Careers: Outsourcing – Out for something different.

A survey this spring by ITNET, an IT and business process management outsourcing specialist, showed that the UK IT outsourcing market had reached £4.4bn a year and was growing faster than any other computer services sector. Adding in the outsourcing of accounting, human resources, facilities management, procurement and the other suitable non-core business functions, this means that outsourcing is a giant industry in this country. One firm that is active in many of these outsourcing disciplines is PricewaterhouseCoopers. Its 100-strong central outsourcing team, which is based in London, includes specialists in accounting, IT, HR, procurement and real estate. Elsewhere, its Business Process Outsourcing Centres of Excellence, where the outsourced activities actually take place, employ many more people. Peter Smith, operations director in PwC’s central team, believes that outsourcing is the way forward for many companies. “I am convinced outsourcing will not be a flash in the pan. There is no doubt we will be the enablers for companies to take advantage of many new avenues of business, such as e-commerce.” Another large outsourcing consultancy is Cap Gemini, which has seen the number of services it offers grow rapidly. Today, around 5,500 of the firm’s 8,500 headcount work in Information Systems Management (ISM), the service offering that provides outsourcing in a range of areas such as applications management, business process management and facilities management. But when Mike Dodsworth, an HR manager in ISM at Cap Gemini, joined the organisation in 1986, fewer than 300 people were employed in outsourcing. While the majority of today’s huge outsourcing headcounts work as operatives and administrators, there are plenty of roles for consultants too. Dodsworth describes three key types of consulting role in the outsourcing division at Cap Gemini. Firstly, people can specialise in the pre-deal stage – talking to clients about their requirements and assisting with the commercial costing of deals. “Secondly,” he says, “we have a need for people who are excellent technicians, so people can stay at the technical level and still be rewarded.” The third key role relates to managing service delivery, which requires plenty of client interaction and can call for the involvement of process redesign teams, technical specialists and those with hands-on experience of running systems. “This means people can move from an environment where they are working on the service delivery of a contract one year to applying that in a consultancy role the next year,” says Dodsworth, who claims this creates a great variety of work for consultants. Clients not requiring a full outsourcing service also call on the expertise of the outsourcing specialists for advice on how to improve their systems. “That’s perhaps the closest we come to a true consultancy role,” says Dodsworth. “Cap Gemini has taken on so many outsourcing deals over time that we have built up lots of best practice.” The potential to move into varying roles is demonstrated by Dodsworth himself, who joined Cap Gemini in 1986 in answer to an advert for a quality assurance manager with a systems development orientation. He then began to specialise in the HR issues associated with outsourcing. “It didn’t take me long to see that at the heart of getting the division to run better was getting the people issues right,” he says. “Even at the sales end an HR presence is important. Clients want to be confident that the outsourcer will treat staff properly.” If outsourcing offers many options, outsourcing consultants themselves require multifaceted skills, according to Rebecca Lobley, recruitment consultant with Alto Resources. “You have to have a sales focus as well as business development skills,” she says. And experience is essential. “We are not looking for 25-year-olds, but for 30-somethings who have been around the block and are used to running large-scale projects,” she adds. At the time of writing, Alto had a vacancy on its books for a consultant in applications outsourcing with the UK consulting arm of a global IT company. The qualities sought included a background in IT outsourcing with experience of large-scale projects, as well as strong people skills. The successful candidate could look forward to a salary of £60,000 plus a bonus and “excellent benefits”, but the right person was proving elusive. “A good applications outsourcing recruit is very hard to find,” says Lobley. “It is a specialism.” Brenda Dainter, director of human resources at ITNET, agrees that finding people with the right skills is tricky. ‘”Most of the high level consultants we have taken on have come through recommendation,” she says. “We have brought in five over the past 18 months, and they have all worked with one another before.” Successful consultants have the ability to relate both to the client and to the business issues. “You need to be able to relate to their business to know if outsourcing is appropriate,” says Dainter. “You have to go in and look dispassionately at the business to see where improvements could be made. Outsourcing consultants don’t need any special skill sets, they just need a higher degree of the skills needed for general consultancy.” The requirement for a higher degree of skills is due the nature of outsourcing, Dainter explains. “The consultants are trying to help the customer through a difficult and often emotional decision about whether or not to outsource. There are many human resource issues. Clients are handing over something they used to control before, and they need reassurance that it will work,” she says. Dodsworth also believes that outsourcing specialists face greater challenges than other consultants in handling client expectations. “With outsourcing, clients pay a very tangible price for the service they receive,” he says. “If the service is in-house, those costs tend to be hidden somewhat.” Some clients also expect service improvements on day one of the outsourcing contract, even before there has been any time to establish service improvement programmes. “It means there is a lot of expectation-setting to be done,” Dodsworth says. One attraction of the outsourcing field is that it involves a wide range of people from different backgrounds. “We have a blend of people like myself who have come in from operations and moved into consulting,” says PwC’s Smith. “We also have people in other consulting roles who move across and people who have come from the audit side. I don’t think there is a stereotype outsourcing consultant yet.” Sarah Perrin is a freelance journalist. A CONSULTANT’S VIEW Peter Smith, operations director in PwC’s central outsourcing team, worked for Ford for 20 years, setting up accounting service centres across Europe. Three years ago Price Waterhouse, as it then was, persuaded him to join. “In PW I could take my skills into the front office and they could be a marketable product,” Smith says. His initial brief was to set up PwC’s first Business Process Outsourcing Centre of Excellence in Rotterdam, to take staff from a BP-Mobil joint venture. “In just over 12 months we transferred over 100 jobs,” says Smith. “Subsequently, we brought more work into the centre.” Last October Smith returned to PwC’s central outsourcing team in the UK. “I help to design our proposal to clients,” he says. “The client likes talking to a guy who has been at the coalface and rolled up his sleeves.” Smith has no regrets about making the move into consulting. “It’s been a wonderful experience,” he says. “Very hard, challenging and different.”

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