Buying Services not Servers:
A way forward in the Recession
There are signs that the recession in the UK is beginning to end. Demand for products
and services seems to be increasing, albeit from a very low point. Confidence is
increasing, but cash remains a big problem. Short term borrowing is not easy to
obtain and the cost is extraordinary. So the double whammy of having to keep costs
to a minimum while trying to grow the revenue profitably is a substantial business
In times of growth, change management teams are working on expanding capacity and
getting into new lines of business. In these times, firms are looking for ways to
maintain revenues and cut operational costs; decisions have to be made rapidly and
mistakes can be disproportionately costly. To be successful, a good understanding
of the realities of the business activities is essential. Probably the changes companies
routinely make at times like these, such as cutting travel & training, have already
been done. So now is the time to examine cuts in other areas – probably described
with the euphemism of Lean (Lean processes, Lean organisation, etc.). But Lean architecture
takes time to achieve – ask the Toyota Motor Company, around 20 years into the project
and still working at it. Right now, most smaller companies are looking to cut costs
without losing performance, and without losing the opportunity to be agile so that
when demand increases, which the optimists always say is next month, the company
One approach is outsourcing, and one type that has recently gained significance
is the outsourcing of business processes that can be highly automated. Cloud Computing
is the current term for IT services delivered via the internet on a subscription
basis. It is a mature technology that can offer rapid operational improvements and
cost savings, and works by delivering business applications that are accessed by
web browsers, with the software and data residing on remote servers. Cloud Computing
users avoid capital expenditure on IT, and only pay for what they use. Cost matches
activity, and it's a truly flexible cost. It is also a known cost. Most vendors
enter into a Service Agreement lasting 3 to 5 years. Therefore finance teams can
budget accurately. Set up costs are minimal and the time to deploy is very fast.
As the Cloud Computing delivery model matures, vendors naturally achieve a consolidation
of knowledge in the market place and not only become the centre of excellence but
also the arbiters of best practice. This is achieved in a very democratic way with
each customer influencing the vendor. This works most clearly in the horizontal
applications such as Accounting, Payroll and HR Management. An organisation really
does not want a different payroll process to its competitor. It wants the job done
accurately with enough management information to run the business well, and it would
like the activity to cost less, because that is where competitive advantage arises.
By subscribing to the best of Business Process Management (BPM) for common commercial
tasks such as customer relationship management, purchase order processing, or employee
case management, organisations can quickly improve their operations and strip out
considerable costs. There has hardly been a better time to examine outsourcing the
'must-do' work that adds no value.
Outsourcing is worth considering right now, because:
- The technology to spread the work load is widely available and can be made secure.
- Domain experts can now offer 'Best-Practice,' and have available capacity
- Services are available for deployment that reduce ongoing costs without the need
for capital investment
- Service providers can offer substantial economies of scale.
Salesforce.com (SFDC) has been supplying CRM services for over a decade now. Although
they might deny it, theirs is now a mature business model. Instead of having to
buy equipment and run it to provide applications to the workforce, SFDC customers
just buy a subscription for their team. It was launched as Software as a Service
(SaaS), but now the term Cloud Computing is the more accepted description. Customers
save on capital expenditure and interest costs, and reduce their dependence on internal
IT. The majority of SFDC users have no idea where their data is stored, and why
should they? They just want the defined service available to them wherever they
are! Each SFDC customer can request customisation of 'their' service, but the changes
are limited so each customer can enjoy what the vendor defines as 'Best-Practice'
Since SaaS was first adopted, internet connectivity and security has improved dramatically.
Firewalls, spyware detectors, encryption, Virtual Private Networks (VPN), have had
a substantial effect in safeguarding traffic. The covert presence of hackers on
the internet, who caused more fear than harm and were popularly represented as gaunt
bearded young men in the 90's Hollywood movies, have been largely superseded by
an impressive body of ethical hackers who police all major computer installations.
TechTrek has these skills on the workforce to protect clients moving sensitive data
around the internet. There is now substantially more risk with moving paper documents
around than sending e-documents across the web.
In the last ten years IT has become commoditised. There are only a few organisations
in the world that get competitive advantage through IT investment, and if they are
not governments then they are specialist giants with revenues in the same order
of magnitude as countries. There was a case of two large US investment banks merging,
and after the agreements were in place, the two IT teams began to have meetings
to see how they could drive efficiencies from the new landscape. It quickly became
apparent that the two teams had very different views. One built everything they
could themselves and ensured that the hardware was the best they could get. This
consumed nearly 20% of corporate gross margin, but had made the bank the success
it was. The other team had bought in software and only amended it when necessary.
Upgrades were not applied unless there was a business case. The result – IT expenditure
was under 10% on the same basis. A huge difference in spend. Under the spotlight
of the merger, the new management team could see that both IT teams had contributed
about equal value to their respective corporations. This meant that the extra money
spent by one team was a waste.
IT is now in the same category as electricity and water which managers buy from
the cheapest supplier who can provide a constant supply. Electricity only gets attention
when it's not there. It's an important part of any Business Continuity plan, but
nobody buys electricity at a premium price because of a quality of the electron
stream. Premium pricing is almost impossible to achieve, and discounts are available
for requirements scheduling that suit the vendor. Its commodity pricing, and this
is where IT has arrived for almost all organisations.
In Nicolas G Carr's highly influential article he suggests three new rules for
Studies show that companies with the biggest IT investment rarely post the best
financial results. In our times of expensive capital and tight margins, there are
substantial penalties for extravagant expenditure. IT over-spending is unlikely
to provide competitive advantage, but is almost certain to create a cost disadvantage
for your firm.
Follow, don't lead
Moore's Law guarantees that the longer you wait, the more you will get for your
IT purchase. As soon as a purchase has been made, the hardware and software becomes
out of date. The question now is: - why buy servers, if you can meet the business
need by buying service?
Focus on vulnerabilities, not opportunities
For most of us, the opportunity to gain substantial competitive edge through IT
deployment of any kind has passed. However, we have become so dependent upon IT,
that even minor disruptions can cause huge problems. Risk Management is an expensive
and specialised activity. Most companies would benefit from buying-in that skill
as part of the IT package.
Companies such as SFDC and TechTrek have specific applications, such as CRM and
Purchase Invoice Processing, ready for subscribers. Customers just have to join
us and agree the Services Contract. This saves time and helps organisations deal
with cost reduction issues quickly and without the need for capital investment.
In the current climate, cash is king. Companies that can perform with costs stripped
out of operations will out-perform their markets.
New innovations benefit from small dedicated organisations that are fleet of foot
and mind. Stories of new business ideas being built in dad's garage are legion.
However, before long cash requirements increase as capital is required to support
revenue growth. This trend favours a larger operation; and finally, the critical
success factors become economy of scale and the balance sheet to support the operations.
The histories of firms building motor cars, aeroplanes, or computers amply illustrate
Most companies that run an accounts package on internal hardware and software will
never reduce their finance management operating costs through economies of scale.
In fact as people costs rise so will the firms' support costs – inexorably. But
the way to save considerable cost is to subscribe to a service with thousands of
users in order to share the benefit of that economy of scale.
Business Process Outsourcing can provide double digit performance improvements,
and most projects deliver returns within months so benefits can be seen within the
current fiscal year! Outsourcing with a specialist, such as TechTrek, not only reduces
project risk, but also drives performance through:
- Bottom-line performance improvements
- Reduced requirements for cash to fund internal operations
- Increased effectiveness of service delivery
- Enhanced corporate agility through planned change management
- Better utilisation of technology
- Ongoing access to specialised knowledge and expertise
The opportunity for organisations to increase operational capacity AND reduce capital
employed is probably one of the most important business opportunities of our time.
Improved technology has made it practical to outsource process automation while
maintaining control of the work. The set up costs are low and the cash returns high.
This type of outsourcing has the effect of increasing the very important business
ratio of return on capital employed.
The best way for most companies to move forward in the current economic climate
is to purchase services rather than buying servers; to engage in a contract for
defined business services rather than upgrading to the latest version of software.
As Nick Carr would say 'IT doesn't matter: business performance does.'
Business Process Outsourcing is probably the most important option to growth when
recovering from a recession.
Rob Allen is Head of Professional Services for TechTrek Ltd and
is based in London. He is a Fellow of the Workflow Management Coalition working
on the business rules that XML dialects have to accommodate to enable inter entity
business process automation. The TechTrek team are insourcing business services
for clients in the private and public sector.
TechTrek Ltd deploys world class business process services accessible
from anywhere. The TechTrek team work energetically with its clients to strip out
inefficiencies and costs in their operations by optimising the role of out-sourced
document and business process management. By creating common methods, entities,
standards and rules, TechTrek services reduce capital employed and fixed costs,
while increasing agility and providing economies of scale in non-core activities.