Outsourcing Piecemeal – Out-tasking

In BPO world Out-tasking has been known for quite some time. See for example
CompuPacific outsourcing whitepaper – “Outsourcing vs. Out-Tasking: Practical Advice” or an oldie but goodie – a white paper on out-tasking from CISCO.  The basic idea is simple – out-tasking is typically described as farming out business processes or IT functions piecemeal rather than all at once. Examples of tasks that may be farmed out are data entry, document-based processing, such as claim handling, graphic arts development, and or document translation / localization.

Most typical definition goes as “Instead of divesting their back-office functions as a whole, companies contract out in an incremental and manageable way”. The top line benefit of out-tasking is typically stated as “out-tasking helps cut cost quickly without loss of control or high set-up costs.” The geography for out-tasking is similar to regular outsourcing with India and Philippines being far ahead of the pack.

Out-tasking could be indeed an efficient and effective way of supporting a technology organization, that if you can find a good partner, and that could be a little tricky. The issue is in volume of tasks that fall into the sweet spot of out-tasking. There are many ways of dealing with it, but first, what are good tasks to consider for out-tasking. Here are just a few to consider:

  • All kind of graphical arts – need a power point presentation for a board meeting? face lift for a corp. website? helping your clients with corporate identity? Often these tasks do not justify in-house graphical arts staff.
  • Creative and technical writing – press releases, web content, articles, newsletters, white papers, copywriting, editing, etc.
  • Email and ad campaigns, in particular if they need to be run on ad hoc basis and do not require a lot of back and force with marketing.
  • Occasional or even ongoing Search Engine Optimization activities (SEO); large spectrum of tasks here from SE submission to link building, etc.
  • Usability testing. Rather controversial item, many usability exports tell you that outsourcing usability testing is doomed to fail. I do not belong to that camp though.
  • Marketing materials from creative writing to brochures and campaign designs, sales and sales support materials. Outsourcing of these tasks is especially meaningful for small companies.
  • Translation, internationalization, localization, etc. especially if these are once off or occasional tasks rather than ongoing activities
  • Data entry of all kinds, for example transferring paper-based documents into electronic formats. BTW, these activities almost always benefit from outsourcing.
  • Many types of legal tasks and services, for example developing agreements such as MSA, software licenses, terms of services, privacy policies, NDA, etc.

As you can see from the list above almost any company has a good deal of tasks that could be out-tasked. The next step is finding a vendor, or more likely vendors that can provide the services on out-tasking basis.

Finding an out-tasking partner require a different mind-set / different approach from those used when selecting an outsourcing vendor. The first rule and the main difference are to measure invest of the efforts in the search process versus the scope of task. Chances are you do not need to invest much and in case you made a mistake in selecting a partner it’s usually fairly easy to fix and find another partner.

Not that long ago we needed to build basic corporate identity for our new venture. The requirements for logo and look & feel of the site were rather ambiguous. Instead of going through the process of refining requirements we used what we had, got multiple graphical artist to bid on the project, picked half a dozen that replied first. In just a few days we had just under a hundred of logo prototypes. After a few internal meetings we picked the winner who completed the entire corp. identity package in a couple weeks. Yes, we paid a bit more that we could have but time savings alone justified it.

Similar approach could be used for many out-tasking activities. Finding providers that are eager to bid for your business is also fairly easy task, especially for things like creative writing, graphical arts, and most of the items in the list above. For example you are looking for Search Engine Optimization services. You may just google SEO services and logically those who understand anything in SEO would appear on the top of the list. Another approach could be as easy as posting a few sentences about your project under computer gigs on http://www.craigslist.org; make sure to stay anonymous otherwise vendor spam will be chasing you for months. Another, very efficient way is to use freelancing sites. There are a few dozens of them with very large community of individual freelancers and small to midsized companies offering the services. Most popular sites are www.odesk.com, www.elance.com, and www.guru.com. In addition to offering access to thousands of providers these site offer some value add by helping in managing vendor-provider relationship, for example offering escrow services.

Dealing with individuals and very small vendors has its pitfalls though. The rating systems provided by freelancing services are far from perfect. Continuity of services, quality of deliverables, and turn around time could be far below your expectations. I will cover some tips on dealing with it in a separate post.

If dealing with freelancers is not your cup of tee you may consider larger vendors who would be prepared to establish out-tasking relationship. There are many of those, in particular in India and Philippines. You may want to team up with a few of those on one side and with a couple of companies (buyers like yourself) on the other to provide sufficient volume of revenue stream to the vendors and meaningful pricing for yourselves.

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