravity, which did the market research and then build a web tool called Retiready.
Stephen Crosbie, customer innovation architect for Aegon, says: “Market Gravity brought skills we didn’t have and methodologies we had never used before.” The knowledge base of the outside agency could be added to Aegon’s own. “We were able to combine this insight with our own understanding of customer behaviours and knowledge of how to secure them the best financial outcomes,” says Mr Crosbie.
Leaving project management to someone else
The more esoteric the role the riper it is for outsourcing. Project management is a great example. It was once thought to be an odd sort of job, without much expertise. Enrol on a Prince2 course lasting four days and hey, you’re a project manager. Today that’s changing. The value of project managers is widely understood. The trouble is experienced professionals are rare. The solution? Outsourcing.
The financial services sector is turning to outsourced project managers to implement complex, multi-stage projects. Belgian company Projective is one of the best-known names in the field. Andrew Jackson of Projective explains why outsourcing is growing in project management.
“There is a strong case to be made for outsourcing project management when specific domain expertise is needed, such as new regulations, peripheral and infrastructural technologies,” he says. “Likewise, when there is there is an unusually high demand for change in an organisation, bringing in outside expertise to manage the load in makes sense.
“Companies that try to meet all project management needs in-house risk committing too many resources to cover unlikely eventualities or, more worryingly, not employing adequate expertise or experience for demanding situations.”
The idea of adding third-party knowledge plays a big role. Mr Jackson adds: “An independent voice can speak impartially and navigate internal dissension in a way no in-house project manager can. An outside perspective is also especially valuable in times of crisis, when ‘group think’ can easily take over and obscure the benefits of a difficult but necessary change.”
The future of outsourcing
Robotic process automation (RPA) is helping outsourcers take on the most unlikely jobs. Capgemini is a major outsourcer with a powerful RPA division. Lee Beardmore, chief technology officer at Capgemini’s business process outsourcing unit, says it’s so versatile he’s getting work from a variety of unexpected sources.
“One interesting development has taken place within the recruitment industry,” says Mr Beardmore. “As we all know, in today’s digital age recruiters increasingly vet candidates using their social media profiles. Doing this manually takes a significant amount of time and energy.
The truth is that pretty much anything can be delegated to specialists
“Recruiters can now outsource this work to us, and through the use of specialist recruitment software and social media harvesting technology we are able to scan thousands of social media profiles to provide recruiters with digestible summaries of promising candidates.”
These, of course, are just a handful of the new spheres of outsourcing. The truth is that pretty much anything can be delegated to specialists. The nation’s nuclear warheads are looked after by an outsourcing group led by Serco. Prisons are run by G4S.
Even fashion brands delegate their core activity of designing. Fashion brands such as Levi’s, Puma and O’Neill use agencies, such as Clerkenwell-based Goose Design, when they need a bit of inspiration.
Goose Design founder Jenni Arksey is famed for her ability to help brands find a new direction for their collections. She’s worked with 60 brands, and her ability to help these clients understand who their clients are and what their brands stand for is well known in the fashion industry. Naturally, when the new lines appear, she’s not taking the plaudits.
Is there a role or job which can’t be outsourced? If so, it’s not clear what it is.