Our theme for 2016 is all about us “getting back to basics” as a services industry, and nothing exemplifies this more than what the buyers and providers privately said about each other at the recent HfS Working Summit in Harvard Square. Once we get past all the talk of disruption and change, the real issue holding back progress is the simple fact that too many of today’s services relationships are just not set up to be collaborative ventures.
What’s more, in spite of all the chest-pumping from providers on their revolutionary capabilities to turn their clients’ business models on their heads, over half their clients still perceive them as brokers of cost-efficiency… not capability:
I am sure many of you are muttering to yourself, “This is very consistent with previous studies HfS has run” – and you are correct. Little is changing. However, it’s worse than just the buyers’ having negative perceptions of service providers… 80% of buyers simply aren’t engaging with their providers in a collaborative way:
Until we can break this legacy master/slave culture, this industry will continue to stagnate
Here are three measure that could break the cycle:
1) Buyers need to entrust more higher-value work to their providers, with their leadership incentivizing their middle-managers to “let go”. Many buyers consistently admit they need to entrust their provider with higher value work to improve the quality of their engagement. But this isn’t really about trust, it’s more about the buyer letting go and having the confidence to give their service provider more responsibility, which would make them more effective at their own jobs. Sadly, most middle-managers have absolutely no motivation to entrust more to their service provider -and, frankly, why should they? What motivation would you have to make yourself less dispensable to your firm? So it’s up to their leadership to force the issue, either by demanding more work is outsourced, or by incentivizing their managers by giving them more motivating work to do… with real financial and career benefits to do so.
2) Automation is the “new offshoring”, so leverage RPA to create renewed opportunities to collaborate. The next wave of value is blending global sourcing with the mimicking of manual processes in RPA software that are predominantly high throughout, high intensity tasks. All enterprises have varying potentials for real automation value to be created by robotizing rote manual tasks. And most of the respectable service providers have invested in capabilities to develop an RPA strategy for their clients. Buyers must learn from mistakes of the past to look beyond short term cost savings and create a broader intelligent automation strategy, which also creates significant opportunities to establish more collaborative, value-added relationships with their service partners. Moreover, it is in the interests of buyside managers to put automation capabilities on their resumés as CEOs increasingly demand a cohesive plan to create a more automated operating platform to support non-linear future growth for their firms.
3) Weave Design Thinking into engagements to shift the impetus towards mutually beneficial outcomes. The less hyped, but nevertheless creeping uptake of Design Thinking is helping several relationships inject lateral thinking and renewed motivation to work together, not only in the customer-facing front office, but also in the back office operational functions. Design Thinking in services is based, primarily, on both service buyer and provider coming together to create business outcomes that are mutually beneficial – and motivational – for both parties. However, this must be established as ongoing collaboration across all key relationship stakeholders, and not simply two days of senior management putting sticky notes on each others’ foreheads. There must be senior pressure and buy in to adopt Design Thinking as a means to move away from Six Sigma-obsessed old world models, and really change the way the service buyer and provider teams work together. We’re seeing encouraging signs from several providers aggressively promoting Design Thinking techniques, such as Infosys, IBM and Cognizant, into their engagements, but this is still restricted to far too few a number of buyers at this stage. But Design Thinking, and new creations of Design Thinking-eque collaborative methods are increasingly important ways to bring together new concepts and ideas, better teamwork, and ways to design outcomes jointly that can incporporate investments from both sides.