Thursday, February 14, 2008

Outsourcing and Innovation

The CISR research project I have been working on for the last year, "Building an Environment for Innovation," is in the process of finishing up. My last case study for the project is focused on vendor innovation. Our research has found the vendor innovation and outsourcing should not be lumped together. Managed right vendor driven innovation can be an important piece of an innovation portfolio. This research will be available to CISR sponsors this spring. Until then the quotes from a recent CIO Magazine article do a good job of summing things up:

Indeed, most outsourcing SLAs and pricing models deter innovation. Take data center management. It’s the outsourcer’s responsibility to ensure 99.99 percent uptime or provide backup services. “The value add would be when the service provider looks at the environment and says, Now I understand how you support your business and I see that by leveraging this new technology or different hardware, we can improve the quality of the service or your costs,” says Taylor of Fluor, which is on its fourth major outsourcing contract since the mid-1990s. “But you’re paying the vendor X dollars per server so there’s no motivation for them to reduce that number.”

Fluor signed a new contract with IBM last year. “The lesson we learned was that we needed to put a more generic umbrella agreement in place for future innovation,” says Taylor. “There are specific towers of service in the scope of work that are commoditized. But there is also a separate agreement that will enable IBM to provide innovation in all kinds of areas, like virtualization.” The contract includes prenegotiated terms for future innovation around issues of indemnity, risk and intellectual property protection. “If we want to have IBM explore virtual desktops, there’s already a fabric in place. We don’t have to call the lawyers and go through a full negotiation each time,” explains Taylor. “And it’s separate from the rest of the outsourcing, so IBM doesn’t need to get reimbursed through the fees we pay for the commodity activity.” Now Fluor can increase and decrease services from IBM without penalty. “It’s important not to lock yourself in because you don’t get the benefit of innovations that present themselves every day,” Taylor says.

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