Outsourcing on the move

Mobile technology allows informed decision-making away from the office and now outsourcing is on the move, as James Silver reports

From Lloyds of London insurance brokers using Xchanging Insurance software on their iPads to keep track of claims while away from their desks, to service provider Intermec’s products for tracking and managing supply chain assets and data, business process outsourcing (BPO) has gone mobile.

As the IT outsourcing market expands (by 7.8 per cent globally in 2011), a recent Gartner report on mobile device management (MDM) services predicts that the average MRC (monthly recurring charge per mobile device) will increase through 2015, because of the “growing acceptance of MMS (managed mobility services) by small and mid-size businesses and large enterprises”.

Gartner estimates that worldwide there are 250 companies providing IT and process outsourcing services relating to mobile devices, and it expects another 300 vendors to bring MMS to market during the next three years.

“Organisations see that adding good mobile interfaces to both core applications and important information, such as research, will allow them to interact on the go, in a much more engaged manner,” says Cathy Tornbohm, research director at Gartner.

The utility sector is increasingly using mobile device management for field-workers to send data back to head office

“This could be from something as mundane as  approving an invoice in almost real time – thus benefiting the business by allowing it to choose whether to capitalise on negotiated discounts or keep hold of its cash – to an important approval from senior management of a hiring requisition. Organisations may also want to capitalise on the current trend to use analytics to better effect and their big data mobile access can facilitate quicker, if not better, decision-making.”

Ms Tornbohm says this trend is leading to good opportunities for mobile services firms and the range of services now on offer bears her out. Vendors such as MobileIron and AirWatch offer variations of mobile device management, Skynax, Intermec’s Mobility Management System puts hand- held devices at the forefront of logistics data-gathering and tools such as bar-code printing and RFID-scanning, while mobile apps like GlobalSourcer by Headstream Advisory help businesses track down outsourcing vendors.

Yet Gartner reports that adoption of MDM services may be slow for a variety of reasons, including that “service providers struggle to articulate the value of MDM”, “companies have concerns about outsourcing…as this might involve sensitive corporate data residing outside the corporate network” and that “investment by enterprises in MMS will not necessarily lead to cost reductions”.

John O’Brien, research director at TechMarketView, argues that, while Lloyds of London brokers carrying networked iPads rather than huge bundles of paper outside the office is a symbol of progress (of sorts), use of mobile devices to manage BPO is still very much in its infancy.

“While it’s absolutely at the beginning, it is starting to grow,” he says. “The utility sector, for example, is increasingly using mobile device management for field-workers, so they can send time sheets and other data directly back to head office systems, which improves the efficiency of the processes themselves. I expect to see increasing mobile management usage in areas like that.”

Technology services and outsourcing company Accenture has developed a portal, the BPO Navigator, which it describes as “a central, one-stop online portal that provides both clients and Accenture teams with real-time visibility into business, including operational performance and critical business data on any device with internet access”.

“The dashboard provides both a snapshot and detailed view of business performance, showing metric thresholds and trends, comparing data across business unit or country,” says Charles Sutherland, Accenture’s BPO growth and strategy lead. “By leveraging analytics, the tool derives actionable insights from the data through statistics, forecasting and modelling, leading to better business decisions and outcomes.”