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Strategic Outsourcing: Leveraging Knowledge Capabilities

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Today’s knowledge and service-based economy offers innumerable opportunities for well-run companies to increase profits through strategic outsourcing.1 Emphasis is rapidly shifting from outsourcing parts, componentry, and hardware subsystems toward the even greater unexploited potentials that intellectually-based systems offer:2

Obtaining higher value, more flexible, and more integrated services than internal sources can offer. Improving the company’s capacities to stay current and to innovate by interacting with “best in world” knowledge sources. Achieving cross-divisional coordination and shareholder value gains that the company — for internal structural or political reasons — could not otherwise achieve.

Outsourcing Knowledge-Based Services

The drivers for these trends are formidable. As the service sector has grown to embrace 80 percent of all U.S. employment, specialized service firms have become very large and sophisticated relative to the scale and expertise that individual staff and service groups have within integrated companies — whether in services or manufacturing (see Table 1).

These specialists can develop greater knowledge depth, invest more in software and training systems, be more efficient, and hence offer higher wages and attract more highly trained people than can the individual staff groups of all but a few integrated companies. Given this greater knowledge depth and wider range of customer interactions, they can also become much more innovative than their internal counterparts might. Companies as diverse as British Petroleum, DuPont, MCI, Dell Computer, Beaumont Hospital, Ford, State Street Bank, Ameritek, Nike, and Argyle Diamonds dramatically illustrate potentials. Properly developed, strategic outsourcing substantially lowers costs, risks, and fixed investments while greatly expanding flexibility, innovative…...

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