A career path for outsourcing professionals

by 22 Jan 2008

Several months ago I introduced readers of this column to an initiative that has set out to define the skills and attributes of the outsourcing professional. Significant progress has been made since then.

In many companies, nearly 24 per cent of the executive budget is dedicated to outsourcing. Although the number of individuals involved in outsourcing has mushroomed into the tens of thousands, little has been done until now to declare and define it as a profession. To address this void the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) launched a career mapping initiative early in 2007 to map the skills, job profiles, career paths, organisational structures, and compensation levels for these new, highly sought-after professionals.

Since the outsourcing profession includes a number of specialisations and outsourcing professionals increasingly work across a wide range of functional areas, a common framework spanning information technology outsourcing (ITO), business process outsourcing (BPO), as well as non-IT/BPO, such as real estate, logistics, manufacturing, and other common areas is being established.

As a result, the framework being developed will be readily adaptable to both existing as well as new trends and specialisations within outsourcing such as R&D and product development, etc. Additionally, the career mapping has been designed so that it crosses the boundaries between customer, provider and advisor on a global basis, reflecting the fact that an increasing number of outsourcing professionals move between different types of organisations throughout their careers.

As the term “outsourcing professional” is relatively new, it is understandable that companies might not yet have defined the skills and the job profile for this role. In the first project phase the IAOP articulates the skills, knowledge, experiences, and capabilities required for success as an outsourcing professional – in other words, a job profile.

Skills. Because the work of an outsourcing professional encompasses many aspects of an organisation’s business functions, it would be tempting to provide merely a laundry list of necessary skills. Instead, the IAOP chose to focus on five key skills, offering specific attributes an employer can look for in hiring a qualified outsourcing professional. The five key skills are: strong communication skills; business process analysis; strategic business analysis; financial analysis; and negotiation.

Knowledge and experience. Beyond business skills, successful outsourcing professionals have knowledge based on real-world experience. There are five critical business knowledge/experience areas for outsourcing professionals: team leadership; program management; global delivery experience; relationship management; and change management.

Capabilities. A successful outsourcing professional may have inherent capabilities that are often more personal in nature, and more subjective to the employer. Yet these less tangible assets are every bit as crucial as measurable skills because they often dictate how the outsourcing professional will interact with others, which are key in managing relationships. These capabilities are: service team leadership; cross-cultural aptitude; adaptability; influence; and innovation.

Job titles and responsibilities. As with any other career, the outsourcing professional rarely comes equipped at the start with all the skills, capabilities, knowledge and experience necessary for ultimate success. Instead, there is a path where they may gain those attributes as they advance in their careers.

The IAOP has identified three primary types of companies that utilise outsourcing services: buyer companies, provider companies, and advisors (or consultancies). Each of these organisations have varying titles within the outsourcing profession, but generally, they fall under the categories of analyst, manager, director and vice-president.

In an IAOP model of job titles in a buyer organisation, an analyst role is an entry-level graduate or outside hire with non-related experience. They are assigned to projects and implementations and complete deliverables under supervision from a team leader and/or manager. They may focus on a technical skills path or functional path, but can be assigned across a broad range of roles.

As an analyst builds skills and gains knowledge and experience, they have the opportunity to move laterally into more specialised analysis roles. Yet this is also true of the advisor and provider organisations, even though the job titles in the analyst tier are different.

The future of outsourcing is clearly established on a foundation of impressive growth. Now that the skills, knowledge, and capabilities for the outsourcing profession have been defined, we, as leaders in our organisations and as individual professionals, need to develop organisational structures and development practices to foster these characteristics.

By Allan Schweyer, president of the Human Capital Institute