March 2013


Choosing a supplier is allot like a beauty contest, you know that the contestants are all in the same league but you need to choosing the virtues most befitting to your liking.

“You Get What You Pay For”

ImageOn a regular basis we and probably every other adviser is asked, “who is the best to do this sort of work”.  Usually this request is further qualified by a particular skill or geographic region that the provider is a part of.  While I am not particularly enamored by this particular approach it is what it is.  Possible created as the result of years of practice followed, although unpolished, it remains a step that has been repeated and the path now worn has become the way.

I have seen over two decades an ever shifting interest in certain regions, providers and often driven by the talent pools.  One cannot assume that things will always remain the same,  We have seen some regions rise rapidly to the top and almost overnight they disappear from the radar only to reappear a few years later.  It seems that most of the time its not because of ability, cost or talent but rather the marketing investments and their never ending up-and-down spending cycles.  One might consider it a feast or famine proposition.  Sometimes created by false expectations that visibility means opportunity but lacking the realization that opportunities does not mean sales.  Yes, this is probably why there is a clear delineation between promotion and pursuits.

As I said, I have been bullish on certain geographic regions and certain types of outsource service providers.  We started our advisory business based on developing formidable enterprises in to credible world class businesses.  Many have gone on to much bigger and more durable enterprises but there has also been those companies that for a variety of reasons have failed to sustain a credible velocity of success.  Possible we are a bit forgiving, we look more at potential then hanging our confidence in known “social” performers (those are the ones with war chests of investable cash, that by their very name are almost assured a place at every contract bidding endeavor).  Let me share with you our personal opinions on a variety of regions, countries and tier players.

We will start out with tier players.  Some might have read this to mean that we are going to give you a run down on ‘named’ companies.  Unfortunately, we will not be doing this but simply we are still convinced that the best-of-the-best in terms of long term commitment, access to all levels of the provider organization, flexibility and price for performance are tier 2 players.  These are those organizations with under 10,000 employees and may span 3 to 5 geographic delivery/service regions.  We remain interested in this group because of potential and not based on name.  Most buyers simply can’t promote a commitment based on name, it has to be based on credible fact.  One might consider that tier 1 players would have the edge but in fact they suffer from those all to common issues involving size, separation between what is promoted and what is delivered, and a lingering contractual paralysis that retards flexibility and change.  The small players (tier III) are ideal if investing in potential, considering for acquisition as a captive, or performing labor intensive – low intellectual investment type work.  But there is a risk, even if there is a great social value being achieved, as might be the case with impact sourcing enterprises.

Let’s explore regions.  It is quite clear that the Asia market has created intense global interest with a sustained dominant commitment for nearly three decades.  There are also cautions that involve regional stability, quality of staff, level of service and the ever present increase in price (due largely to the low-to-high phenomenon).  What we have seen in both Eastern Europe and in South America is a consistent level of near shore interest but also the appear/disappear/reappear condition.  The vacillation creates concern, buying bewilderment, and a continued commitment to evaluation of credible sources.  We have personally known of some really great and credible companies who struggle because of this situation, none of which is within their ability to control.  If one was to lay blame it would have to rest with ICT organizations who have failed to deliver on their initial commitment to market visibility as an industry sector.   As a surprise to many, the Middle East while not a dominant market serves a credible and stable gateway into the region.  World class financial support allows these operators to do it right, staff it right and will do whatever it takes to engage experts to lend advise.  The cavet…. to be considered an expert you must be willing to be trusted and supportive, this does not mean they are buying your endorsement but you have to serve with heart and conviction.  Last but certainly not least is Africa and what is it strong points?  Desire, conviction, limited outside investment, resources in number and interest in becoming a part.  Countries like Mauritius, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and South Africa remain beacons in the sub-Saharan with Egypt remaining the anchor in North Africa.  But the problem resides in how to basically develop the market from ground level zero, deal with the risk of regional instability (which in Africa can appear overnight) and how can this all be done without continuing the benevolence agenda that is so commonly associated with Africa (and has in part become a part of the social fabric of business and commerce).  There in lies the challenge for Africa and what could be is not, but there will be success stories driven by intelligent and committed Africans, not foreigners.

Now to a few countries.  For the last five years we have been quite bullish on Malaysia due largely to its societal values, stability and quality of workforce. We opt for them over Singapore due in large part to price and resource availability.  There is however allot more than can and should be done in Malaysia and this will require an investment commitment by  leading foreign enterprises.  This is need to further advance research and development, support incubator enterprises and to push the education system beyond the level of achievement at present.  

We are also bullish on the Philippines, not because of cost or resource capacity but because there are spots of up and coming enterprises that are not call center agents but legitimate information technology and knowledge enterprise organizations.  Current foreign investment policy and an over interest in furthering the development of BPO (business process outsourcing) are areas where change will be essential to provide a path for continued service development however.

Mauritius made the bold statement in 2012 that they would lead Africa into outsourcing.  I have the utmost confidence in their vision, determination and committed abilities.  What will enable this is for other African companies to be willing to be a part and not feel that they need to be the lead group.  It remains to be proven but we are hopeful that they will be a catalyst for this to occur (baring that they remain focused on the goal and not distracted by false analytics that so often plague our industry).

In South America we remain convinced that both Brazil and Argentina are two great sources .  We also see Chili as up and coming along with Panama and possibly Mexico.  Costa Rica was at one time a wonderful destination but suffers from resource capacity (some of which was consumed by HP).

Russia, the Ukraine and Poland are great bets.  Highly educated in the sciences and mathematics they remain at the top of the list for services that demand a level of precision second to none.

Other countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka are very interesting locations with some quite capable companies (as well as capable individuals).  But as an industry, even in the most informal sense, the forming of such has not taken place.  This doesn’t mean not to investigate these regions its simply that its more a look at a company level and not as a pervasive outsourcing sector.

ImageLet’s talk about the two big player, India and China.  Allot of the status is based on resource capacity and pricing.  But today, although these may be important the service buyer wants more and is particularly nervous about risk.  Whether it being political policy, social behavior or track record both countries are at a turning point.   Their decisions will determine whether they will continue to hold market share or will become of less interest in favor of other alternatives.  While the historical efforts of NASSCOM has played a significant role in India it is now coming into question whether their policies and long term commitment is in favor of the industry as a whole or just a few of the star players.

So being competitive may be just that, being competitive.  Its nothing special, you are just one of the pack and you are apt to get chances not because of dominance but because you are just like the rest.  Those that want to excel, whether as a company or as a nation, must be nimble and ready to go beyond.  Set a pace that others have not and be willing to be a companion and not a servant.  This is what makes some nations (and companies) stay on the radar while others are simply static on the screen.

ImageOutsource providers a new target for cyber attacks intended to cripple international commerce is a reality, not a prophecy.  IIOM intelligent sources in Asia and Africa have reported an increase in the number of attempts specifically targeting providers of outsourcing services.  These attempts are not limited to malicious individuals but are well crafted campaigns by regimes and countries intended to dominate and control global commerce.

Service providers and buyers need to immediately strengthen service perimeters on both automated as well as manual service delivery frameworks.   For further details in confidence contact us at:  JDurant@Int-IOM.org

ImageWhether you are a student, a parent of a student or an employer in search of qualified workers our education systems are failing.  While there are many dedicated and highly talented teachers the educational system is broken.  Its difficult to pinpoint exactly when and how this has all taken place.  In fact even if we were able to isolate these conditions it would be unlikely that they could be reversed, should be reversed and would most likely set educational delivery back several decades.  We are facing a dilemma, while most would agree that education is essential and must be supported the challenge is on how to make it take place.  Educational institutions, regardless of their social settings, are steeped in administration tradition.   Most institutions, and their subordinate schools of specialization, operate based on enrollment and fiscal support.  The stoic approach whereby a challenge to funding is met with the response that the merits of education should go undisputed is utter nonsense.  What the community and the funding sources are asking for, which is the same that commerce also demands, is results.  We, the community, have been neglect in challenging accountability.  But as we should also recognize that behind every situation there is mutual sharing of the outcome.

  1. Employers have remained complacent why the results of educational delivery.  Often investing in supplemental development to overcome fundamental shortcomings.
  2. Parents we have abdicated total responsibility for education to the institutions.  While we take steps to insure that our children achieve a passing status, we have been apprehensive about vocalizing a challenge to the educational establishment.  Partly out of a fear that we are not sufficiently equipped to challenge and largely because a challenge would be viewed by society as anti-education.
  3. Students should be challenging their quest for knowledge.  Beyond secondary education fundamentals a student is poised to embrace knowledge and to make it a living practice.  But with the inability of an open and welcoming educational institution the student is left to accept and to seek passing as the only reward.  Getting a job after graduation is a totally different matter, but it will be addressed later in the minds of the students of today (btw…. later is NOW!).
  4. As educational institutions we have failed to address our obligation, role and place in today’s society.  We have embraced bricks-and-motor, funding campaigns and written bravado and have lost the all important embrace of building formative and functioning citizens.  While innovation is bantered around as a present day vogue term it seems that innovation is not only on the decline but that the number of innovative individuals emerging from institutions is a rarity.  Those few points of light are not the result of the schools but the result of the person’s drive.  There are others… but their spark has not been ignited through the institutional process.

So rather than belabor the point further let us conclude simply that we have a problem with our educational processes.  They need to be fixed and this will require a tremendous amount of dedicated commitment by all parties.  Parents and employers must step up and commit with setting the level of expectation that is essential to fulfill societal needs.  As students we must be willing to do what at one time was encourage…. challenge, understand, embrace, employ and advance knowledge acquisition and application.  This isn’t always easy.  As a Indian student told me recently, “we are not allowed to question or to do more than is required, we are expected to accept and do what has been asked of us”.  This is not education this is educational servitude.  It is much a sin to the advancement of societies as if government made education a violation of law (and we all know that to control societies that food and education remain the leading control points used by dictatorial regimes).  Final education institutions need to reshape the way they conduct business.  This entails how money is spent, focusing on value achievement and to make knowledge a pursuit and abandoning education as a wholesale commodity.

I believe that there are allot of lessons that can be learned from the scholars of the past.  Socrates was one that I am particular fond of.  He shared this bit of advice that is worth taking and I present it for your consideration as well.

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This resonates the importance of respect.  Education is about mutual respect with the sole purpose of implanting people with the ability to have knowledge.  You can educate me on a topic but only I can make this a part of my everyday knowledge whether in the workplace or as a productive member of society.

ImageBusiness is a fickle game full of uncertainty, external conditions that influences change in direction and the ever begging question…. should we throw in the cards.

Let’s start out with talking about new fledgling enterprises.  These are companies that may have loads of long term operative issues to address but for the moment they are doing ok.  They are able to fulfill daily operating needs and business opportunities are not so bad.  They do however sit at a point in which decisions have to be made in two areas, long term outlook and owner investment recovery.  All too often the original team is convinced that they good fortune has not been fully realized and that there are better times ahead.  This may be true to a limited extent but every company must realize that to take that business the next step forward, whether in size, diversification of service, or expansion of revenue growth it requires change that often can only be achieve from outside.  Whether this is an infusion of talent, the acquisition or merger of business or the induction of new products and services.  Holding on too long to the original formula creates a “hitting the wall” condition.  If unattended to or an appropriate response is delayed the results are often times catastrophic.  How does a company know when this is about to take place or is already taking place?  The truth is held inside one simple question, “what is next?”.  The fact that if your discussions focus around what you have been doing, or predict the future based on what has happened you are stuck in tactics and operations, and have not though about the future.  Thus a strategic gap exists and often the pride and personal self-interest are such that change becomes an impossibility.  Loss of market, loss of excitement and loss of growth dominance are at risk and are apt to be the final chapter for companies who are unable to see that we always have to be operating a couple of steps beyond where we are at.

Larger organizations have the decisive advantage of a capitalization base.  Size, formality and diversification are the elements that lull us into a false sense of security.  We believe that our dominance, or should I say control over our destiny, will result in us always being in control.  This unintentional arrogance can and will cripple us.  We then become the target, because of our prominence, for others to harvest our business.  Whether through friendly take over or by hostile acquisition we have abdicated our position of control and don’t even realize it.   The global economic downturn has forced a wake-up call to be amplified.  Companies who operated from a sense of control are now going back to the play books to see what can be done to bring life back into the business.  It seems that many of those game changing plans aren’t working and they won’t work as long as we fail to understand that it requires step 1 thinking.  It is, as I have said on numerous occasions  not a commodity solution game.  While service providers role out all sorts of miracle elixirs the problem rest much deeper than superficial generic purported solutions.  It resides with the need for a transformation, and to do so on a regular ongoing basis.  Customers, whether buying consumer goods or crafted solutions need variety.  No matter how good your product healthy change, with leadership, is a necessity.

As a company leader and/or lead investor one has to make hard decisions.  The reason why you are in business, doing what  you are doing, is out of love and the promise of many good things to come.  Of course there are those special side benefits, such as helping the community, improving society and solving major issues that cannot be overlooked as well.  But deep in every leaders play book is the question of when it is right for change?  When is it right to close up shop?  When is it right to seek fresh talent?  When is it right to change the complexion of the business.  Foremost is the need to recognize and start acting upon it before the Grimm Reaper is knocking on the door.  As is often the case the best time to start the balls in motion is when you are at, what you might perceive to be, at the top of your game.  Despite the euphoria every pinnacle has its down slope.  Even if there is a little bit more upside that can be achieved, the wiggle room in making the pre-decision will prove to be invaluable to get the best deal, the best match or the biggest return on investment that has been made up to that point.  Casting aside the child may be painful but for the betterment of all a renewal is essential.  It opens up new possibilities and perspectives, serving as a catalyst for a transformation of the business.

Some of you may be on the unfortunate downside slide, especially with the protracted duration and uncertainty in the global markets.  Expect that if an achievable suitor or acquisition can be attained, or a rapid transformation can take place and that innovation is nothing more than a word the question then become about timing.  When is the best time?  It is less a matter of date and more a matter of a graceful exit, whether to protect the relationship with customers and suppliers or to coincide possibly the next pursuit that you may be putting together.

ImageAs a CEO, in title or in aspiration, each day should be started with the question… is it time to change?  Is the timing right, what will the ramifications be, and who can I rely upon to give me an honest and solid professional opinion on the next steps for  our business.  Pride, personal self-interest and hidden agendas plague those that should be asking those questions.  The fallout can often be heard in the Board Rooms that are ousting leadership and exercising the costly replacement process (to which the cycle is most apt to continue).  Those that are held in high leadership regard are those set change and transformation as a top priority and place themselves as a servant to the betterment of a continued business enterprise.

Image21 December 2012 came and went.  Some of  you were sitting there waiting for the flash of light and the end of humanity, while others when about their daily business without any concern whatsoever.  Its somewhat ironic that in both cases what was expected, even by historians, was a cataclysm to end mankind.  This expectations and anticipation was based on interpretation and debated conjecture.  It’s ironic that the Mayan calendar has at its center a head with its tongue prominently protruding, almost in a taunting way to make us feel a bit inept.

Let’s look at two factors; actions that we took leading up to 21 December and events that have taken place sense that time.  Preceding this date the world, its nations, people and our activities seemed out of balance.  What worked before wasn’t working now.  Every turn we took seemed to be marred with fraud, deception and smartly crafted ways to disguise the real truths.  In our pursuit for honest we reached out to what we saw as leaders, some because of the prominence that their name carried, other simply based on the size of their status.  We later discovered that bigger, larger, more recognizable did not equal truth, honesty and integrity.  If anyone wanted to see 21 December 2012 take place it was from sheer despair and not from some sense of perverse desire to die.  In conclusion…. pre-21/12/2012 placed humanity and all of its varied pieces in a pretty lousy state of affairs.

Since the infamous date have we turned in a positive direction or have we continued at a similar or further declining level?  I have to be honest one can say things are looking up, especially if you are sitting in the comfort of a job where business as normal is just that (little did you know an impending train wreck could be around the next turn and that job would be no more… so complacency may give  you comfort but not security) but are they really getting better.  Are the sputters you see as indicators of a return to comfort, stability and progress really sustainable or are they just momentary occurrences?  To have any of these things we need a forward look beyond just for the nourishment of today.  The problems, issues and challenges are substantial.  Leadership, in title or by action, is under siege   Even the most capable person is constantly being distracted from leading and spends the majority of their time defending their actions.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t question, for purposes of understanding, but we must be respectful that as leaders they are charged with a much larger picture that what most of us understand or could possibly consider.

ImageIt is my personal belief that 21 December 2012 was the tipping point between the state in which we could have done something to avoid the catastrophe and the cliff after which any resolve was nearly impossible (I like stating it in that fashion because it still offers a glimmer of possibility).  Without hope we have to reason to do anything but exist.  Some will take a righteous route while others will throw caution to the wind in reckless abandonment.   At the sametime we foolishly believe that we can achieve formidable and lasting results by following the actions of others.  These are LESSONS and not blueprints for YOU…. YOU and your enterprise or endeavor is different, accept this reality.  If anything because YOU are different then you should be seeking personal, specific and targeted treatment and not some commodity solution.  Sure the money and efficiency ‘experts’ would like you to think that you can achieve this by simply following this proven 10 step regiment.  BUT, does it work and what was required to make it work, and are the linchpin elements something that you are willing to embrace?  So stop fooling yourself and believe that you need to custom craft your destiny.

This brings me to the point about as mentioned earlier whether we have reached the point of no return or not.   I am a strong believer in the ‘possible’.  Its as easy to say that its possible the world could end tomorrow as much as it would be to say that its possible that we can recover from a seemingly endless slide into the abyss.  I also believe in parachutes  updrafts and grasp onto opportunities that can stem the free fall into an end.

The big issues revolve around the HOWs and the WHATs.  Most often we get inquiries from companies and governments when they are already in dire straights.  They have passed the point where low cost, simple solutions can be used and achieve results.  This means that anything from that point onward will be painful, costly, time consuming and require a unwavering commitment (not some social swag or fair weather attention to these matters).  If the Mayan were even remotely correct we still have the chance to slow the fall, possibly some will die but others may walk away with only a few bumps and bruises.  In business and in society this condition exists even in good times, and in these times they likewise exist and may even be more readily accepted because of the times.

I hope and I pray that people will ready these words, take them as a lunatic cry but as a letter of hope, a chance for controlling the free fall and to raise up a new order of life as we live it.  We are after all the makers of our own destiny.

A patient has specific sites in which appropriate injections can be administered.  Some are in the arm while others may be closer to where we sit.  The depth, size and frequency will depend upon the particular ailment that the patient has.

If we look at the effects of the economic downturn and the lingering effects that have paralyzed business I can’t help but wonder whether an injection may be what the doctor should order.

ImageLooking inside of business, some that were ready to weather the storm and others that we just starting to hit their stride when we were beset by the economy, we see a malaise.  Paralyzed by strategies, tactics, policies, methods and leadership that always worked we are now face a much-much different set of behaviors.  I wonder whether things would be horrific if we pulled the plug on these traits and started afresh, whether these traits are strong enough to hold us steady (but simply not adding the incremental growth we so desperately need), or whether wholesale transformation would be the kick start to some new and market leading?

Small enterprises are often under capitalized, lack diversity of skills that span the range that one would need to run a successful business, and are a bit free form in the way business is carried out.  Larger organizations with the counter to all of these things are caught in the quagmire of bureaucracy and often lag in an aggressive response to changing conditions. Given this duality, and all the enterprises in-between  its our behavior that is holding us back and not some magical GDP or money trend predictions that our countries would love us to believe exists.

So what kind of injection is appropriate?  Just today (27 Mar 2013) I received information about a company who received information from their partner needed to engage a sales opportunity.  It was clear that the information had to be concise and address the specific value needs for a prospective client.  What was received was a length presentation and several document files.   If you can’t say, in as few words as possible, then chances are your business lacks focus.  While we strive for completeness, and desire the adoration of prospects its about understanding who we are and what we can do.  There are and there will always be limitations to what we are able to do.  There may even be companies who can do it better but the mere fact that we cannot concisely focus creates a horrible problem for businesses looking to turn things around.  In a similar sense, its like a distressed company that is taken over for a turnaround.  The first order of business is refocusing and reshaping the enterprise (and this is in no way a cookbook process, it requires surgical precision in not only evaluating what you have but also how to recast operations to fulfill the newly reworked goals/strategy).   A CEO once asked how do you know what should be cast aside and what should be kept, aside from the fundamental ROI-Investment numbers?  My response was pretty direct, “you keep what you know you can grow and you harvest what has reached its full capacity”.   There are companies and there are products that have been held onto for far too long and as a result have bleed the capital they once generated from the lifeblood of the organization.  Continuous reinvention is essential to business enterprises… stagnation is the best way to loose your competitive spirit but also your position in the marketplace.

So tomorrow when you wake up and things remain the same ask yourself whether its time for action and inject your business with the life giving adrenalin that is needed.

A person gives their position and opinion(s) based on what they have grown up with.  Smartly shaped and reshaped by experiences in life, sometimes with goodness and greatness while all too unfortunately also tainted by missteps and direction.

I sit here as a parent, business owner, armchair global rightness advocate and wonder whether the world is in such utter disarray that it can never be set right.  Some would argue that leadership from within governments, business and society will shape a more promising outcome.  But will even these individuals get cast aside in the chaos, the truthfulness of their words against public outcry or the pragmatic analytics/scientific postulations that are used all too often out of context?

There isn’t a topic that we can’t give an opinion about that reflects our discontent.  Be it religion, politics, business ethics and social commitment to even entertainment which at one time was set for pure enjoyment (which now has been become a stomping ground for intellectual stagnation and dummification (which by the way is my own creation).

This present day state evokes deep emotions (anger, frustration, thoughts of joy/opportunity but also mind numbing paralysis).   So where did we go wrong?  In looking back I don’t see one single event, I see possibly lots of causes with which most are created by inaction.  Whether we are afraid to offend, timid about not being adequately equipped to raise our hand of opinion, or possible we exist in a setting where we are not permitted through social pressures and self-imposed exile as to who we really are.

I turn today to social media and look at it from a bit higher level than a single post.  I see people desperate to be recognized, exposing themselves totally to the world.  Showing things that at one time was reserved to close family and friends, like what we ate, who we met with and what we wear.  There was a saying that “your life is an open book” but in the context of social outlets the open book is totally and completely open to the world.  I’m not sure if this is good, I also wonder whether its best to leave somethings behind closed doors rather than to make a social statement.  But I’m sure there are those that have the opinion as to it doing no harm (but who knows how one might take a bit of news, a clip or a response to a post).  Words are sometimes more powerful than actions and this leaves us to where we are at… the lack of action.

ImageAction requires responsible commitment, not actions that we force to regret them later.  If you pick up a stick and beat someone who you disagree with beware of the ramifications that can range from the stick being turned on you to finding yourself before the judiciary.  That picture you post thinking that its an example of fine dining only to have others criticize the food as being inedible.  So did the moment of joy get washed away by opinions, and do those very same opinions serve society in forcing a restaurant to go out of business (which further impacts suppliers, employees and possibly the community).  The fine line between opinion and harmful realities is very thin.  Your rights mean they must be utilized in a responsible manner.  I’m sure the creators of Face Book, LinkedIn and Twitter never intended for their outlets to be damaging but rather a commercial enterprise that is some way could also serve a better social good.

I would hope that as Bad as things may be that we can objectively evaluate where we stand, accept what we can tolerate and do something where we can in a responsible, loving and forthright fashion.