Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The changing face of corporate information services

Outsourcing, the contracting with another company to provide a particular service, has been part of business practice for a number of decades. Originally this covered non-core areas such as pay-roll or data-entry. However, in recent years services to internal clients, such as law libraries, have been outsourced, or offshored (outsourced business processes carried out in another country.)

But is this practice an efficient business model that delivers benefits both to the an organisation and employees? If ever there was a subject waiting to be discussed by SLA Europe, then this was it. And so on March 30 around 50 people gathered at Balls Brothers, Mincing Lane, to take part in a SLA debate, The Changing face of corporate information services - new service models and partnerships.

The panel of experts included both those who had outsourced services - Sarah Fahy from Allen & Overy and Kate Stanfield formerly of CMS Cameron McKenna, and vendors Greg Simidian, CEO of Perfect Information and Liam Brown, CEO of Integreon. The event was chaired by Stephen Phillips from Morgan Stanley.

The debate centred mainly on the the legal sector but the issues raised were relevant to anyone working in information management. Excellent accounts of the evening can be read on both Nicola Franklin's Fabric blog and Tina's Library Related stuff. One thing that I'd add is that it was reassuring to find the whole subject of professionalism being discussed - both in terms of the efforts that have been made to maintain professional development for outsourced staff, and the fact that senior management, particularly in law firms, respect and expect to deal with well qualified information personnel. However, as Tina Reynolds points out: "if firms hive off their less complicated work but keep senior professionals in house then where will we find the next generation of professionals?"

The speakers were certainly knowledegable about the subject and generally delivered their points well. Perhaps the evening could have started with a general summing up of what exactly outsourcing is, along with an explanation of the terminology. At times the discussion veered into David Brent territory with a liberal use of acronyms and overuse of phrases such as 'moving the needle.' All in all though, a worthwhile attempt at trying to get to grips with what exactly outsourcing involves.

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