Experts in the global services terrain

The cowboy song by Rhett Akins, “That Ain’t My Truck,” where he discovers his girl has left him for another guy, reminds me of the anti-incumbency bias occurring in today’s global services marketplace. What’s causing clients’ infidelity to their incumbent providers?

I believe many incumbent service providers find themselves displaced today because of three factors.

  1. Services that clients once viewed as value are now just a commodity. Almost all services commoditize over time. And at that point a service that was once a differentiation of the provider no longer is different from other providers’ offerings.
  1. Client and provider interests become unaligned. When interests aren’t aligned, the client comes to believe the provider delivers services in a manner that benefits itself rather than working for the client’s benefit.
  1. The service provider takes the relationship for granted and the customer sees it increasingly as day-to-day business. Figuratively speaking, the provider forgets to bring roses. I’ve blogged before about this relationship phenomenon where clients tell Everest Group they get no innovation (continual added value) from their providers.

Incumbent providers should keep in mind that Taco Bell is not fine dining and a trip to Galveston is not the same as a trip the south of France. Just as with relationships between men and women, commercial relationships also need forward momentum. Without making an effort to build a deeper relationship, it will go stale or even go backward. Management changes and employee turnover in the provider organization aggravate this situation.

Service Provider Taco Bell

Clients now have a variety of options when it comes to service providers. Incumbent providers that don’t want to find their clients with another provider’s “truck” are wise to focus on the above three factors.

Also see our complimentary viewpoint, Rising Anti-Incumbency in Outsourcing: Breaking Up Is Not Hard to Do.


Photo credit: Don O’Brien

Last week both Serco and Capita announced their interim results. Not only did the two companies show a widening gap in terms of financial performance, but they also highlighted diverging business strategies.

Firstly, their financial performance in H2 2014 to date was very different:

Operating margin:

  • Capita has managed to stay on track to achieving at least 8% organic growth, net of attrition, for the full year 2014 (2013: 8%). It also stated that it expects to maintain its operating margin in the range of 12.5% to 13.5% for the foreseeable future
  • In contrast, Serco announced that the 2% organic growth in H1 2014 has turned into a mid-single digit decline in H2. This has been primarily due to reductions in volume of work in the Australian immigration contract but also due to contract losses and reduced volumes elsewhere. Serco expects to shrink significantly by 2016, with revenue reaching a nadir of £3 billion to £3.5 billion from a forecasted adjusted revenue of £4.8 billion in 2014. It expects to return to growth in 2017
  • Serco also announced a proposed equity rights issue of up to £550 million in the first quarter of 2015 to strengthen its capital structure
  • Capita announced that it has secured £1.63 billion of major new deals to date in 2014 (nine months). This is down by £1.27 billion year-on-year (largely accounted for by the signing of the £1.2 billion O2 mega deal in 2013). At £4.1 billion the bid pipeline is also lower on a sequential basis compared with £5.7 billion announced in July 2014. However Capita reports a strong win rate of one in two
  • Serco reported £900 million of contract awards since the half year to date. It also said that its current pipeline and win rate are considerably weaker than before

Secondly, the strategic directions of the two companies are diverging:

  • With its strategic review still ongoing, Serco announced that it is going to focus entirely on business to government (B2G) in the areas of justice and immigration, defense, transport, citizen services, and healthcare
  • In contrast, Capita aims to grow its private sector business and in particular in the customer management services (CMS) arena. Like Serco, it made a number of CMS acquisitions in the past few years including Ventura and parts of Vertex. Another growth target is its burgeoning legal business with the acquisition of Eclipse Legal Systems. It is also expanding its presence beyond its UK stronghold to countries such as Ireland and Germany
  • Serco will be divesting a number of businesses that are now non-core to its strategy. These include the Environmental and Leisure businesses in the UK, Great Southern Rail business in Australia, and the majority of its private sector BPO business which are mostly CMS businesses delivered by two companies that it acquired in recent years: Intelenet and The Listening Company
  • Capita has made 13 acquisitions to date in 2014 for £285 million, with more likely as it continues to expand or enhance its capabilities

Interestingly, both companies have also announced changes to their boards:

  • Alastair Lyons, Serco’s chairman has resigned
  • Capita’s CFO Gordon Hurst is stepping down following a 27-year stint at the company

Serco’s tale of woe began in 2013 when the British government discovered that it had been overcharged by Serco for offender tagging services to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The company is still recovering from the fallout more than a year after the issue first came to light, and having repaid more than £68 million of fees and gone through several reviews and management changes. It is ironic that Serco’s new board has chosen to focus on B2G services only, given that the troubles began in a government contract. That said, front line government services is and has always been at the core of the company’s business.

Serco has suffered from failures of governance and risk management. As it rebuilds itself, it will seek to enhance these significantly. In terms of business strategy, it will target growing opportunities in the government sector, as the pressures from aging populations and rising demand for services pushes governments to outsource more. Serco will seek to differentiate itself with its international approach, as part of which it will give its businesses a portfolio of services to go to market within specific regions of the world, to share experience and expertise.

Capita boasts of robust financial and governance structures and highly selective approach to opportunities that it pursues. Robust governance is highly needed given Capita’s aggressive acquisition strategy that has seen it take over more than a dozen companies a year for many years. Even with robust governance problems can still occur. For example, in its eagerness to win more government clients, in 2012 Capita acquired Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which had been awarded responsibility for courts interpreter services in England and Wales. For a while service delivery was less than smooth leading to the MoJ withholding fees in some instances and bad publicity in the press. Overall though Capita has benefited from many niche and strategic acquisitions that it has fully internalized, and which have largely created value and revenue.

Serco and Capita

There are lessons to be learnt from the performance of the giants of UK outsourcing. Today, one thing that is common to both is the belief that bid and governance structures have to be robust and maintained at all times.

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The 16th century political theorist Machiavelli wrote that there is “nothing more dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than to attempt to introduce a new order of things.” I think we should remember his words as we embark on the journey to embrace the next-generation solutions entering the services marketplace. Next-generation options are now changing the nature of the relationship between buyers and service providers. And there is plenty of significant change for both sides.

The traditional structure of solutions focused on cost reductions, RFPs prepared from a proscriptive perspective, and rigid MSAs included in the RFP package along with process descriptions, service level specifications and pricing exhibits. Value was created by onerous contract terms or traps for the provider.

Next-generation solutions give way to a much more fluid partnership approach to create value. The parties distribute the risks and develop a relationship built on flexibility and innovation. Contractual documents evolve with the discussions and negotiations. In a next-gen deal buyers and providers collaborate on how they might execute the buyer’s business objectives. Together they create value through building a framework for a successful relationship rather than through an onerous contract. The contract reflects the principles the parties agree to rather than predetermined contractual terms and conditions.

This highly collaborative process in developing the commercial requirements of the contract covers such issues as who owns the intellectual property. In many of these constructs, buyers ask their providers to develop or bring intellectual property with the buyer using it on a consumption basis. The discussions and negotiations articulate both parties’ risk, understanding of the business impact and the desired solution. They jointly develop the initial governance model and also participate jointly in refining it over time.

In a relationship developing a next-gen solution, the parties need to discuss — not dictate — the commercial requirements. Competitive tension is far less useful than in the traditional RFP structure where price is the dominant issue discussed. Instead, in next-gen deals, the parties discuss capabilities and design as levers for creating value.

Next Gen SP Tweet

There is another significant aspect that differentiates next-gen relationships. The commercial construct must allow for a journey rather than a destination. As the commercial constructs take place, the buyer often faces substantial change in organizational philosophies, policies and processes. This journey of change can be as daunting and significant as the one the provider must go through.

From our experience in working with clients in these kinds of relationships, the first step toward success is for the buyer to build a robust strategic intent that includes both its objectives and its vision of how to get there. Both parties can then use this strategic intent to keep all parties aligned over time and create a North Star to follow as they navigate through a collaborative but complicated process.


Photo credit: Hartwig HKD

Right now Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM) service providers are enjoying explosive growth as they take share from asset-heavy players. The labor arbitrage market is disintermediating or successfully attacking the traditional asset-heavy infrastructure space. But in every boom are the seeds of undoing.

It reminds me of the story of Joseph in the Biblical book of Genesis. Egypt’s Pharaoh had a dream about seven fat cows and seven scrawny cows coming out of the Nile River and the scrawny cows ate the fat cows. He sent for Joseph to interpret the dreams, and Joseph revealed that Egypt would have seven years of great abundance followed by seven years of famine.

Everest Group anticipates that, with HCL and TCS and Wipro having achieved a break-through level of credibility doing large transactions, these three and other providers behind them are poised for a number of strong years of growth as their cost to operate is lower than the traditional players. We forecast three years of plenty where they will drive explosive growth.

But behind the RIM contracts is coming a world in which the integrated automated cloud platforms such as IBM’s SoftLayer and AWS will move into the enterprise and start taking share from the RIM players.

Unlike Egypt where they experienced seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine, we forecast three years of plenty for RIM players followed by increasingly lean years.

RIM players will need to adapt to integrated automated platforms such as SoftLayer and AWS as they move into the enterprise — just like the RIM model is currently disintermediating the asset-heavy players.


Photo credit: George Thomas

The fact that enterprises are making a strategic intent shift to cloud and as-a-service models changes more than the service delivery model. It also changes the value proposition and therefore causes implications for provider’s sales strategies. For starters, the focus turns away from the provider’s capabilities.

Sure, those capabilities are still important. But with the new models the focus shifts to the customer’s needs.

The old strategic intent and value proposition was to achieve cost savings. Providers presented offer-based solutions touting the provider’s services. For example, a provider selling to a potential client in the P&C insurance industry might describe the kind of clients it services and how many clients it has, as follows:

“We have 25 clients in the P&C space with five million policies, 1000 analytics professionals with advanced statistical knowledge. We have 5,000 FTEs in eight offshore, nearshore and onshore locations. And we have a platform-based solution.”

Competition would take place on which provider’s offer is the most compelling to the customer. Typically in an offer-based solution the winning provider would be the firm with the most experience in the industry that targets the customer’s areas at appropriate price points.

But cloud and as-a-service solutions focus on the customer’s needs. This gives providers the opportunity to shift to needs-based messaging, as in the following example for a P&C insurance company:

“P&C insurers are battling high expense ratios, coupled with low interest rates globally. This is putting strains on their finances. Our solution can help you automate underwriting and shorten quote times by up to 60 percent, improve fraud detection by over 40 percent and facilitate early identification for subrogation helping improve overall margins.”

One of the most significant implications of the enterprise shift to the cloud is that focusing on needs-based messaging instead of the provider’s capabilities offer-based messaging will change the brute force product-selling mechanism that has come to define the market as we know it.

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