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Eric Simonson

Eric Simonson has more than 10 years of sourcing strategy and global services industry analysis expertise, first as a consultant and then in ongoing management of Everest Group’s research practice. His overarching goal is to ensure enterprises, service providers, and investors have the combination of fact- and experience-based insight they require to make informed, actionable, impactful, and value-generating global services decisions. To read more, please see Eric’s bio.

Liberty Source: Using a Military Spouse Talent Model to Energize Onshore Delivery / Part II | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Blog, Impact Sourcing

What if a service provider could build itself from scratch based on the learnings from the past two decades? Liberty Source, launched in 2013 as an impact sourcing provider, is trying to do just that in the highly competitive finance & accounting (F&A) outsourcing market. It has agreed to share its story with us as its business continues to scale.

Our first discussion with Steve Hosley, CEO of Liberty Source, provided an overview of their journey thus far. Our next discussion began our detailed look at Liberty Source’s talent model, which continues below with insights on its challenges and benefits.

Eric: Once an employee is onboard, what is the design for her or his development and career path?

Steve: Many organizations follow a typical succession planning and talent management process to aid in guiding their employees down their career paths in which they are aligned with the goals of the company. Where we differ is the frequency of this review and the involvement of our clients.

Because our mission speaks to providing job progression opportunities, our first client agreed to the formation of an employee development committee that meets on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to aid us in evaluating our talent management program for employees assigned to its account. This dialogue provides us with great insight into current and future required skills. While the jobs may be entry to mid-level careers at Liberty Source, the longer-term partnership we take with our clients allows us to create and grow “farm teams” to form talent pipelines that are extensions of our clients’ talent planning models.

Career paths are individually determined and then taken into account when we perform our regular talent review discussions. While employees may be in a role associated with a Finance and Accounting career path, some employees have indicated they would like to pursue other areas of responsibility. To support their development, we use creative networking and affinity groups in a different way to provide extra-curricular opportunities for them to pursue and grow their interests.

Eric: This is a fairly different type of people model. How have you adjusted the management model to reflect this?

Steve: First off, we commonly refer to our managers as coaches because we believe this is the kind of culture we are building. We have to focus on non-traditional techniques. Most of the BPO world is set up to manage in-person and face-to-face. The mission we are on changes the very nature of this relationship because the majority of our people are destined to relocate or telework. We have to manage virtually, create touch points that factor in different time zones and modes of communication, and manage client expectations differently.

We also allow for more independent and direct communication with the client. Ordinarily this is highly filtered by the BPO organization. We remove as much of the go between as possible to allow for the transparent process we promise to our clients. Once the employee is up to speed and producing, they own this relationship in most cases.

The typical command and control model that drives a directive, task-oriented communication style is replaced with a coaching and mentoring model. This view of leadership vs. management permeates how we engage employees to own their work more directly and learn how to transform it to a more efficient and scalable plan for the long term.

Eric: With all these modifications to normal people practices, it would seem that Liberty Source’s culture must be distinctive. Can you comment on what defines the culture?

Steve: Liberty Source is a place to come home to. Stable careers, flexibility in workplace and schedules, and with a common goal of being a place where employees come to transform their careers and customers come to transform their work. To achieve this, we have to translate what our employees may be used to and begin to train, teach, and coach on commercial culture norms and expectations. Some of our employees may be working in a sophisticated office setting for the first time, so we cannot expect everyone to come to the job without clearly defining rules of engagement and a structure to follow. We came up with a few simple principals to help guide a way of thinking and acting based on language they might already be used to. These six principles are:

  • Own it: We take personal responsibility to get our tasks done, meeting or exceeding both our clients’ and colleagues’ expectations.
  • Learn and lean: We look at every task or process as a learning experience, and don’t hesitate to lean on others for help.
  • Know our clients: We know what drives our clients’ success, and make decisions that support their business.
  • Know your numbers: We always know our performance metrics, and what we’ve committed to our clients.
  • No surprises: If something gets in the way of our performance, we immediately flag the situation to our management and our clients
  • No boundaries: Performance has no limits. We always look for opportunities outside our scope of responsibility to make a difference.

We also rely on a family approach to bring everyone to the table to resolve challenges. There is a level of honesty and support that comes from a family-centered view. You don’t get this in a commercial setting, and we tap in to it to gain trust and thus create strength.

Eric: What are the biggest opportunities and challenges you see for the talent model to continue scaling and evolving?

Steve: We still believe there is work to be done in better leveraging localized municipal community colleges as well as tapping into SaaS providers for training as well. Our size impacts the number of resources we can tap. To move past this, we are fortifying partnerships to expand our capability to expand learning and development goals.

The power of the Liberty Source family is in their sense of mission. It is easy to convey to this community that the success that you and the organization achieve now with our clients will create a wake of opportunity for future deserving spouses and veterans – and on behalf of those future spouses and veterans, we thank you for your commitment to Liberty Source. This message typically would not resonate in a BPO operation, but at Liberty Source it is “all hands on deck.” We strongly believe that the human capital model we have designed will directly translate to commercial differentiation in the market through low attrition and a committed workforce.

Eric: What are the benefits of the Liberty Source talent model in comparison to traditional BPO models?

Steve: Access to untapped, capable talent that fits – with our deep ties, affiliations and tools we have access to talent that is not readily apparent to the typical BPO. This is paying off in a couple ways:

  • Dedication: We have single digit attrition which is directly attributed to our dedicated military community and the culture we have formed. Typical BPOs have higher levels of turnover and much less social impact than we do. This retention creates the opportunity to transform work for our clients. We have a workforce that is highly engaged in the work of Liberty Source and wants to see us succeed like we’ve not seen in our previous commercial experiences. We’d like our current and future clients to see what can happen when full engagement is in action.
  • Agility: Our proximity to our clients and our EQ lends itself to less cycles and revisions. We get hand-offs right the first time.
  • Continuous improvement: This has long been an elusive goal of BPO providers. At Liberty Source we are committed to growing our employees and a big part of achieving that is through transforming our clients work so the type of Liberty Source work begins to elevate. This in turn elevates the abilities of our team.
  • Connection to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Companies should no longer think of their CSR activities independently from the operation of their company. At Liberty Source, we deliver services at a commercial standard and our clients also get the benefit of evangelizing about our amazing social story as well.

Eric: What could others learn from Liberty Source’s experiences?

Steve: Major misconceptions are tied to spotty résumés and unrecognizable military terms and experiences. This is the primary reason the military spouse has challenges in achieving their full potential. If you focus clearly on what defines success in the role and manage to that in your selection, in your goal setting, and in your rewards you can really achieve a lot and help someone really deserving achieve their potential. Lastly, given that many of our staff originate from a command and control hierarchy, empowerment needs to be consistently reinforced to generate their optimal performance.

Eric: Thanks for sharing these insights with us. It is stimulating to think about how much a people model and culture can be designed to align to a particular targeted talent pool. I look forward to hearing more about Liberty Source’s continued journey in a couple more months.

Liberty Source: Using a Military Spouse Talent Model to Energize Onshore Delivery | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Blog, Impact Sourcing

What if a service provider could build itself from scratch based on the learnings from the past two decades? Liberty Source, launched in 2013 as an impact sourcing provider, is trying to do just that in the highly competitive finance & accounting (F&A) outsourcing market. It has agreed to share its story with us as its business continues to scale.

Our first discussion with Steve Hosley, CEO of Liberty Source, provided an overview of their journey thus far. In this second discussion, we take a deep-dive on the talent model of Liberty Source.

Eric: What was the original vision for the talent model? How has that evolved over time and what are the reasons for the changes?

Steve: BPO has undergone an incredible industrialization over the past 20 years in offshore locations. Our original vision of the talent model for Liberty Source was to leverage this industrialization and build a human capital experience back into the forefront of BPO. The very first step in the creation of Liberty Source was to incorporate it as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) – which is a sustainable commercial for-profit enterprise that is also “hard-wired“ to operate with a social compass of hiring and providing career “on-ramps” focused on leveraging the talents of an underserved, but very capable U.S. military spouse population. The fact that we incorporated our company based on our human capital model speaks volumes to how we value talent at Liberty Source. Flexibility is key to our employees, so we allow our military spouses to take their Liberty Source jobs with them and work virtually when deployed to another base. This vision and foundation has not changed one bit although our journey has taught us a number of things.

We are now much more skilled and informed on how to work towards this vision. Key learnings include, when you elect to work with a member of the military, it is more about the community than it is about one type of individual in that community. We naturally have expanded our definition to now be the military community of spouses and veterans. We also learned that when engaging with our Liberty Source “shipmates,” the company must remain inclusive and accommodating to their larger family to include active service members.

We have seeded our values, operating principles and employee handbook with many military cultural norms that translate well into a commercial environment. These learnings all culminated at our one-year anniversary, when we hosted the Liberty Source Board of Directors for the first time on-site at our operations center. A formal Board meeting and dinner with speeches was not in the cards after all the hard work and dedication of our “shipmates” and sacrifices from their supportive families. We had to make this about the whole family, not just our shipmates. It was time to roll in the snow cone machine, bounce house, and bring in all their family members, including any active military that were home on leave. It was our time to be inclusive and celebrate the Liberty Source Family as a whole.

Eric: How are elements of the people model different than for traditional BPO?

Steve: The differences are not fundamental, but calibrated to our specific employee model. When you want to go beyond industrialization, you begin to ask your employees to “figure it out” and gain the confidence to ask questions. We find this is the only way to go “beyond the green” and past what is expected from us daily. So with this population you get folks who are constantly transplanted into new military communities around the world while their service member is at sea, in the Middle East or in some unknown location. If their car breaks down, or a new appliance arrives and is not installed, they figure it out. This is a population that has been accustomed to figuring things out for their families. We leverage this strong proven skill and move it to the workplace culture. Let’s first discuss our employment value proposition. There are four quadrants we look at when talking about the employee value proposition.

  • Culture: The first is a sense of culture and a place to come home to. Our military families need a sense of place where they can continue to bond and contribute, so we build a family culture that creates a level of communication and comradery necessary to maintain the mission focus. Still today in many military circles, spouses are referred to as “and spouse” or even worse, “dependents.” At Liberty Source, the company and culture has been designed for the first time in a different sequence, “spouses and veterans.” This simple change in sequence and priority translates well to a strong and tight community at Liberty Source.
  • Benefits: While we offer standard benefits to all of our employees, we found that our employees carrying existing military benefits desired the ability to supplement certain aspects of their existing coverage. We, in turn deployed an a la carte menu approach allowing everyone the flexibility to supplement their existing coverage and still tap a meaningful benefits program. Additional time off and flex time benefits, in support of specific military events such as PCS – Permanent Change of Station and Veterans Day, along with a flexible workplace, and other virtual work strategies add a richer layer to our offerings that you won’t find in a typical enterprise.
  • Compensation: We look at our compensation programs as a total reward offering. We find ways to start them in at Liberty Source at the right place and salary even though the market, due to the impact of their frequent moves, may dictate a lower wage. We believe the career pathways to opportunity we offer are all part of our short term and longer term incentives when balanced with more flexible time off and supplemental benefits. In this way a larger need is still met in a rewarding total package.
  • Development: The largest value we offer is our development track. Think of the impact to a résumé when you now have work experience at a Fortune 500 brand (our customers) and when you don’t have to drop your career every two to three years. Because our employees no longer have to make that choice, they build a continuous development program through on-the-job learning, networking, and course work supplemented with internal and external training.

Eric: So how do you go about integrating that into your recruiting?

Steve: Like any employer we accept applications from all qualified candidates and give everyone full consideration based on their knowledge, skills, and experiences. What we have found is the group we are here to help most, our military spouses, does not have the typical résumé that shows solid career progression in all cases. The nomenclature and terminology used is also more conducive to small markets than large ones. We have developed a keen eye and supporting science that looks closer at résumés where large employers would not take the time.

Because of the unconventional résumés, we have developed pre-employment screening systems that are based on 100s of candidates and performance data that help us identify the proper, personal hard-wiring to be successful at Liberty Source and within the specific position. We have seen the “fit rate” improve by 47% over the past year as our pre-screening tool became more informed on performance results. We believe that our current 50% employee referral rate for new hires coupled with the development of our talent acquisition science that has taken place over the past year and a half will position us well for scale.

Eric: Is there anything unique about your training programs?

Steve: We design our work to be done from anywhere so there is a stronger commitment to documenting the processes and procedures, virtualizing the training materials and supplementing with online and third party partners to execute training and development via a virtual or blended learning setting.

In our next of our discussion, we’ll ask Steve questions about the implications of this talent model once its members are on board, including the benefits and challenges of managing such a culture.

Liberty Source: Bringing Innovation to the Onshore Delivery Model | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Blog, Impact Sourcing

What if a service provider could build itself from scratch based on the learnings from the past two decades? Liberty Source, launched in 2013 as an impact sourcing provider, is trying to do just that in the highly competitive finance & accounting (F&A) outsourcing market. It has agreed to share its story with us over the coming months as its business continues to scale. We plan to look at how it optimizes its talent model to align to its social mission, its approach to using automation technology in service delivery, and other key issues which it faces as they look to compete in the market.

Our first discussion was with Steve Hosley, CEO of Liberty Source and a veteran of the outsourcing and shared services industries. We hope you enjoy this unique view into what it is like to start a new service provider company that is attempting to disrupt traditional models.

 

Eric: What is Liberty Source and how is it unique?

Steve: Liberty Source is an onshore BPO provider of F&A services. Our differentiators revolve around transparency and flexibility with our customers. Business is changing fast and flexible agreements are important to keep up with the pace. By flexible, we mean being able to pivot quickly to a company’s evolving delivery needs with a mix of automation and human capital needs.

We have chosen to run our onshore center with a social compass. Our team members – or as we call each other “shipmates” – primarily have a direct military affiliation as spouses of active duty military members or they are veterans themselves. This represents over 70% of our employee base. Our culture continues to be built around the U.S. military community.  We believe that this community makes us look and operate much differently than a typical BPO operation. For example, we have “family meetings” instead of the more stereotypical “all-hands meetings.” Our conference rooms are named after famous U.S. military spouses with our Boardroom named after Martha Washington. Our transformation training revolves around the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) rather than the typical Six Sigma.

Lastly, we aim to create a business that is known as a transformation center – where customers come to transform their work and employees come to transform their careers.

 

Eric: Where is Liberty Source finding this military talent?

Steve: Our current operations center is in Fort Monroe Virginia, near Virginia Beach. It is located near five bases, home to over 70,000 active service members and the largest naval base in the world. 85% of our employees have college degrees and of them, 21% of them are holding Masters Degrees. This helps confirm that we have a talented workforce that is simply seeking big company, multi-national experience. The fort has a storied history and is known as Freedom’s Fortress. Under Union General Benjamin Butler during the U.S. Civil War, it became a beacon for tens of thousands of slaves to come and gain their freedom. We believe, that that in small way, we hope to continue in the spirit of Fort Monroe by providing real commercial technical skills and careers to a population of well-deserving and very talented U.S. military spouses and veterans.

Our spouses are allowed to take their positions with them when they are PCS’d (permanent change of station) so now with over 10 percent of our employees operating virtually, we aim to continue to expand our footprint of Liberty Source coverage to all the major U.S. military bases around the world.

 

Eric: How is Liberty Source structured, legally and financially?

Steve: Liberty Source was created to capture the growing commercial demand for onshore BPO delivery but do it in a manner that was socially responsible. We established ourselves as a Public Benefits Corporation, or a PBC. This allows us to operate as a commercially viable and market relevant for-profit enterprise, while also holding the company accountable to a social mission. Given that this structure and delivery model was new, we elected to initially go to market as a wholly owned subsidiary of Digital Divide Data, which pioneered the offshore impact sourcing market in the early 2000s.

 

Eric: What successes has Liberty Source had to date?

Steve: We are a little over a year old in terms of go-to-market efforts and have stabilized our first client, a very large contract with 15 different processes. These were brought back from India from an eight-year incumbent. We transitioned in 100 FTEs and have been live with the client’s work since February. Our first client attained the same price as it did in India, and now the work is only three hours away from them versus being in India.

We achieved price neutrality by doing the work more efficiently. The efficiencies have been gained through three primary drivers. As we stated previously the community we are building is loyal, resulting in single-digit attrition this year. What we have found is that this lack of attrition makes us more competitive in that we are not having to spend time and effort on retraining and extensive review cycles. We inherited an ingrained functional tower orientation and migrated it to end-to-end process teams, which really helped reduce rework. Lastly, we are benefiting from building a business in the era of “As a Service” and cloud offerings so our infrastructure is light and efficient. A combination of things like email from Office365, general ledger from NetSuite, payroll from ADP, and all workstations are laptops to provide DRP (disaster recovery plan) flexibility. Most importantly we strongly believe that we are in the people business and that our success in delivering quality service back in the U.S. on this tough economic contract, is due to the fortitude and dedication of our employees. This is most evident in that we successfully trained 100 people in 120 days with a limited background in SAP and SFDC applications to work effectively in those environments.

 

Eric: How has the organization and its business matured in the short time Liberty Source has been in existence?

Steve: With the monthly delivery to our foundational client, now stable and our second client underway, the Board of Directors of Liberty Source made the decision last month to exit the foundation stage and enter our next stage of growth given that we have proven the viability of the model and have positive momentum. This growth stage includes investing in pursuing other clients. Our second client, also a large Fortune 500 multi-national, is undergoing a transformation and wanted a BPO provider that was willing to be flexible as its strategy evolved. This translates into taking on work that is initially about providing performance-based labor, which they need now, while also working on a project to automate the work, and then eventually rebalance the delivery mix into the appropriate levels required to be done by humans after the automation is completed.

The market and customers have spoken to us, so we have pulled forward the training, building and management of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in our business model and invested in it earlier than we had planned.

 

Eric: How does Liberty Source plan to compete in the market moving forward?

Steve: We are targeting the market through a couple lenses. We are starting in the F&A area. We typically aim for companies that share our social mission of employing military spouses and vets. Finally, we resonate with organizations that have already outsourced before and are able to understand the benefits of our model when we explain things like transparent governance, providing a pathway to outcome-based pricing and how we embrace technology.

Because we have proven the model in Virginia, we would like to continue to scale and grow this location. We are also open to creating another center near an existing military population that may align with some other company’s geographic delivery or customer base and shares our social mission of providing opportunities to U.S. military families.

Lastly, part of our social mission is about providing upward mobility to our employees and we believe that embracing automation will over time elevate the remaining work and fulfill this commitment. In turn, our customers benefit from Liberty Source’s pursuit of these technology solutions though continuous improvement.

 

Eric: What are some of the things on your mind as you look forward to the next steps of Liberty Source?

Steve: We know the market need – it is seeking agility and flexible arrangements. Ones that can provide innovation and benefit to both parties. We feel our model and culture position us well to provide these differentiators.

Further, we must marry up this to the human capital strategy – we are beginning to build a virtual spouse model, which will give us even more elasticity on how to access and deliver talent. We also believe that bringing RPA into the service delivery model will provide flexibility in how we manage operations and our talent pool.

 

Eric: Thanks for your time and insights – I look forward to hearing more about how the journey has progressed when we speak again.


Photo credit: Flickr

John Mellencamp Named Honorary Everest Group Analyst of the Month | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Blog

“Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

All my friends are so small town
My parents live in the same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity

— John Mellencamp, Small Town (1985)

Turns out Mr. Mellencamp was a pretty good analyst when it comes to assessing global services employment opportunities in small communities. So much so, that I am officially naming him as “Honorary Everest Group Analyst of the Month.”

No, I am not smoking something.

We just completed a first of its kind analysis of the U.S. Domestic Outsourcing location landscape for RevAmerica and finally have the key facts the industry has been lacking. In short, although smaller communities are sometimes used for service delivery, the reality is that the vast majority of the market is concentrated in larger communities with populations measured in the 100,000s vs. 10,000s. In particular, tier-3 cities are the sweet spot…the largest number of centers, the largest employment, and the largest centers.

Defining the city tiers

In order to analyze approximately 250 metro cities, we segmented them into six groups – tier-1 through tier-5 plus rural. As indicated below, the city segments are characterized by differences in population size plus commercial and educational factors.

Location Definitions

Although only one dimension of a city’s potential for service delivery, it is easy and revealing to look at the differences in average population size of the city tiers. Each city tier is 20-40% of the population of the next larger city tier, which leads to a dramatic difference in the profile of cities that are 2-3 tiers different from each other.

Population of city tiers

It’s good to be a tier-3 city!

One of the most interesting findings from the research was the extent to which tier-3 cities dominate on almost every dimension. As shown in the exhibit below, they have the largest share of FTEs and delivery centers of all cities. Further, their centers are on average larger than any other city tier.

Distribution of FTEs and US delivery centers by city-tiers

Additionally, tier-3 cities have the largest portion of multi-function centers (some combination of IT, business process, and contact center) and are the centers which are expected to grow the most in coming years.

Given that tier-3 cities average one million in population, most are surprised that cities of this size are driving the growth of domestic outsourcing delivery – many would expect smaller cities to be the primary forces. So why are tier-3 cities favored?

In short, we believe this is due to three factors which work in combination with each other:

  • Sufficient cost savings: Relative to tier-1 cities, tier-3 cities offer 15-20% savings; moving to tier-4 cities may only offer 5% more savings and in many cases is either cost neutral or even higher cost than a tier-3 city.
  • Enough talent: With nearly one million in population, the installed base of experienced talent is sizeable. Further, most tier-3 cities have large colleges which produce fresh talent for the entry labor force. Combined with the life style benefits of a larger city (airport, entertainment, shopping, etc.), tier-3 cities have the ability to both keep talent and to attract talent from other cities – either smaller or larger cities. Not everyone would want to live in New York, NY; similarly, many people could not imagine living in a town of Midland, MI (a town of roughly 50,000). However, many people could be comfortable in a city of one million.
  • Accessible: Although the idea of a remote, small city may seem attractive in order to capture an isolated labor pool, this doesn’t hold up well when assessed in detail. First, even small communities have competition for talent plus limited talent pools – costs can quickly spiral up. Second, the practical logistics of transit to these small cities creates an inconvenience that most organizations wish to avoid (especially for IT service delivery, requiring more cross-center collaboration). Most tier-3 cities are connected by direct flights to other major business centers within two to three hours of flight time.

In other words, tier-3 cities have an attractive mix of cost savings and talent, while still being comparatively easy from an operational perspective. This is broadly true, but less true for pure contact center work which can more easily operate at scale in tier-4 cities and even some tier-5 cities due to the broad labor pool which can fill contact center roles.

So, would Mr. Mellencamp’s small town have been a viable service delivery location? He is from Seymour, Indiana, with a population of about 16,000 – clearly a rural community by our definition. Highly unlikely many organizations could operate an IT or business process center of 200 FTEs in Seymour, although a smaller contact center could be viable. So, yes, there might be jobs…but little opportunity…

Also check out my co-presenter Sakshi Garg’s top 10 takeways from RevAmerica.


Photo credit: Flickr

Monkey Poop & the INR 500 Shoe Shine: Lessons in Value for Outsourcing? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Blog

“Sir, sir – a monkey pooped on your shoe!” was the first thing that brought my attention to the large, wet mound on my casual walking shoe.

Not a convenient development when walking around Connaught Place in New Delhi.

Interestingly, the next thing I heard was “Shoe shine – only 500.”

Despite the jet lag, I was able to immediately recognize the scam. The fact that the same person who pointed out the poop before I noticed it also happened to have a shoe shine kit was a pretty good clue. Never did see the accused monkey, although I strongly suspect it was actually the person who I begrudgingly paid INR 500 for that shoe clean-up and shine!

I filed it away as a humorous lesson and forgot about it until mentioning it some colleagues in our India office the next week. They were aghast and surprised that I would pay so much for the shoe service (about US$10 at the time, and 20% of the value of the shoes – which I had never previously considered deserving of a shine). From their perspective, I had paid far above market value (10-15 times the market rate) and should have negotiated the price down. From my perspective, I had no idea of the market price and just wanted the issue fixed quickly despite knowing the painful truth that the source of the problem was also the solution to the problem.

I was recently reflecting on this for reasons completely unknown to me (er, might have come about while changing a baby diaper…you get the idea). I was struck by the fact that my colleagues, the shoe shiner, and I all had different thoughts upon the value exchange. In an effort to demonstrate exactly how much I over-analyze life, I distilled this to three lessons.

1. Value is relative

The shoe shine from my perspective cost US$10 and allowed me to get back to enjoying the sights and sounds of Delhi. Frustrating, but well worth the money from a functional perspective that had nothing to do with the shoes themselves, but rather to remove a nuisance and enable me to do other things. From my colleagues’ perspective, it was 10x the market rate. From my experience, it was about 2X the market rate (US$5) in the U.S., so I did not mind the rate too much. If I had been asked to pay 10X the U.S. rate or US$50, I would have resisted and likely gone ballistic. For the shoe shiner, ignoring raw material costs of the poop, it was tremendous profit and a highly valuable exchange.

Depending upon one’s perspective, the financial price of a value exchange and the utility from the value are viewed differently.

No wonder we struggle to put a price to value in outsourcing!

2. Attribution of value creation is contextual

Although the shoe shiner definitely helped solve the issue and did so quickly, I could not be pleased with the value received; the context of the need for the services completely undermined his shoe shining contribution.

If this had not been a scam and I accidentally stepped into something and a shoe shiner happened to be nearby and solved the issue, then I would have thanked him profusely and happily paid the INR 500. However, instead of thanking him, I left grumbling and scowling because of the context in how the value was created for me.

In other words, if you cause the problem, your perceived value in solving the problem is less than if you solve problems created by others.

3. Perception of value is as much about experience as results

After starting to reflect on this, I pulled out these old shoes (see photo), which I have not worn much in recent years. Ironically, they look pretty good. In fact, I believe the leather is softer and better looking than when I first bought them. They have also avoided collecting as much dust as before the unplanned shoe shine.

In other words, they benefited from the shoe shine and it appears to have been a decent shoe shine.

But I can’t give the shoe shiner any credit for this because the experience was such a turn-off.

So, solve the problem, but also ensure the experience of problem resolution is appreciated by the recipient.

Outsourcing is fundamentally a service provided by one complex organization to another complex organization. The situation is ripe with many factors (mis-communications, mis-aligned stakeholders, budget pressures, turnover, etc.) to limit the chance for perceived value exchange between organizations. Although we need to ensure the work completed creates value, we should not forgot that how we treat each other and manage our interactions can completely undermine the appreciation of value. If you solve a problem, don’t expect credit if you created the problem – solve problems beyond your scope. If you solve a problem, don’t expect much credit if the experience is suboptimal – own the problem and the service experience.

Quick Takes on Robotic Automation | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Blog

Since the start of 2015, we have had the opportunity to speak with a wide range of old friends, new acquaintances, and industry contacts – and spanning across enterprises, services providers, technology providers, academics, and consultants. Almost without fail, the topic of robot process automation (RPA) comes up. Most of the discussion aligns with the thinking in our report from last October (Service Delivery Automation (SDA) Market in 2014 – Moving Business Process Services Beyond Labor Arbitrage), but some goes deeper and adds fresh new colors.

In this blog we offer a quick summary of recent observations from these dialogues. Although these points are an amalgamation of many conversations, a few bear mentioning specifically. Mihir Shukla (CEO of Automation Anywhere), Lee Coulter (CEO of Ascension Health Shared Services), and Gianni Giacomelli (SVP Product Innovation/CMO at Genpact) debated the trends in disruptive technologies, particularly automation, at a recent SSOW event in Orlando. Additionally, Matt Smith and Dan Hudson – formerly leading Virtual Operations North America, now in Cognizant’s RPA group – spent some time explaining how their views have evolved as they have gone from advising service providers to actually working for a provider. We also spent time speaking with a number of enterprises with process improvement programs that are utilizing robotic process automation, plus conducted a recent webinar with Telefónica about automation.

Viability of RPA

  • RPA is a “no regrets” move that essentially guarantees results. Beyond the somewhat obvious fact that it can generally deliver savings quickly, it is also flexible. Unlike many decisions in global services, the approach, priorities, and tactics can all evolve fairly rapidly without having to take major steps back because the automation routines are not fixed and are designed to be changed. In this way, it is closer to how small applications outsourcing projects are simple compared to large infrastructure agreements with multi-year terms, which are complex and hard to reverse transitions, etc.
  • For automation-friendly processes of 8 or more FTEs, 40% savings is a reasonable expectation. Sometimes it is less but can also often be more. As a result, ROIs of new initiatives are measured in quarters, not years.
  • Although the cost savings is nice, the predictability and rigor from automating complex, but rules-based processes can add tremendous value. It makes knowing that operations are under control much easier. Plus, the benefits of reduced errors and delays can be a huge positive–truly value beyond cost savings.

Rate of adoption of RPA

  • Although initial processes can be implemented in several months or quarters, it requires two to three years to implement and reach significant penetration of processes across an organization.
  • There is a surprising degree of organizational inertia to not look seriously at RPA or go slowly. As a result, our view is that it will take five years to penetrate most of the market – despite being a fairly simple, almost no-brainer approach.
  • As an illustration of the pace of adoption, consider the exhibit below from our recent webinar on service delivery automation. RPA is making inroads into FAO renewals and new deals. However, notice that only 12-28% of recent deals are including RPA. Given that most of those are 4-5 year terms plus others immediately preceding them had even lower rates of RPA inclusion, this means that 3-5 years from now deals signed without RPA will be coming up for renewal…and it will still be the majority of the deals hitting the market without RPA. Once we see the deals per year with RPA cross 50%, the rate of change in the market will be noticeably faster. The wildcard, of course, is how many of the deals being signed now without RPA will be restructured during the term of the deal to include it – this will happen, but the rate is not yet clear.

RPA adoption

Technology models for automation

  • No single tool can do everything and it is a matter of building the right portfolio of options. Further, even if a tool tried to do everything, the market would likely be reluctant to select it due to fear of lock-in.
  • Interestingly, we are seeing more proprietary tools by service providers coming into play. This is not to say that the commercially available tools aren’t effective – they are, but rather that providers are experimenting with making their own investments to avoid licenses fees and to create the operating model they desire. In fact, there is a general feeling that some of the proprietary tools have functionality not found in the commercials tools (and vice versa), such that we may be entering an arms-race for innovation in automation tools. Might this even lead to service providers being willing to license their proprietary tools without also providing accompanying services? Time will tell, but this would seem to be a compelling way to attract and retain clients with a differentiated offering while spreading investments across a larger base of users.
  • At this point, those organizations electing to utilize outsourcing appear largely comfortable allowing their service provider to select and provide the relevant tools (results-oriented mindset). Those enterprises wanting to select their own tools, tend to shy away from an outsourcing model anyway.

In case you missed it, we recently released some additional information on automation and technology in business process services:


Photo credit: Flickr

U.S. Domestic Sourcing: Early Insights from Research for RevAmerica Event | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

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Three stoplights. Well, eventually four by the time I moved away in 1985. Also, a line of people each night around the new McDonalds for several days after it opened in the late 1970s.  This was the situation in my hometown of Maryville, Missouri with a population of just less than 10,000 people at the time.

Small, rural town, right? Yes, it was in many ways. But it was also home to a university, Northwest Missouri State University, which was the first college in the U.S. to put PCs into every dorm room and a student population of about 5,000. The area was packed with PhDs and farmers quietly living the pleasant life in the middle of the country.

As the buzz about rural and domestic outsourcing has increased over the past five years, I have often wondered “Is this type of location a good candidate for a service delivery center?” To the best of my knowledge, it does not have a service delivery center of any notable scale.

To help answer questions like these, Everest Group is the research partner for RevAmerica, to be held in New Orleans on May 5-7, 2015. This is the only event focused on domestic sourcing in the U.S. and Canada.

The research report that we release at the event will analyze the trends in domestic outsourcing, looking at variations by location type across different functions (IT, business process, contact center), type of service provider, and other factors.

Although we are currently deep in the middle of collecting responses to RFIs and conducting interviews, we have been able to glean a few initial insights from the database of approximately 350 cities, which range from small, rural communities to tier 1 cities. Some of these insights include:

  • The number of centers for domestic outsourcing is clearly on a growth trajectory and with a whopping 66% centers expecting headcount growth in next 3 years
  • Some of this is in response to preferring domestic locations over offshore locations, but much is about creating a portfolio of locations to support increasingly diverse sets of work
  • The typical size of a center is in the range of 100-500 employees; some centers are in the 1,000 employee range and are almost exclusively a long-term hub of an organization in a tier 2 location (vs. tier 3 or 4 or rural)
  • For IT services, the key driver is largely around the presence of local educational institutions that offer computer science and technical training, and are willing to collaborate on helping shape that talent for the needs of technical employers. Having said that, IT is a function where more than half of the centers are using a mix of locally hired resources and landed resources (resources traveling from other parts of the world on work permit)
  • Finally, two-thirds of the centers are single function delivery focused (i.e., IT or BP or CC) and couple with the fact that they are small, indicates that they have been primarily set-up to serve a specific need – serve a local client, tap into (small) specific talent pool at the same time gain cost arbitrage

We invite you to join us in New Orleans as we roll out the findings of this important study. We look forward to hearing your experiences.

Four Questions You Should Be Asking about Robotics | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

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Originally posted on Outsource Magazine


Been hanging out under a rock? If so, you may have missed the industry buzz about using “robots” to drive out increased efficiency from manual processes. Definitely a catchy concept (humans truly are annoying) and a potential game-changer.

So what do you need to know? I suggest breaking this down into four questions that will help shed light on the opportunity.

  • Is robotics new?
  • Why now?
  • Does it matter?
  • What will change?

Let’s take a look at each of these questions in turn.

Read more on Outsource Magazine

An Event-full Week…And What I Learned | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

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Just wrapped up a week of two sister events – Shared Services & Outsourcing in Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance – with one in Atlanta and the other in New York. After four days of debate and discussion with a cross-section of industry leaders, I offer a few observations.

  1. In Atlanta, a gentle snowfall is a nightmare, not a pleasant dream. You probably saw the news coverage…and it is accurate. A trivial amount of white stuff (which turned to ice) completely shut down the town — but, luckily, not the hotel bar. We were scheduled to fly from Atlanta to NY on Wednesday night for the NY version of the event…and we actually made it to New York about 10 minutes early. BUT, the uncertainty throughout the day of >60% flights being canceled, shifting to Atlanta’s subway (MARTA), and long security lines made it feel like an miracle of human achievement. Never a good sign when the benches in the airport are all occupied by people sleeping.
  2. Analytics is starting to become real. We heard multiple examples of real analytics efforts and impact. Certainly it is early days, but the options are beginning to take shape and some are creating innovative approaches. One example included distributing mobile devices into a customer base to help capture previously unstructured data far in advance of when the information actually makes its way into normal market datasets. Due to the nature of financial services products (actuarial science in insurance, credit scoring in cards, etc.), BFSI should have a head start on organizational acceptance of the value of analytics…other industries should make sure to pay attention to their learnings.
  3. Global In-house Centers (GICs) and third-party outsourcing are both alive and well. Essentially all of the larger organizations participating in the events make use of both internal delivery and external delivery models. Nothing suggests this is about to change. But there is a general sentiment toward favoring internal models. Unless service providers can start demonstrating value-add beyond labor arbitrage, predictable workloads which benefit from business context will be shifting to the GIC model. Offshore is no longer scary, and large financial institutions can effectively manage operations to increasingly help generate change and transformation.
  4. The Goliaths of the third-party landscape are seeing a lot more Davids. Many participants reported being able to work more collaboratively with their smaller service providers in terms of structuring deals, adjusting services, preparing for future change, and other important dimensions. Some of this is due to differences in margin expectations and risk appetite, but the largest factor may simply be that the smaller providers provide more and better leadership at the account level – top executives are involved and make a difference. This trend stretched across IT, contact center, and transactional BPO. The large players need to ensure they are scaling and empowering real account-level leadership or this dynamic will only continue to grow.

Great discussions and a fun group of people – thanks to everyone involved for a nice end to January.

What Global Services Can Learn from the NFL Salary Cap | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

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For readers who are not sports fanatics…the U.S. National Football League (NFL) – and many other professional sports leagues around the world – must abide by a rule called a salary cap that places a limit on the amount of money each team in the league can spend on player salaries. Every year, this results in the team owners dismissing still productive players, in part due to expected changes in future performance, but largely because they must cut players with salaries above what they can afford in order to stay under the league-mandated salary cap for the entire cost of the roster. Invariably, this means changes to the teams’ make-up from year to year, as their rosters are rebuilt to compete in the new season.

So, what does this have to do with global services (and how can you justify reading about football while at work)?

Looking at the salary cap as a cost benchmark – which for each NFL team sets in motion a range of forces that define which teams are successful – provides some interesting lessons for the global services industry.

1. Talent models: build through the draft

The price of experienced talent in the NFL limits the teams’ ability to use that talent while still staying underneath the salary cap. Although a team could build itself entirely with 6+ year veterans, it would have to do so with almost all of them being average or below average performers. It simply could not afford to have higher paid, above average performers. And, while few top-notch players are important to each team, they’re not necessary in every spot on the roster.

Entry-level players provide teams the opportunity to find high-potential talent and utilize it before a market develops to buy it away. They also enable teams to experiment with larger volumes of comparatively cheaper talent. And, of course, once a player gains experience and can test the open labor market, the highest bidder wins, so the player is automatically paid above what the average bidder felt was the market value.

So, entry-level talent helps fulfill key roles because the diamonds in the rough are beginning to emerge, and because the market is not able to overpay for this talent in the earlier years of their careers. In the NFL, the winning teams are built based upon key talent that is found in the draft and supplemented with signings of select players from other teams.

Global services face a similar dilemma: entry-level talent is comparatively affordable, whereas experienced talent that is known to perform above average comes with a high price tag.

Implication for global services: sourcing talent from colleges and other education programs is essential to building a competitive cost structure.

2. Management: coaching matters – a lot

Since teams are experiencing greater than ever churn in their roster of players, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a good coaching staff is critical and can rapidly change the performance level of its team. In most cases in the NFL, whether a new coaching staff will be successful is evident quite quickly – generally within two years.

In order to be competitive, a coaching staff must both develop the entry-level talent from the draft and help mold together the entire team to perform at or above their collective level of capability. This often means pushing newly drafted talent (which they must be able to identify early on) into bigger roles than what seems ideal at the time.

As a result, teams with a capable and stable coaching staff are often able to sustain above average performance over multiple seasons – and members of these coaching staffs become prime candidates for bigger roles on other coaching staffs which are looking to turn around performance.

Implication for global services: ensure a management model that can rapidly develop new talent, (invest in the right training, etc.), and increase the overall performance level…operational expertise may not be enough.

3. Culture: it must endure beyond changes in players and coaches

With expected change in players and coaching staffs, the longest-term success comes from establishing and nurturing a culture that can both sustain itself over time and help raise the performance of players above what may be their natural, individual ability.

As hardcore fans of the NFL know, many of the high priced veterans that sign with other teams fail to live up to the expectations and may be cut in only a few years. Why? Some is due to physical decay or inability to step up to fill bigger shoes. However, the change in team culture – expectations, offensive/defensive schemes, attitudes…the way things are done – can also limit a player’s ability to perform at a high level.

By contrast, teams with strong cultures can often find average players and attain above average results – assuming the average players were correctly identified as being a good fit with the “system” (or culture).

Implication for global services: build a culture, (and supporting tools, processes, etc.), that relies not only on superstars, but rather on the ability of many team members to perform above their expected level – including that of the superstars.

So, draft smart, coach well, and build an enduring culture. And, if you’re seeking ways to refine your global services skills, you might want to spend some time watching the NFL teams’ strategies…the draft begins on April 25.

Note: apologies to our non-North America readers and those who don’t follow the NFL. We understand that calling our violent game “football” is an insult to all fans of FIFA, the World Cup, etc. – we simply can’t help ourselves.