Telecommunications has always been a field for the technologically savvy, but savvy isn't good enough anymore. Today, the expert elite are replacing the technologically behind. "The breadth of skills needed is a challenge," says Peter Griffith, president for the Americas at London, England-based Dataworkforce. "Many clients have highly specialized technical needs. Outsourcing allows them to plug into highly qualified specialists." These specialists are outsourced workers-the "temporary staff" that provide an economical alternative to training programs.
Like everything else in the early 21st century, telecommunications technology evolves rapidly. The last 10 years have seen the rollout of digital networks, a subsequent expansion of the telecommunications industry, and a follow-up shift towards delivery of high technology services. High technology means high need for expert skills-skills that can be difficult and costly to maintain in a full-time staff. Maintaining underutilized staff, combined with ongoing training to keep pace with shifting technology, is becoming cost-prohibitive for many businesses. This is where outsourcing pays off.
Outsourcing "has real value for the bottom line," says Griffith, not only in reduced expenses, but in overall profitability. It allows clients "more time to focus on core activities such as customer service," which results in greater customer satisfaction and a subsequent increase in business.
Fostering a Partnership Is a Must
But increased effectiveness can be a temporary gain if employers take a "hire 'em and let 'em loose" approach to outsourcing. "You need a highly skilled contracts administrator," says Michael Savoie, director of the Center of Information Technology and Management at the University of Texas (Dallas). If an outsourcing relationship is handled sloppily, "you can actually wipe yourself out. A risk mitigation strategy is critical." Background checks, an eye to a long-term strategic partnership, and an emphasis on compatible skill sets can all help build an effective outsourcing relationship.
Flexibility counts as well. "It is easy to shorten or extend the duration of this resource to meet the needs of my project," says Kosti Mononen, Taiwan-based buyer for Dataworkforce client Ericsson. "I do not have to worry about a fixed length of stay if my project is prolonged or shortened."
Accountability, another major issue, requires effective client-worker communications to proceed smoothly. Here, too, technological advances have contributed to the growth of outsourcing. Five years ago, feedback could be a month out of date by the time it arrived. "Modern electronic monitoring allows you to get feedback in almost real time," says Savoie, "and from my standpoint, that's probably the most critical component." He recommends weekly, or even daily, contact.
Communication Is Crucial
Even where duties will eventually be transferred to full-time staff, regular communications are crucial. "Proper handover and succession planning are vital," says Griffith. "Often an outsource worker just ups and leaves and coworkers are left wondering" where to pick up the ball. Dataworkforce uses a "handover package"-complete with a detailed report on work done and with contact information for follow-up questions-to avoid leaving holes in the chain of information.
Good communications with an outsourcing service provider are especially important when the worker's base is halfway around the world. While Dataworkforce starts each placement search as close to home as possible, the company has contacts in over 50 countries, and over 75 percent of its clients are global vendors or region-specific operators. Dataworkforce makes special efforts to stay in touch with client needs.
When a business like Ericsson considers hiring a company to supply skilled outsource workers, "the major concern is that you do not know the resource competence, their team working skills, or how suitable they are in dealing with customers," says Mononen. Ericsson overcame these doubts by conducting detailed interviews with the candidate and by presenting clear expectations to the outsourcing service provider.
Unclear or unmet expectations can lead to disaster if the two parties fail to address quality control and liability up front. When expectations are met-even exceeded-outsource workers value a compliment as much as do employees. "Make sure you recognize them," says Savoie. Respect and trust are the secrets of a successful business relationship in any context.
"Outsourcing is a fast and flexible approach to cover resource gaps," says Mononen. Whenever Ericsson does not have enough resources to complete a project--for instance, when a project is larger than anticipated--then he "can rapidly get additional competent resources from Dataworkforce." Often, all it takes is a phone call; within the next 24 hours he's reviewing several resumes to fill the need. This process is much faster than trying to hire staff, according to Mononen. "It is also easy to find a matching resource, since Dataworkforce has a large category of skills. A replacement candidate is also arranged quickly, in case the resource does not meet expected requirements," he continues.
As expectations continue to rise to higher standards, telecommunications businesses will doubtless continue to benefit from outsourcing technical skills.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing can supply highly needed technical skills at far less expense than the regular training needed to keep employee skills up to date.
- Hiring an outsource worker and then forgetting him or her until payday is a recipe for trouble. Regular communications are crucial.
- Outsourcing solves staffing problems in a more timely fashion, sometimes as quickly as overnight.
- Where outsourced duties or projects will eventually be handed over to full-time staff, it is vital to handle the changeover smoothly and to acquire detailed reports and contact information.