Last night saw a good crowd of around 50-60 people gather at Balls Brothers, Mincing Lane, all interested to hear from a distinguished panel about all things outsourcing.
We were told the event was held under the Chatham House rule, and so apart from information already in the public domain most of the comments reported here are unattributed.
The Chair was Stephen Phillips from Morgan Stanley, and the speakers included two heads of information services from leading law firms – Sarah Fahy from Allen & Overy and Kate Stanfield from CMS Cameron McKenna - and two representatives from the vendor community – Greg Simidian CEO of Perfect Information and Liam Brown CEO of Integreon.
There were some common themes from the panel, including the drive for higher quality, the need for extended professional development, and improving communication.
There was agreement that, in law firms at least, engagement with the option of using outsourced services was enabling information managers to ‘step up a rung’ and be taken more seriously by senior management. All sides emphasised the need to get to grips with the underlying business problems and issues and demonstrate how either in-house or outsourced provision of information services best met those needs.
In one case a blended model was being adopted, with some use of outsourced support for more process-based information work while retaining in-house teams for lawyer-facing roles. In another situation outsourcing was being adopted on a more wholesale basis, although the need for a long and thorough preparation phase and tight SLA’s was emphasised. It is important not just to have a clause saying, for example, “research requests will be satisfied within 3 hours” but also “the information provided will be of satisfactory quality” – along with some definition of “sufficient quality”.
An interesting question was raised about how outsoucing firms are going to be able to attract and retain the quality of staff to carry out research and other information management work to the high standards being demanded by law firms. Will they be forced to ride ‘on the coat tails of the reputation of their law firm clients’ or will they be able to offer sufficient training and career development possibilities to attract recruits on their own merits?
One of the panellists mentioned that it had taken three years of training visits and secondments to an outsourced centre to bring them up to the expected standards and make the team self-sustaining. Some commented that today firms may not have the luxury of three years to make it work – while others said that today there was a better pool of staff and better management structures in place so it shouldn’t take this long now.
Another area that was discussed was around access to the information content itself, and how the information providers and publishers could maintain relationships with their users. In ‘traditional’ outsourcing (ie, offshoring to a centre in a low-cost economy such as India) it has worked well, especially since the vendors hired local customer services staff. With the newer blended models (ie, with some outsource staff embedded at the client site, some at onshore centres and some offshore) it was still too early to tell but there was a concern that contact with the actual end users of the information might be impeded by the addition of the extra contractual and physical layer of the outsourcing agreement. Any such lack of contact could impact on future product development, for example.
Overall the panel agreed that the key things they have learnt so far on their journey to a new model of providing information services were:
· Communication is key – with senior management, with your teams and with the outsourcer
· Relationships are vital
· The process must start by addressing the underlying business problem
By this time it was almost 8.00pm and some very tempting looking food was being laid out, so the evening adjourned to a hot buffet and networking. There were still 30 or 40 people in the room when I slipped out to catch my train at 9.00pm, so the topic had clearly generated a lot of conversation!
- Nicola Franklin
- Nicola Franklin