IT outsourcing customers cling to cost-savings mindset

IT leaders continue to focus on cost containment with their IT service deals, but traditional outsourcing deals are reaching a point of diminishing returns

piggy bank savings belt tightening

If you keep doing what you've always done, the old adage goes, you'll always get what you always got. And today's outsourcing customers are still chasing cost savings with their IT services deals. However, they're not necessarily getting them -- at least not with traditional outsourcing deals, which are reaching a point of diminishing returns.

"A big issue with diminishing returns is that the other top organizational priority is investments in new and innovative technologies such as data and analytics, cloud, mobile and (to a lesser degree in the near term) cognitive and process automation, while at the same time beefing up security capabilities," says David J. Brown, global lead in KPMG's Shared Service & Outsourcing Advisory practice.

"Most organizations will be challenged to reconcile these conflicting goals and will need to get creative in doing so, for example, by gaining economies of scale via global business services, biting the bullet to make near-term robotic process automation and cognitive investments that will pay off handsomely [long term], and partnering in various forms (alliances, outsourcing, joint ventures) to share the cost of investments with third parties," Brown says.

IT leaders can no longer rely on squeezing suppliers on margins to keep costs down, says Brown. They have to spend money to save money -- and also deliver the new capabilities their enterprises expect from IT, whether that means migrating applications to the cloud, introducing new automation or robotic capabilities, or partnering with IT service providers to deliver business outcomes. talked to Brown about how the traditional outsourcing approach will have to change if IT leaders and their service providers are to meet these dueling priorities of cost containment and innovation.

In KPMG's year-end shared service and outsourcing report, you noted that the top priority for customers remains driving down operating costs even as the approach the point of diminishing returns. Why is that?

Organizations are continuing to feel margin pressures. Traditionally, they've looked at operating costs -- and specifically outsourcing relationships -- as a lever. We believe this approach is reaching the point of diminishing returns for traditional outsourcing deals. The outsourcing community faces new pressures to accelerate solutions that can drive additional savings. We are now seeing a rise in adoption of software- and business-process-as-a-service in many organizations and also a faster adoption of robotic process automation. This also aligns to what we view as increased demand in innovation at the same time as cost reduction; both are available at the same time, which hasn't always been the case. 

In terms of core IT spend (not accounting for shadow IT spend in business units), spend levels vary significantly depending on industry but spend levels overall have been flat to declining for several years.  Per Gartner, global IT spend was down 3.5 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.   

Why is cutting costs via traditional IT outsourcing less likely today?  

It's more difficult to leverage new technologies in conjunction with long-term, traditional deals and higher breakage fees. On the flip side, those that are taking advantage of cloud technology are reinvesting those savings back into other enabling technologies that will aid in other parts of the business but not reduce the overall IT costs. For example, automation requires spend with IT software vendors, but the savings are mostly outside IT. Cognitive investments are, again, IT-related, but the benefits are across the entire company. Investments in data and analytics require tools and third parties that fall within the IT budgets, increasing the IT spend. And lastly, the increase in third parties that need to be managed increases the overall governance costs [for IT].

If organizations are truly seeking "innovation" (which they first need to define before they can seek) then cutting costs becomes less of a monolithic goal. Cutting some costs but more importantly gaining new capabilities (for example via cloud flexibility or analytics insights) is a fair trade-off. The next wave of major cost savings will come via automation, but a lot of IT work has already been automated or passed to a third party.  

You noted that buyers seem cautious about models that include outcome-based pricing, preferring hybrid and fixed-price models (which accounted for some 95 percent of deal value over the last three years).  

We continue to see companies with fixed-price deals with some level of variable pricing to account for changes in volumes. [Our survey] found that there has not been much recent change in pricing models employed [over the last year and a half]. We do not see any reason for major shifts in pricing models in the next 18 months.

Clients are having conversations about outcome-based pricing. As an example, some are assuming that outcome-based means a share in the savings or outcome--similar to incentive fees. This is seen more on the business process side rather than IT. Others view the outcome as a holistic metric or combination of metrics that drive an outcome (for example, reduction in bad debt or collectibles). A challenge with this approach is that the outcome may be too high-level with many variables affecting the outcome not directly correlated to the service provider's efforts.   

Isn't there more for customers to gain from business outcome-based deals?  

There is more to gain, but there is more risk. This has been the issue with these models for 20 years. Both buyers and providers like the reward, but not the risk exposure.

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