Tag: services procurement decision

What Venture Capitalists Can Teach Us about Driving Transformation | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

The current way we buy complex services through a purchasing department is to come up with elaborate detailed requirements, which often can only be implemented over several years. We put these out to bid, forcing the vendor community to respond with far more detail and waterfall project plans laying out in excruciating detail how they will architect and migrate this environment to the new desired state. We then conduct the services version of the limbo dance – how low can we go – where providers compete the price of the solutions. But there is a huge fallacy in this procurement methodology.

We have a long history of unhappy results from this methodology, a body of work spanning 10 to 15 years demonstrating that these procurement efforts mostly result in unmet expectations, cost overruns, and evolving service levels. This is insane. Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

The fallacy of the procurement methodology

By using this methodology, we effectively try to articulate a transformational journey in an overly precise way even though we have only a limited understanding of both the existing and future environments. The result is exercises in creative writing with overly precise work plans and cost estimates. The only thing we can be sure of is that the plans are wrong because of the lack of information (no matter how much time we spend on the plans), and the fact that the world changes during this timeframe. So we’re guaranteed to be wrong.

Therefore, our preferred way to purchase services is flawed. It pretends that we know with precision things we don’t know and it does not adequately accommodate for the nature of change in technology, business process and business conditions.

What can venture capitalists teach us?

For years VCs have faced a similar problem. How do they develop breakthrough, compelling new technology products, fund them, manage them cost-effectively and, most importantly, how do they get to great offerings?

They achieve these objectives by accepting that, although the vision for the journey can be had, the length of the journey is unknown, the amount of money required to accomplish is unknown, and the exact nature of the end product is also unknown.

This is very similar to the problem we find in most service transformations. We know the direction we want to head, but we can’t describe accurately and precisely where we’ll end up, can’t quantify how much it will cost, don’t know how many resources it will take to get there or how long it will take to get there. All of these factors vary. Yet, using the procurement methodology, we pretend we know these details and set up artificial constructs.

Applying the VC principles to transformation services

Why don’t we do what the venture capitalists do? First of all, they break the project down into a series of gates. The only detailed road map is the one between where you currently are and the next gate. That requires a detailed plan. One of the parts of the plan is to develop a plan for the next gate.

Using VC principles, the vision and the dimensions of what you want to accomplish are clearly stated. For example, “I want to bring the cost of IT down by 40 percent” or “I’m going to standardize my components and move them into an elastic or consumption-based model, and I’m going to develop agile vehicles to integrate the components.” But how you will do that and how it will involve your current environment is unknowable.

All that is knowable is how you develop a proof of concept and how you move from POC to rapid implementation. You can fund each step much like VCs do (Series A, Series B, and Series C funding) and break it down to create funding associated with milestones that get you to the next gate.

This is a broad application of the VC philosophy, and there’s much more to it. But I believe by applying these principles, we can change how we drive transformation. We can dramatically lower the interaction costs of the purchasing process, and we can spend that money and time instead on the actual transformation. And we can deal with our providers or ecosystem partners in a much more transparent and direct way.

It’s best to apply this VC-based methodology where the benefits of design and architecture drive the value, instead of price reduction as the driver. You can still get lower unit prices, but the old procurement process is dead. That process is useful if you’re trying to take a stable environment and reduce its unit price. But it is not useful where you are driving a transformational agenda, which cannot be precisely defined. Using the old methodology for a transformational agenda tends to waste time, frustrate ecosystem partners and create false promises.

Whiteboard vs Keyboard Services | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

I recently went to dinner with a CIO who talked about having two major service providers in his company’s portfolio – an Indian provider and Accenture. He told me he uses both providers aggressively. We were talking about the fact that both providers have similar rate cards, large numbers of offshore workers, and they both come to him with an unending set of transformational ideas. I asked him how he chooses between the two.

Here’s his methodology:

  • When the business problem requires a whiteboard – in other words, he wants the provider to lead change in his organization (and typically that’s a transformational situation) – he uses Accenture.
  • When the business problem requires a keyboard – or people to execute against a plan he has already developed and he will closely manage – he uses the Indian service provider.

He added that he’s not sure it’s possible for either provider to become the other. He explained that when he asks Accenture to operate from a keyboard mentality, they fight him for the steering wheel. They want to lead and want to drive the transformation. Alternatively, when he asks the Indian provider to lead, they defer to his management team and do as they’re told.

So he says he came to accept that both behaviors are effective. He needs each at different times, so he should not ask one to be the other. Both are valuable assets.

Services clients should keep this CIO’s perspective in mind. There are whiteboard opportunities and there are keyboard opportunities. If you ask providers to be something they’re not, you’ll get a frustrated response. Choose carefully.

Transformation Services Procurement: What’s Wrong with this Picture? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

For large transformation projects, the services world has locked itself into a world permeated with high dead deal costs, wasted solutioning, and long transitions of nine to 18 months where the client sees low value and tries to get the provider to absorb the cost as well as expensive consultants and legal fees for the client on top of distracting management. And in the end, we have a lot of unhappy clients. This needs to change.

Remember John Lennon’s song: “Imagine?” Imagine a world in which we compress these cycles and we don’t have high transition costs. As Lennon wrote, you may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Over the years there have been a lot of experiments in how to shorten the sales cycle. But largely they were frustrating. Even when you rush through the process, it still tends to straighten back out to the nine-plus months’ duration because it takes time for the enterprise to understand and absorb the journey and get to decisions. Others have experimented with sole sourcing, but it doesn’t really shorten the sales cycle and has a lot of limitations from the client side in terms of leaving them wondering whether they got a market deal, despite benchmarks and pricing assurance.

From studying this over the years, I’ve come to believe that as long as providers and clients define the goal in terms of procurement, they’re likely to be disappointed. The process and price become too influential and the provider loses sight of the client’s real goal. So they end up with incremental gains but not breakthrough, transformation gains.

Let’s think about these deals as transformation journeys instead of procurements. Just imagine ….

After all, the client doesn’t want the outcome to be a contract; the outcome needs to be a transformed state of the client’s process or capability. So we need to reconceive the origination of these transformation deals along this line.

We need to first focus on the benefits, defining the game-changing benefits the enterprise wants to build. Typically those benefits in today’s world have something to do with efficiency gains, cost savings, better aligning the process to the requirements of the business users, and improving the speed and agility to be responsive to the business needs.

If service providers stop thinking about the procurement process and think from the consumer’s point of view, it works great. The client gets what it wants and needs, friction is reduced, it’s clear what the client needs to reach its goal, and the provider gets to pull the client on the journey rather than pushing and selling to the client.

After defining the business outcome goal from the client’s perspective, the next step in developing a solution would be to develop breakthrough metrics to drive the change through the client’s organization. I’ll discuss this in my next blog post.

The parties build the journey together, and the client sees the solutioning as value rather than a sales exercise to be viewed with skepticism. In effect, this method turns the procurement process on its head and eliminates the sales cycle. The provider get paid to assist the client in solutioning rather than for building a complete construct to be compared to competitors’ solutions and examined at every level.

The result is a better outcome, focused not on contractual terms but on results for the client. And this process goes a long way to eliminate the nettlesome issues around the procurement transition phase because transition is accomplished as the transformation journey progresses. Just imagine.

In John Lennon’s words, I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.

Tales of Outsourcing Horror | The True Story Edition | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Despite all the successes in the marketplace, we all know there have been outsourcing arrangements that have gone terribly awry. So, in the spirit of Hallowe’en, I wanted to share some true outsourcing horror stories. But, be forewarned, and read on at your own risk…these true stories will send chills up and down your spine. 

Sales process | the secret in the lab

A service provider’s salesperson and solution architect promised to a large enterprise client a transformational technological solution that would save considerable amounts of money, enable realization of all its objectives, etc. The client was very happy with the promise of the solution, as it knew similar approaches provided by other service providers had been successful for the buyer organizations.

But when the engagement moved from transition to presumable steady state, and the results were supposed to start coming to fruition, the provider’s on the ground team had no idea what the client was talking about. The salesperson and solution architect knowingly and willingly sold a solution that their company did not have and had no intention of creating.

Sadly, the secret in the lab for the client was that there was no solution. And not at all surprisingly, the deal faltered and the provider was terminated. 

Transition | the monster under the bed

A client that had never outsourced before believed that transition management was the provider’s job, and thus chose to have no involvement in the process. Of course, without active participation from the client, things started to slide. The client began sensing things were going awry, but the provider consistently assured the client that all was fine. The client asked all the right questions, but because they weren’t actively involved, had no insight into what was lurking below.

When they got to the go live date, the provider listed a litany of things that weren’t yet ready, and in a real attempt to make the transition work, suggested alternatives. The client rightly questioned what impact the alternatives would have, but – looking at the situation from its own risk perspective, and truly wanting to fix the issues – the provider again assured the client there wouldn’t be any problems

Of course, there were massive problems. Missed deadlines, impossible turnaround times, finger pointing. The engagement became such a train wreck that no amount of corrective actions could recover the client’s original objectives.

Moral of the story? If you think there’s a monster hiding under your bed, don’t expect someone else to check for you. Actually, the real moral of the story is that it takes two parties to do the transition tango, and buyers must take management responsibility and accountability for their portions of the transition.

Governance | drinking the witches’ brew

For a number of years, a client was very happy with its ITO provider. It was productive, innovative, and collaborative. But, over time, the provider languished and lacked energy, and the initial objectives that everyone had been focused on seemed to die. Hard feelings grew, and eventually one person on the provider’s governance team developed an axe to grind with his client-side counterpart. Before anyone realized what was occurring, this influential person fed his witches’ brew to all his team members. The poison then spread to all the client’s governance team members. The bitter taste in everyone’s mouths grew until every meeting was a new, adversarial battle between the two separate factions. They could no longer work together toward a positive end result.

Ultimately, the only way the deal could be salvaged was by replacing enough people on both governance teams with new people who hadn’t sipped the poison.

On this day before All Hallows’ Eve, be aware that ghosts, ghouls, and goblins may be lurking in your deal. But also be aware that accountability, governance, and knowledge can help you spot and fight the bogeyman.


Photo credit: Flickr

Introducing the Everest Group BPS Top 50™ | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

The global third-party BPS industry has evolved rapidly over the past decade or so, in breadth and depth of services. What started as largely a cost optimization play focused on non-core back-office business processes today has expanded to encompass the entire business process value chain supporting a wide variety of business objectives, including agility, flexibility, compliance, and improved business outcomes, among others.

With that evolution has come growth – the BPS industry today is valued at about $150 billion – and, as you might anticipate, interest among service providers from a broad range of backgrounds and heritages. In fact, Everest Group estimates that there are more than 200 service providers with more than US$50 million in revenues around the globe, some pure-play BPS providers, some that offer BPS as part of a broader portfolio, some focused on a particular domain or geography, some broad-based.

Yet, with all that expansion, what’s lacking in the industry are reference points to identify and compare the largest providers by size globally. Until now.

Everest Group is unveiling our first ever BPS Top 50 to fill this gap. With this list, enterprises can now identify the largest providers and their functional coverage. Service providers can now compare themselves against others in the industry. In the coming years, all industry stakeholders will be able to understand the broad dynamics of the growth and success in the industry.

 
Download the BPS Top 50
 

Adapting to Evolving Client Needs – the New Mantra of Growth for Smaller Contact Center Service Providers | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

As a USD$70-75 billion market that has been growing steadily at 5-7 percent over the last few years, contact center outsourcing (CCO) has captured the interest of multiple non-CCO specialist service providers in the recent years. In fact, the more generalized ITO and BPO providers that have started CCO operations in the last decade have realized appreciable growth and success in recent years, some of them outdoing the market growth and growing in excess of 8 percent CAGR.

However, it’s not been an easy journey for these relatively new entrants, given their relative small scale and scope of operations compared to the incumbent players, some of which make billions in revenue through contact center services alone and have operations across all major geographies. To differentiate themselves, these new players have tried to stand out from crowd through innovation, and by tapping areas within the CCO space that have showed the maximum growth in the last few years and have emerged as value propositions for CCO clients.

Most of these high-growth players are, in fact, relatively smaller players, such as Genpact, HCL, HGS, TCS, and WNS. While many have had long-standing contact center capabilities, it has only been more recently that these firms have taken a more strategic go-to-market approach to pursuing the stand-alone CCO market. Their revenues from CCO operations are in the USD$100-450 million range, which is miniscule in size when compared to some of the bigger players such as Convergys and Teleperformance. To sustain their above market growth, these providers have adopted multiple steps to emerge as serious contenders. Instead of merely tapping the traditional CCO markets such as North America and Europe, these players have aggressively expanded their footprint in emerging buyer geographies such as Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, and Middle East & Africa. By building their capabilities in languages specific to these areas, they have been able to cater to client demands better. They have also been making their presence felt in some of the fastest growing verticals in the CCO market, such as retail, healthcare, and travel & hospitality. Many of them have effectively leveraged their organization’s overall investments in vertical industry expertise to further enhance CCO capabilities and offerings. A key differentiator for many of these players is their ability to link the consumer interaction in the contact center with downstream industry-specific processes by delivering front-back office integrated solutions. These investments seem to have paid off well, as the revenues from these verticals have shown sharp growth for these service providers.

Our research shows that buyers are looking more towards building deeper working relationships with fewer CCO service providers. This means that buyers no longer expect service providers to just deliver on SLAs, but are looking for value beyond labor arbitrage. More contracts being signed now involve value-added processes, and include non-voice channels such as email, chat, and social media. To address these new value propositions, these high-growth players have invested in multiple technologies to build their capabilities in these domains. Most of them have leveraged their vast IT and BPO expertise to deliver solutions specific to contact center needs.

They have also made it a priority to focus on building strong relationships with their clients. They have performed quite strongly on Everest Group’s buyer satisfaction survey, and have frequently been cited for their flexibility, responsiveness, consistency, and execution. With buyers looking to consolidate their portfolio of work with fewer strategic partners, it becomes more essential to have a stronger client-service provider relationship, which the service providers can only achieve by walking that extra mile to keep clients happy with their services.

With the changing scenario in the CCO market, where the focus has shifted from improving the bottom line to adding more value to the operations and thus improving the top line for clients, scale can no longer be considered the primary metric for assessing a service provider. The focus has shifted to cost savings through process improvement and business outcomes, and this provides these relatively new generation high-growth players enough opportunity to prove their mettle in the market where they have been aligning their capabilities with changing client needs. Everest Group’s findings show that clients are taking notice and giving these providers a chance to prove themselves.


Photo credit: Flickr

Automated Services Need a New Licensing Structure | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Service Delivery Automation (SDA) encompasses cognitive computing as well as RPA (robotic process automation). Software providers that provide SDA come to market with an enterprise licensing structure that basically requires the customer to license a number of agents for a specific length of time. But in using this licensing model, service providers unintentionally constrain adoption and open the door for competitors’ differentiation.

The problem is that many of the uses for SDA are cases where companies need variable amounts of agents and computers. For example, the client may have a million transactions to process. So it could buy a license for one agent to run through those transactions in a week; but to reduce cycle time requires buying the license for 10,000 virtual agents for one hour. At Everest Group, we clearly see clients becoming frustrated with this lack of licensing flexibility.

This situation calls for a consumption-based approach to SDA in which the customer pays the software provider handsomely, but the provider doesn’t constrain or force unnatural motions on its customers and doesn’t create unnecessary cycle-time issues.

This blog is a call to service providers to come up with a consumption-based pricing model for SDA services. I’m not advocating that providers give away their software or take less money for it. I am saying that the current pricing structure inhibits adoption and is a constraint on the growth of the industry. Employing a consumption-based pricing model doesn’t mean that the client won’t pay a fair compensation or that the provider won’t be profitable. To achieve this, providers need to create some kind of metering vehicle in which time or activities are metered and they need to link their pricing to this meter.


Photo credit: Flickr

DevOps: Disruptive and Changing the Purchase of IT Services | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Businesses now demand that IT departments dramatically change the velocity of the cycle time it takes to take ideas from concept to production – often from as long as 12-18 months to only four to six weeks. Organizations can’t achieve a change of this magnitude with just a change in methodology. To do this, they must move to DevOps – a disruptive phenomenon with immense implications for the enterprise IT ecosystem and the service providers that support it.

Put another way, many IT firms batch or create software releases once or twice a year in which they bring out updates to their enterprise platforms. Businesses now demand a cycle time of one to two times a month for updates. What they want and need is a continuous-release construct.

Methodology alone cannot create the conditions in which organizations can form ideas, build requirements, develop code, change a system and do integration testing in the new timeframes. Hence the DevOps revolution.

DevOps is the completion of the Agile methodology. It builds the enabling development tools, integrates test conditions, and integrates the IT stack so that when developers make code changes, they also configure the hardware environment and network environment at the same time.

To do this, an organization must have software-defined data centers and software-defined networks, and all of this must be available to be tested with automated test capabilities. By defining coding changes with network and system changes all at the same time and then testing them in one integrated environment, organizations can understand the implications and allocate work as desired. The net result is the ability to make the kind of cycle time shifts that businesses now demand.

DevOps implications

DevOps enables IT departments to meet the cycle time requirements. But the implications for how organizations buy services and how providers sell services are profound. Basically the old ways don’t work as well because of the new mandate for velocity and time. This causes organizations to rethink the technology, test beds, and service providers; and then manage the environment on a more vertical basis that cuts across development, maintenance, and testing, and allows the full benefit of a software-defined environment.

Let’s examine pricing, for example. Historically, coding and testing are provided on a time-and-materials basis. The productivity unleashed in a DevOps environment enables achieving approximately a 50 percent improvement in efficiency or productivity. Therefore, it is as cannibalistic or as disruptive to the development and maintenance space as cloud is to the infrastructure environment.

Furthermore, organizations can only operate a DevOps environment if they have a software-defined hardware environment – aka a private or cloud environment. This forces production into ensuring they perform all future development in elastic cloud frames.

Enterprises today are reevaluating where they locate their talent. Having technical talent in a remote location with difficult time zone challenges complicates and slows down the process, working against the need for speed.

So DevOps is a truly disruptive phenomenon that will disrupt both the existing vendor ecosystem and also the software coding and tool frames. Testing, for example, has been a growth area for the services industry, but DevOps environment largely automate testing services.

Another disruption is that DevOps takes a vertical view of the IT life cycle. It starts to integrate the different functional layers, creating further disruption in how organizations purchase IT services.

DevOps offerings are a new development among service providers, but the services industry to date has been slow to adopt the movement. DevOps is an internal threat to their existing business and requires providers to rethink how they go to market.

Three Ways Services Customers Can Switch to as-a-Service Model | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

As the services industry begins moving into the as-a-service era customers look for providers that change their traditional services to make them elastic or consumption based. We at Everest Group have spent some time studying this, and we believe there are three key ways to change take-or-pay (fixed costs oriented) services and make them elastic (pay as used). One or even a combination of all three ways are present in the services model that customers now demand.

1. Multitenant sharing

Customers benefit from a provider sharing its capacity among multiple clients. AWS and Salesforce are classic examples of this elastic type of service. They redeploy servers or capacity when not in use to other customers and therefore achieve an extremely high utilization rate. In fact, arguably, AWS has over 100 percent utilization rate because it can charge customers for capacity when they’re not using it, yet can use that capacity for other clients. The model is much like an airline selling more seats than its actual capacity.

2. Automation

Repeatable process automation (RPA) or robotics spins up a virtual robot to do the work and then shut it down again. This fundamentally aligns a customer’s costs with usage and thus makes the service elastic.

3. Change purchasing method

The third way customers can have elastic services is to change their purchasing so that they only buy services as they use them. An example of this would be changing the way a customer acquires software, switching from enterprise licenses to consumption-based licenses where the customer pays for the software only as they use it. A note of caution here for customers: Although this makes the service elastic to you, there may be a stranded cost to your provider, and that cost may be embedded at a higher cost to you in your cost structure. So be careful about overly using the purchasing mechanism to make a component of your IT service stack be elastic.

Although customers can use these three methods separately, it is also beneficial to look for service providers that use a combination of all three methods to make a material difference to an entire service line to make the service far more flexible and consumption based to meet your needs.

We have not uncovered other mechanisms to make a provider’s service line elastic, but we are very interested to know if you have discovered another way to achieve elastic services. Please post your comment and share your experience.


Photo credit: Flickr

Have a question?

Please let us know how we can help you.

Contact us

Email us

How can we engage?

Please let us know how we can help you on your journey.