Outsourcing arrangements come in many shapes and sizes, and one that has gained ground over recent years is where the service provider’s team is physically based in the client firm’s offices. As well as offering the traditional benefits of outsourcing, onsite teams promote a close affiliation between the two organizations. But the participants must lay the groundwork first if both parties are to derive maximum value from these relationships.
As we discussed in the post Stepping Up to the Onsite Option, the concept of a resident vendor team is not for every shipper organization. Some managers are not comfortable with the idea of embedding outside transportation experts in their departments. These quasi-employees become a part of the office, even though they are still employed by the vendor company.
However, when these relationships work they are extremely effective. An onsite team can offer immediate support and deep domain expertise on many fronts including day-to-day transportation management, network analysis and evaluation, and customer liaison. In addition, they function as in-house consultants – but unlike conventional consulting services are permanent fixtures.
Key to the success of a dedicated team is the preparatory work undertaken before the assignment begins. This is the subject of a column written by Dr. Chris Caplice, Executive Director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, and Dan Ryan, Vice President at C. H. Robinson Worldwide, in the November 2011 issue of the magazine Supply Chain Management Review. According to the authors, there are four important steps you can take to ensure a solid foundation for an onsite team.
The vendor and client companies clearly define the team’s roles and set service expectations. The client firm has to be clear on the extent to which it wants to leverage the onsite team’s strategic capabilities. Ideally, managers at the client end should have a hand in selecting the team members.
Make sure that team members are intimately familiar with their roles and responsibilities. Since the onsite team wears two hats – as the vendor’s employee and the client company’s representative – each member needs to be crystal clear on how he or she is expected to perform. Onsite professionals might encounter situations where they have to make recommendations that are not necessarily in the vendor’s best interest, for example. The team needs to retain its objectivity in these situations, and that requires a firm understanding of the parameters of their job spec.
Establish strategies for keeping the dedicated team connected. Onsite professionals can become isolated if they are kept at arm’s length from the client organization. It is difficult for teams to function as an extension of the client company when they are an island within that organization. Similarly, the team has to remain engaged with the vendor firm through regular debriefings.
Map a clear career path for onsite professionals. The onsite experience is invaluable from a career perspective, since individuals are given the opportunity to see the business through the client’s eyes. Onsite staff should be aware of these benefits, and the vendor firm needs to make sure that onsite talent is developed through formal and experiential learning.
Is your organization a good fit for an onsite engagement? There are many factors to consider. Two distinct advantages are being comfortable with delegating responsibilities to non-employees, and a preference for face-to-face relationships with third-party advisers. But as we point out in the Stepping Up to the Onsite Option post, the magic ingredient is trust.