As enterprises grow, so do their technology and expenses. The asset management approach of these functions often takes one of two paths:
- Keep resources in-house for as long as it meets “better, faster, cheaper,” criteria
- Outsource all non-critical services when in-house management becomes too cumbersome to maintain, allowing the team to focus on the primary business strategy
Some may find a hybrid approach is appropriate rather than choosing all or nothing. No matter how many seasons an enterprise has, there comes a point when outside expertise is needed. At any stage, a measured approach to managed services can seamlessly complement in-house capabilities.
As a telecom technology expense management, bill payment, and consulting firm, TruNorth has the challenge of managing its own internal processes while maintaining focus on its business, which is to provide client services. President Emily Lindner offers her unique perspectives on running a business from the operations side and how she recognizes when to look outside for help so the business can focus on its clients’ needs.
Lindner keeps the following theme in mind when she looks outside for services: “’You’re only as strong as your weakest link.’ I think of that line often, weighing potential risk to reputation when considering outsourcing.”
She offers these helpful tips for how to manage vendor services when an enterprise is ready to move forward with outsourcing so its team can focus on the demands of the business.
Capture expectations in writing
“We tell our partners at the point of engagement that our expectations are really high, and we’re clear with those expectations in writing. This clarity is critical. It doesn’t have to be overboard and so many pages that nobody references it, but it should go beyond where nothing is in writing — it lies somewhere in the middle. If I want X report on the first of the month, I want to know it will get done. Without that clarity, relationships can easily go awry.”
Identify ownership with signatures
“Introducing a formal charter in the process forces clarity and ownership, and we all sign it. There’s something magical about the signature. I attest my team, processes, and software will do this. Changes may be made, but there needs to be accountability.
“Third-party management doesn’t exonerate professional responsibility for internal processes. The more links we have, the more risks. When we rely on external partners our team is liberated to focus on core competencies, staying within our sweet spot. Robot, midnight work can be done better, faster, cheaper. If instead, we decided to build a tangential function inhouse, we would constantly own the job of managing it as a product, so we commit to focus on our core competencies, considering this our ‘highest and best use’ and find partners who are continuing to elevate their programs to support us in our needs.”
Partner with a similar organization
Lindner points to TruNorth’s selection with Zudy as a software platform provider, as one example of when the answer to the question of “build versus buy” was to buy. “When I thought back to why, it’s because we believe in the same development framework, which is Agile. Do you believe the same thing? Yes. Partnerships are more successful when you share both values and vernacular.”
Establish transparency with collaboration tools
“No matter what company you partner with, there has to be transparency into the work. Collaboration tools can further this, whether it’s Asana or Teams or Slack. We demand (and deliver) full transparency with our partners; both sides benefit from visibility into each other’s work. This really catapults the ability to feel you’re on the same team. Transparency leads to trust. A great deal of email and phone calls can be eliminated with collaboration tools give that transparency.” While Lindner demands this transparency with her vendors, it is also expected by her clients.
“We deliver the same transparency that we demand because it’s valuable. Our clients have full visibility into our workflow — one-click answers build trust and eliminate the need to ask, ‘Where are you on this?’
“It gives a free flow of progress and underpins a healthy, productive relationship. The efficiencies gained through quick answers drive rapid results and more value. It helps us all. Frankly, the pandemic catapulted innovation around the adoption of collaboration tools, which has changed the way we work for the better.”