Offshoring/Outsourcing Information Services

Offshoring or Outsourcing your Information function – either, neither or both?  Whatever your situation the issues raised by this question are complex and fascinating.

Globalisation and the impact of the internet has changed so many aspects of our lives.  In this seminar on 19 November 2015, NetIKX members and guests looked at one important change that is now possible – relocating your information services team to far off places, or even outsourcing your information altogether to another organisation.

We had two lead speakers – Chrissy Street, now Head of Central Information Resources at Clifford Chance, and Karen Tulett, who is currently a Director at Morgan Stanley. In two presentations that revealed their long and impressive experience as information service leaders, they opened our eyes to the wide range of possibilities that is now available, and the pros and cons of different approaches.

The complexity of the situation was shown by the evolutionary paths taken by the companies as they look to get better research outputs for their money. At times, using employees with lower labour costs in different locations of the same company has proved good economic sense, but at other times, they have used the strategy of getting a separate provider to take on their information service needs.  Our speakers had experience of managing both types of change and Karen had even worked on the other side as a manager of an outsource providing company.

Outsourcing and offshoring were not simple alternatives to keeping work in the home office.  The companies concerned have both used an evolutionary approach. By using a ‘mix and match’ approach, they have been able to widen the range of options to suit their circumstances.  There were serious economies to be made from the best choices.

Much of the work has been focused in India, where a well-educated workforce is available to reduce costs. However, the companies have also continued to have a team in the UK.  Motivating staff was not a serious issue as in many ways, the new arrangement can be positive for all concerned.  Local staff continue to work on the higher value, more challenging work, while offshoring workers enjoy the opportunities offered by the routine work, as can be seen by the fact that some people have stayed with the company for over nine years.

Standards can be maintained by careful controls. If language is an issue as the workers are second-language English speakers, careful controls can be set up to monitor any problems. One important recommendation was to have a very robust quality control process. In addition, it is advisable to use a checklist to assess the suitability of a work task for offshoring and to ensure that there are no copyright compliance issues when information services tasks are taken offshore.

Further advantages were outlined.  Karen’s unit offers services almost 24/7 through a combination of onshore and offshore. Morgan Stanley has set up quick turnaround research unit this year, which shows that change keeps on happening!

At the end of the presentations, seminar groups discussed key issues raised.  These included the problems of setting standards for outsourcing or offshoring and the use of SLAs (service level agreements) and KPIs (key performance indicators), together with their advantages and disadvantages.  The group concerned considered that these could be straightjackets but also were necessary for distance controls.

Looking at changes facing information services, we move on to the next meeting to consider social knowledge management – how we keep ourselves employable while technology cuts a swathe through traditional ways of delivering services.

The meeting finished with a bubbly celebration for all attendees.  It was a powerful and joyful end to NetIKX’s three-year programme.

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