Companies are increasingly taking a multisourcing approach to IT outsourcing, signing shorter, smaller deals with a mix of providers. At the same time, some are pulling certain pieces of the IT portfolio back in-house.
“As you get into the second and third generation renewals, each renewal sees a bit more work being sliced off and taken back in-house,” says Mike Slavin, Managing Director of outsourcing consultancy Alsbridge. “And those functions being repatriated are often related to innovation.”
Outsourcing customers seek innovation
Lack of innovation remains one of the top complaints about outsourcing. Outsourcing customers say that providers fail to bring any new ideas to the table. Providers protest that clients don’t know what they mean by innovation and aren’t willing to pay for it. And traditional outsourcing bidding and contractual processes aren’t designed to drive innovation—in fact they thwart it.
“Because of competitive pressures, providers have to do internal cost take-outs to win deals. That squeezes margins and profit expectations, and means that most of the upside for the service providers is during the latter portion of the deal,” says Slavin. “This gives account management teams little room to provide creative ideas and fund innovative pilots and projects.”
In addition, few outsourcing agreements call for a standing innovation committee or an innovation fund, for example.
Traditional IT service providers — like IBM and HP — built their businesses on the transfer of both human capital and physical assets to the supplier, creating an environment that discouraged innovation, says Slavin. Indian vendors developed business models on a foundation of labor arbitrage and price competition, which also obstructed innovation.
Little has changed about either approach in the last decade. “Rather than hiring and training a new style and culture of technical talent to support what IT looks like in 2015, clients often see 20- and 30-year veterans who have survived the many layoffs and workforce reductions being rebranded as cloud or mobility experts,” says Slavin. “But the reality is that these veterans have little grounding in those technologies.”
Innovating for customers vs. supporting in-house customer innovation
Traditional players with significant infrastructure assets are digging in, arguing that their years of experience running those systems makes them best suited to innovate on behalf of their customers, Slavin says. In addition, they employ various “handcuff” strategies that make the process of exiting agreements and moving operations back in-house difficult for a customer, according to Slavin.
Some Indian firms, however, are encouraging their clients to take some services back in-house, even offering their staffing resources to support in the transition to and management of the new model, says Slavin. “These providers do not have the large asset base in fixed assets such as data centers and are happy to provide services to a client in their own data center or perhaps a [co-located center]. Several pitch this strategy as something that mitigates the traditional sourcing risks, allowing the clients to potentially move services more readily if they are not happy.”
Meanwhile, consultancies like Accenture and Deloitte are pitching themselves as sources of IT innovation to companies. “These players have generally stayed out of the highly price-competitive and sometimes asset-heavy infrastructure marketplace,” Slavin says. “These consulting firms have a business model built on human capital, one that focuses on skills and experience and is better-suited to deliver technology relevance and alignment with the client’s business. They’re also committed to ongoing training and are willing to carry out needed trimming of non-performers. Finally, they’re able to avoid the episodic large mass workforce reductions that plague the large outsourcing firms.”
It’s too early to say which approach will win out long term.
“The most challenged players will continue to be firms like IBM, HP and CSC,” says Slavin. While they are trying to reorganize to provide vertical solutions like mobility, cloud and analytics, they remain desperate to hold and serve their big clients to avoid revenue run-off.
“HP and IBM have great hardware, and clients expect innovative solutions that take advantage of that great hardware,” Slavin says. “Unfortunately, the outsourcing organizations seem to be lagging at enabling and accessing the emerging technologies needed to drive innovation.”
Indian providers will continue to grow their market share, says Slavin. “The challenge for this group is to grow into more profitable markets and expand footprints in clients fast enough to stay ahead of aggressive pricing, which is built into their deals as an investment to win.”
In the short-term, IT outsourcing customers will either be looking to providers who can provide real business outcomes or taking their innovation-related business back in-house to run themselves.
“Innovation is always in the eye of beholder. It’s hard to argue with something that aligns with the client’s business and moves that business forward,” Slavin says. “So the winners will be those who can provide applications and the supporting infrastructure and link them together as a product, service, or offering that focuses on and is tied to the business.”