Outsourcing doesn't have to be offshore!

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Outsourcing - contracting out any part of a business process to another party - comes in many forms. We now recognise that many semi-skilled services, such as claims processing or call centre support, can be effectively managed through outsourcing, which offers far lower labor and operational costs. In the last thirty years outsourcing has been repeatedly linked with globalisation, as the availability of cheap labour has become synonymous with developing job markets. In fact, many people now have difficulty making any distinction between offshoring and outsourcing. But a new wave of skilled, domestic outsourcing services are seeking to redress the problems which this perception can create.

Indeed, as outsourcing in general becomes more skills-based, lower labour rates are proving to be far less attractive - other, more complex performance priorities take over. In a skilled workplace, the seemingly cheaper option of outsourcing to low-skilled workers starts to come with some major caveats and hidden costs. Sometimes, domestic experience matters. To understand these crucial differences, let’s look at how the offshore model first developed.

Offshore outsourcing began with manufacturing. In the late 1980s, major manufacturers like America’s General Motors began to phase out the domestic production of services, and by the early 2000s all manner of services - not just blue-collar jobs - had jumped on the bandwagon. For manufacturers, the solution perfectly fit the needs, being adapted for the large scale production of an acceptable quality of product, at a far lower labour cost. Offshore centres shipped the goods back without companies having to pay much attention to prior management.

But when it comes to services which deal directly with people, friction is created, as anyone who has ever been caught on a lengthy call centre line can attest. Indeed, the offshore outsourcing system has by now established a comic public reputation based on the sheer amount of dissatisfying services on offer, inspiring the film ‘Outsourced’ and its subsequent NBC sitcom.

Workers are trained from scratch to a low skill level, meaning they lack the natural flexibility and on-demand knowledge which only real experience can provide. This is why offshore services often provide scripted dialogues to follow, but it’s also why such scripts are still inadequate for real, complex human interactions. Tellingly, in a large 2013 BCG study gauging companies’ interest in reshoring, 34% of respondents cited quality issues as a factor. Service quality, it seems, can’t always be created from scratch.

Add to this not only the additional skill level required by the medical profession, but also the operational nuances of a specific national system, and the case for a change in outsourcing - to something both domestic and skilled - is clear.

One key component of the new domestic outsourcing approach we offer is the assurance that employees will pick up on the context of language used in dictations. Employees are UK-trained medical secretaries with an average 11 years of experience, meaning they aren’t transcribing blind. To increase this benefit, typists are given work according to their speciality - neurology experts are matched to neurological transcriptions, and so forth. The benefits of this approach are threefold. Efficiency is hugely increased, but furthermore the hidden costs of the need for corrective management are eliminated. Finally, understanding medical context eradicates a far more serious element of hidden danger: the clinical risk of dictations being poorly understood.

But it’s not just about spotting any potential errors - it’s also about responding to them in a timely and professional way. This is something which a low level of training, combined with a different management approach, can endanger. While many overseas outsourcing services operate on a firm culture of ‘doing as instructed,’ workers with an intricate knowledge base and a confident stake in the system are more capable of properly responding to errors.

In the medical world, it’s always paramount to get things right - but sustained reliability is perhaps more fundamental to healthcare today than ever before. Looking back to the industrial outsourcing model, it is usually ‘quick fixes’ for one-off products which matter. With the changing nature of patient needs, an older and more long-term demographic and a multifaceted system of care, shorter-term ‘fixes’ are ceasing to become the norm. Rather, patient relationships must be cared for with longevity and across services.

Deciding whether to outsource at all, and if so where to outsource to, is a question of specific needs, not a one-size-fits all. Contractors must weigh up the time and cost benefits according to the strain on their service. While a global market offers many opportunities, it comes with caveats, particularly when it comes to synchronicity. Large time differences between contractor and worker can become an issue where a quick turnaround matters, with domestic services more capable of working to real-time demands.

A further question for domestic outsourcing is an appropriate scale: in this IT blog’s list of five outsourcing failures, large corporate firms offering poorly-defined services feature in every instance. One such failure, resulting in IBM and the State of Indiana mutually suing, resulted in a judge’s ruling that ‘overzealous corporate ambition’ was largely at fault. Outsourcing will continue to provide mutually fulfilling opportunities so long as it remembers that unique demands matter: skilled, specific professions must seek fully qualified solutions.

At DICT8 we realise that finding the right outsourcing solution is all about context: what is the professional nature of the work, and the level of skill required? What is a suitable scale and size for the contract? Are all parties are benefiting from the relationship? This is why our solution is not general, but custom-built for the nuances of our NHS. As well as a significant reduction in turnaround time and service costs for hospitals, the system provides ideally flexible, skilled work for trained medical secretaries and typists around the UK. It’s a successful model for a new paradigm of outsourcing, one built on a fourfold foundation: that of skilled workers, a mutually beneficial working relationship, an appropriately focused scope, and above all the aim to provide national, service-specific benefits.

The website Global Response outlines four major benefits of domestic outsourcing: superior in-market knowledge, ease of training, nuanced brand familiarity, and effective communication. With this unique solution, the need for training is removed entirely as the benefit of experience is put to use. Meanwhile, Forbes has cited the ‘desire for in-house expertise,’ alongside a failure to meet expectations, as a key reason why some companies aren’t satisfied by poorly-skilled outsourcing. Making use of individual but industry-specific expertise to ease the strain on our healthcare service offers the ideal tailored solution, providing the dual benefits of expert work and greater operational efficiency.