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Is the branding of oursourcing missing the marketing tenet of customer focus?
Is a re-alignment of values likely to help us steer to sunnier outlooks for future outsourcing harmony?

Has “Outsourcing” become a dirty word? Time for a re-brand? ‘Is it time to rebrand outsourcing’. However, perhaps the unasked questions are:
• ‘If we change the term ‘outsourcing’, what then the implications for co-sourcing and insourcing terminology?’
• ‘Is it time for outsourcing companies to consider raising their brand image AND customer service standards?’

About Outsourcing Standards
The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) is the professional association for the outsourcing industry, and was created by the Outsourcing Standards Board (OSB) in 2005. The standards cover these six areas:
• Professional responsibility
• Professional representation
• Accountability for outcomes
• Professional development
• Outsourcing advocacy
• Issue resolution

Roles in the outsourcing arena
The ‘players’ or roles in outsourcing are one of the following:
• Outsourcers who supply or have supplied services to companies. These often seem to get the blame, rightly or wrongly because they deliver the brokered service but are they too constrained to be able to construct and deliver a quality service for the price? Are the risks to them and the client potentially too large or is the vision of a perpetual motion machine just too alluring? Is there time to properly consider needs and wants or an overriding financial demand to just sign up for the next cheapest offer presented on the table and an ever downward driven cost model and hang sustainability, ethics and management responsibility because it’s too complicated and unpopular?
• Professionals who advise outsourcers, advise potential clients seeking to outsource or buy in supplier services. The IAOP has developed a qualification, ‘Certified Outsourcing Professional’ (COP) proving that they meet or exceed the IAOP standards relevant to their role. Are these power brokers the individuals with the upper hand always? Do they/we win no matter what, selling outsourcing if that’s the flavour of the day, and insourcing if it’s not?
• Clients or ‘outsourcing customers’ are companies that seek or have sought outsource solutions typically to their business service or IT services. They appear to be at the bottom of the heap, no longer ‘waiting for whatever a consultant threw into the air to look for the pretty pattern the chaos makes on landing’ as one colleague put it, but ‘digging furiously to evade the …. Personally – that or running like hell.’ Some may be cosseted and comforted, praised and cagouled into wearing a ‘suit of clothes’ but, like the emperor as yet oblivious to the comments of those who have a more realistic view. But who, another colleague sagely pointed out, wants to be the whistleblower who states the obvious? How will the emperor feel? How about the public perception in today’s age? At the ‘bottom’ of the heap, they have no control, no power and can’t hear the din of catastrophe until its too late and, what the heck, a new emperor/CEO can always emerge from pupation when the old one dies. To turn this around and squeeze suppliers not customers and still make decision making easy, I advocate, this customer focus should be on top. After all, they are the ones spending money and most likely to feel pain otherwise.

Standards focused on each role
• The IAOP is DIRECTIONAL from OUTSOURCER TO CLIENT. This is also common to APRA the Australian standards board, ISO is under development TC259: ISO/NP 37500 Outsourcing and is linked to the social responsibility guidance ISO 26000:2010 Social Responsibility, which as guidance, cannot be certified.
• The FBI outsource fingerprint, laboratory and even security work to an extent. They identify ‘channelers’ as third parties who broker confidential information in both directions. Perhaps this term could be more widely used to describe brokers of outsourcing agreements and the transmission of services and products or components.
• ISO 13485:2003: Maintaining Control of Outsourced Processes which deals with manufacturing, is one of the few DIRECTIONAL from CLIENT TO OUTSOURCER, though it talks about the recipients being ‘organisations’ because of potential confusion with their clients, who, incidentally, are often denied the right to know which parts of services are outsourced for commercially sensitive reasons.

In all cases, the global standards that ought to determine how we do business internationally seem to be at best new and at worst, in fact not at all as global as perceived by most from the word ‘global’. In fact the current ISO 37500 in construction, only has 13 countries that have signed up to it by mid 2012.

For almost all these cases, ‘client’ is not only confusing, it is seen as subservient to and even perhaps demeaning relative to the providers of outsourcing services in terms of control.

Terminology and power for the entire outsource buying marketplace – the missing standard and brand
As far as we are aware, there is no overarching widely accepted term for the recipient of outsourced services nor is there an organisation representing these disparate organisations such that they can wrestle control back to them; this in an environment where perceived and unfortunately often the actual level of service and / or customer experience, especially in outsourced BPO and IT Services, falls short of what the ‘clent’ and the poor ‘end client’ anticipates. So far gone is this control, that it is the butt of many jokes and the pride of many organisations branding that they do not outsource this type of service and so regard their offering as superior in some way. Whilst organisations choosing to band together in their normal peer groups such as National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and The NHS Trusts’ Association in the public sector and perhaps the Institute of Directors (IoD) and Chambers of Commerce to name but a few in the public sector, do have more influence than individual in creating changes for improved services and standards, they do not have the power that a truly national outsourcing recipient association or council body could have, let alone an ambitious global one.

So, control and branding needs to concentrate on the terminology and power of ‘the client’, else ‘customer focused outsourcing’ is so much hot air, it is will be prone to el nino effects outside our control. ‘Outsourcing’ need not be a dirty word causing disasters in any organisation that employs it. We go on holiday to sunny climates for rest, recuperation and shared warmth – somewhere with better and unique food and total experience than we have at home, and similarly, potential outsource clients seeking the best outsourcing agreements in the right countries at the right time should be entitled to the best they can afford working in a sustainable manner. In time or by intention, they may seek a more long term holiday home in that country and establish even closer ties with proven outsourcers.

It is not just about making outsourcing easier, but about making it more cost efficient, a relationship more in control and better for all, whatever the weather.

Deborah Stevens, Technical Communicator and Proprietor of Clever Resourcing
And Associate at Transaction Focus