Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

To outsource or not to outsource?

Coming from a background at one of the biggest consulting, technology and outsourcing firms in the world people are often surprised when I pipe up in meetings concerned about outsourcing a piece of work (and I pipe a lot!).  I suspect people just think I'm a massive grump and I hate agencies.

It's not that I am anti-outsourcing, anti-agency, or anti-recruiter it's just that I genuinely think that there are times when a decision to outsource makes sense, and there are times when it just doesn't. Making the wrong decision (especially when it's in favour of outsourcing) can be painful, costly and lengthy, however for some unknown reason 'marketing people' are always incredibly keen to 'just throw it at an agency'. I have no idea why - maybe their massive budgets are burning a whole in their pockets? Or maybe they've just not read twosaqueue's guide to outsourcing.

I'm assuming here by the way that you have an element of choice some companies have no internal tech, or more commonly for retailers who started off in physical stores - no internal web tech. You might find some of the points below interesting if that's the situation you're in but this is very much the list I check against when trying to resource our own internal projects.

Reasons you shouldn't outsource...
Because you can.

Some of the worst words I hear in my day to day life are 'I have budget'. Outsourcing isn't really ever about the money. Do it for the wrong thing and you could be stuck spending that same money over and over again. The question I sometimes ask is "Does it really matter?" I guess what I mean by that is once this project is over will the decision to outsource it cause any issues. A year down the line what difference will who did it make? In consultant speak - architecturally does it make sense to outsource this project? This is probably the most common reason I disagree with things being outsourced. I have absolutely no problem outsourcing the build of emails for example - who built them makes absolutely zero difference to our architecture whatsoever. I don't mind outsourcing the build and installation of our wordpress blog (though we didn't in the end) - again it makes zero difference who set it up. Anything core though - anything which makes us who we are as a business, is unique to our product, or touches our application - well that's a different question

For an easy life

Outsourcing isn't really any easier than doing something yourself. It's just a different type of hard. The management of third parties, 'being' the client, answering questions - all bring with them their own types of pain. It's rarely an easy way out so if your motivation is that it's less painful then question yourself.

Because it's too hard

One of the things I really resent on behalf of my team is when people suggest outsourcing interesting work because it looks scary or hard. Challenging work is the lifeblood of teams - people can't really step up or stretch themselves when they get day to day work while an agency gets to work on the really exciting projects. Give your team some credit and give them the chance to do it.

Because we're scared of doing it ourselves

One of the things which happened to me when I left consulting is I had to adjust to the fact that people didn't listen to me as much anymore. (I know hard to believe right?). But it's true, when a consultant speaks a client is looking at them thinking 'wow that's £1,000 a day worth of words, they know so much, they're so clever', when that same person becomes a permanent resource people just don't think like that anymore. You could even be saying the same things, but for some reason people attach a value and a level of confidence to external parties. My advice would always be to trust yourself, trust your own staff, let them loose. You may be surprised.

Because 'X are the experts

This is so unlikely. There are very few agencies/consultancies/third parties who know their stuff really well. Most of it is sales-y bullshit. That's not to say they won't do a great job, or they won't become experts in the process but I can honestly say I have never been on a project where I have known exactly what I am doing. Certainly in consultancy it's part of the business model: big consultancies employ super smart people who learn fast that's all - if they did it any other way it would be unworkable. Technology, web, marketing all move so fast I can guarantee what you're hiring most of the time is a smart person who knows how to use google. I have about 80 of those in my office so why would I need any more? There are exceptions - payment, legal, fraud - areas of deep expertise without a doubt but if someone thinks they're the expert in mobile, or f-commerce or some similar word they just made up. It's likely rubbish.

When it could negatively affect your system

It's not really outsourcing - more third party tools but I have never in my life seen a javascript/tag driven MVT tool which does not slow down performance. Never. Whatever sales people say in their meetings I have had so much pain implementing these things that I have truly started to hate them. Oh this one could become a rant.

When you already have it

Oh I have seen this one too. Having a capability within your system which you end up paying for twice because no one knows how to use it/didn't know it was there -oh lord. I've left companies where this has happened because I think it is so stupid as to be almost ridiculous. An architecture driven system design is absolutely key in multichannel retail - and wasting money is just plain stupid. Buy a manual, send someone on a course, Google it - for gods sake don't buy it again because an agency make it look easier/faster.

It's sometimes (not always) a good idea to outsource for any of the following reasons - I'll give you these. I'll allow it.

  • You just don't have the skills in house
  • You'd be reinventing the wheel
  • It isn't going to matter in a year who did it
  • It isn't something which needs maintenance
  • It's seperate from your main app/business model

In summary outsourcing is sometimes a necessary evil and often a great idea. There are many many great consultants, agencies, tools out there in the sweet shop of opportunity, but just because it's there doesn't mean you need to buy everything in it - it will likely give you a temporary high, cost a load of money and then make you sick, rot your teeth in the future and make you so lazy you can't leave the shop and you spend your entire life not being able to function without sugar..........OK metaphor gone too far, you get my point - think before you outsource!

1 comment:

MrsD said...

your right on lots of points - my view is if you do stuff yourself your more the master of your own destiny and also your own team might be itching to learn those skills or enhance their own skills in that area - time and time again I have seen great staff leave somewhere because they were not stretched and saw work they wanted to do outsourced

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