Being Modern: Outsourcing

Maximising profits. It's the sort of phrase nominally uttered by the besuited baboons of The Apprentice, and the type of management speak that leaves anyone not business-obsessed just a tad wearied. But even those of us who are not attuned to the minutiae of capitalism cannot have failed to note its role in the rise of outsourcing.

In the early part of the 20th century, companies sought to make the most of their assets by directly controlling them. Mid-century, corporations introduced multiple layers of management to handle the diversification that was necessitated by global competition – yet, this made them more bloated and less agile in the marketplace. And, as companies began to look at ways to refocus on their core business in the 1980s, outsourcing came to be identified as a business strategy.

At first, external suppliers were used as ancillary services – hospitals using laundries for their linens, say, which was soon followed by support services – typically IT, typically to India – as cost-saving measures in the 1990s. Then came the evolution that spelt trouble, with the development of Strategic Partnerships, which comes complete with the capital letters of doom.

Now, these Strategic Ps can no doubt be hugely profitable. But the one we've heard most about recently has cast a bit of a pall over the biggest moment in this country since… well, since the Jubilee, to be honest; it's not that long ago, but you know what we mean. That's right, the tie-up between the Government and G4S.

G4S is, it is happy to let us know, the world's largest international security solutions group, providing integrated solutions to security challenges. It is also clearly very good at management speak – but less so at fulfilling briefs. The number of Olympic-sized brouhahas surrounding the 2012 security shambles have been such that one wonders how the company thought it could cope with the work in the first place. Really, the Government would have been better off just outsourcing the job to the Army in the first place…

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