Tag Archives: national outsourcing association

Two Steps to Organizing A Great Corporate Event

Last week I was invited to chair a business event in London that was focused on celebrating the 20th birthday of technology company IBA Group. The company is one of the biggest IT firms in Eastern Europe and they have just opened an office in London, so it was almost a double celebration — an office warming and birthday party.

When IBA asked me to host their event I asked them how they intended to make the evening flow. A birthday party is always nice, but the harsh reality for a company like them is that London is full of parties and events almost every night of the week. I suggested that they need to think about doing a bit more than just offering some free drinks and expecting hordes of people to arrive full of interest in what they are up to in London.

Fortunately, they actually listened. They asked if I had any suggestions for the event that would make it interesting and worth attending for the business community, as well as fun. This makes a change. So many companies today are happy organizing a “panel debate” where a series of experts are lined up on stage and asked questions by a host in front of an audience waiting for the free booze.

I suggested that we get a group of experts together and make them compete. As the entire event was going to be a celebration of their 20 years in business, we should get some experts together and give them five minutes each to predict the next 20 years in the technology business.

Of course, nobody can realistically predict the business environment two decades out, but it would be interesting to ask people to do this within the constraint of having to give a sensible talk within five minutes.

To make it more interesting I suggested that the audience would be able to vote for the speaker they found to have the most interesting or credible ideas — and the winner, based on the audience’s vote, should get a prize worth having.

In the end, the event went really well. They managed to get four experts from different areas of industry: Martyn Hart, the chairman of the National Outsourcing Association, John Garratt, editor of IT Europa, Colin Beveridge, industry analyst at Better Practice, and Derek Parlour, head of commercial at National Rail Enquiries. This meant that they had the predictions of an industry analyst, journalist, trade body leader and a major buyer of IT services — a good mix.

We all know that industry events can be a bit boring, especially when you look at the agenda and see that there is still an hour to go and the speaker is only on PowerPoint slide 6 of 75, so I would congratulate IBA for bucking the trend a little and just trying something different. It made life a lot better for me as the MC because I could see the audience actually enjoying the talks, and with them all being so short, it meant we could zap from one speaker to another before anyone started to find the interior decorations more interesting.

And that would be my second piece of advice to any company organising a corporate event, do it somewhere interesting. This event was held inside the Wellington Arch in London. I have travelled past the Wellington Arch many times and I never even knew that you could go inside, yet there is a museum in there focused on the work of John Betjemen who led the post-war movement to get classic old buildings listed and protected.

It makes a difference, and having access to special buildings can be a draw in itself. It may be convenient to just host a conference inside a hotel, but nobody is coming because of the hotel. It shows a lack of imagination to host a corporate event in a hotel in a city like London when there is a classic or interesting building on every corner.

So, make the talks shorter and more interesting and find a great venue. It should be just common sense, but I’ve been to so many corporate events that ignore this advice – it was a pleasure to actually attend a technology themed event where there really was some useful information in addition to the good wine!

Wellington Arch


Photo by Studio Tempura licensed under Creative Commons

Stephen Bullas and eCode: Avoid like the plague (Captive ReLease)

Note added after initial publication: The government involved in this blog asked me to remove their name in case of any confusion between their position and that of eCode. I have done so and replaced each mention of the country name with XYZ. However, there never was, and is not now, any claim that the government itself was ever at fault in this case – they paid eCode. It is eCode that did not pass on the money. Apologies if there was any confusion within government XYZ, but I hope this is now clear.

This blog is longer than usual, but read on and you will learn:

  • How consulting firm eCode has refused to pay me £3,000 they accepted into their bank account on my behalf.
  • How a major international analyst group suffered a similar, though much more expensive fate at the hands of eCode.
  • How it pays to contract with a client directly, rather than believing a prime contractor will ever pay you.

The European Centre for Offshore Development sounds like an august institution. At least it sounds that way. One look at their website gives another impression. eCode It looks like something Rodney Trotter knocked together in his night-school classes. That’s right. Possibly the only organisation in the world today still building a website that only works in Internet Explorer. A browser I don’t even have installed on my computer, though I can run through Chrome, Firefox, and Safari trying to improve things, this is a story that doesn’t get any better. I’m digressing from the main story, but it’s interesting to just state upfront how the impression one gets from the website can be reinforced by the behaviour of the company and its executives. More than a year ago, on June the 30th to be precise, I had the first meeting with Stephen Bullas, the MD of eCode regarding an interesting little project for the government of XYZ – specifically XYZ Enterprise, the government agency promoting trade with XYZ. A project that already had the prospect of follow-up work with the government, so although it was initially a fairly small gig, it looked like it could grow. I also had known Stephen for a number of years from the analyst and outsourcing conference circuit, so it seemed a good idea to get involved. eCode had been asked by XYZ Enterprise if they could write a independent research report analysing the good, bad, and ugly of the XYZ offer for IT outsourcing, call centres, and business process outsourcing (BPO). eCode decided to make the report more comprehensive and independent by producing it as a research coalition – so I would focus on the BPO research, eCode would focus on the IT, and one of the leading global analyst firms was employed to work in this partnership, to produce the call centre analysis. Contracts were drawn up. eCode was the prime contractor, the only organisation to have a direct contract with the XYZ government. The analyst firm and myself contracted with eCode, with an agreement that our payments would be made on a back-to-back basis… ie eCode would be responsible for getting cash from the XYZ, but as soon as payments are made, we would not need to invoice eCode again (other than for accounting purposes), payment would just come immediately to us as eCode receives money. As far as I was concerned, the project needed me to visit XYZ in September 2010, with an analyst from the analyst firm and Stephen Bullas from eCode. All expenses would be paid for a trip lasting just a few days. I would get £6,000 to go on the trip, gather information by interviewing people, then writing up my part of the report. I was also offered an additional £1,000 by the XYZ government if I would speak about my findings at a Financial Times conference in November 2010. I went on the trip in September 2010. XYZ is a very nice place and I highly recommend visiting during the European summer. The meetings went well and I filmed many of them, editing together 10 or 11 interview videos that I threw into the deal as a bonus – I never charged anything more for doing this. I received £2,000 in October 2010 – this was a ‘mobilisation fee’ and had been invoiced in September as the project commenced. I wrote up my notes, edited the video and sent everything off to eCode. In November I did my speech at the conference, and I even chaired an additional conference on the same day for the XYZ at a National Outsourcing Association conference. The previous evening I had dinner with the XYZ High Commissioner at his beautiful house in Kensington. When he had told me that he had a few spare dinner places I reached out into my network – again as a favour – and managed to bring along the technology chiefs of several organisations including the Metropolitan police, Transport for London, and the Department for Work and Pensions. The XYZ paid the £1,000 for me to speak at the conference, leaving a balance of £4,000 owed to me. I like XYZ. I had to write in the report that they have a few challenges in the global services market. I live in São Paulo in Brazil and the population of this city alone is about 47 times the entire population of XYZ. So they need to focus on specific services and not try to compete with places like India. But they realise this and, to their credit, they interfered very little in the editorial content of the report – except where they very strongly believed we had factual errors. Time went on. The XYZ government were a bit slow paying up the remainder of the money because of various internal disputes about which part of the government was paying… enterprise or the IT ministry. Time rumbled on, but by March they had paid everything that was owed – an email went out on March 1st thanking everyone for their patience with the editing process and agreeing that the project was complete. I expected to get my money. The project was finished, the client was happy, there was an email closing it all. But nothing happened. I chased eCode. Nothing. I was hesitant to go to my own contacts in the XYZ government because I was a sub-contractor of eCode – it was not up to me to chase payment to the prime contractor. But eventually in May I started asking my XYZ contacts what was going on. “We have already paid eCode!”, was their surprising response. So I started chasing eCode. No joy. Eventually, after what amounted to a series of mild email threats, I discovered that the head of accounts at eCode, John Dee, was on safari somewhere in Africa and Stephen Bullas had recently been taken ill on a flight from Germany to Egypt. I was asked to wait longer. Stephen would be out of action for weeks. I insisted that there was supposed to have been a back-to-back transfer of my £4,000 as soon as eCode was paid. John eventually relented and transferred £1,000 to me, saying that I would have to wait for Stephen Bullas to authorise the rest. I waited for Stephen to call. He did after a couple of weeks only to tell me that the cupboard was bare. His company had collapsed because he was ill. Contracts were failing all over the place because he was not working and he had no cash in the bank to pay me. “But it was never your money to keep. That was supposed to go into your bank account then out to me on the same day…” I cried in frustration. Stephen told me that there was nothing that could be done, other than to wait for him to return to work and to drive more revenue into the business again. I waited. I called him back three weeks later only to find he was still not back at work. I gave him more time because he explained a series of “deals just around the corner” and even an elaborate “we are about to be bought” story that turned out to be just as false as his promise to pay me on the day he got the money from the XYZ government. I waited through the rest of May, I started losing patience in June and gave Stephen some deadlines to pay, but he kept on forcing me to postpone any debt collection action by promising some special deal coming the following week. As July came around I realised that I have now spent more than a year on this contract, for just a few thousand pounds. I wish I had never agreed to work with eCode. eCode still owes me £3,000. Money that was paid from the government of XYZ to me for the work I did, only passing through eCode for the convenience of reducing the number of contracts required. eCode still owes the analyst firm a lot more than me. They were charging much more than me for their time and brand value, so they are much more in the hole than I am, but then as a large organisation they can afford to get a debt collection agency to go after Stephen Bullas and eCode. I personally have filed a case with HM Courts and Tribunal service for the money I am owed. Given that I was promised a back-to-back transfer, this amounts to little more than theft in my eyes. I know it’s not theft in a strict legal sense, but I keep asking myself why did I trust him? Why didn’t I contract directly? Why did I trust Stephen Bullas and eCode?

  • An organisation that has not paid me what I am owed and has consistently avoided my calls and emails on the subject.
  • An organisation that has not done this to me alone, but to one of the biggest and best known analyst groups in the world – and probably has other creditors too.
  • An organisation that has not paid me or the analyst firm, yet the homepage of the eCode website is advertising the XYZ report for £1,250 (see the screenshot above).

If you are thinking about hiring eCode, buying eCode, or purchasing their research then ask yourself a question: Do you want to get shafted? Just don’t do it. Don’t buy from eCode. Don’t buy them. Don’t believe a word Stephen Bullas says. If he can lie to ‘friends’ he has worked with in the industry for years, then what do you think he is capable of doing to those he cares about even less? Welcome to business with eCode, where eCode hires internationally known and respected analysts to produce research eCode then sells without ever paying the analysts involved… I will see you in court Stephen Bullas and eCode. I’m sure the big international analyst firm have their own plans for you too… Lego: Cash machine robbery

NOA Resignation

I just quit as a director of the National Outsourcing Association.

I was co-opted onto the board in 2005 when I was director of technology research at the Commonwealth Business Council, then I subsequently won two three-year main board elections, so it was a fair chunk of time on the board – plus I had worked with the board prior to ever being a director. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go on this board, and in the support team that runs all the admin.

But for the past year, the atmosphere has changed somewhat inside the NOA. It is a not-for-profit trade association and therefore I feel the main priorities should be:

  • to have a strong voice for the collective industry – representing the members, especially to the media by commenting on current affairs
  • to produce good independent research that could not be produced from a single company alone
  • to facilitate great networking events where peers can meet and share information

I don’t feel that we have been doing a very good job on any of these measures. I won’t betray any trust about why I think this way, that would clearly be a blog post too far, but I think it is important to acknowledge that my frustration in trying to steer the organisation down the path above – for the good of the industry – has boiled over and it’s best if I apply my knowledge, skills, and social capital elsewhere.

Good luck to the good ship NOA, I’m sailing off into the sunset.

NOA image on floor

Cleveland police outsource to Steria

I’ve made a number of comments on this £175m deal, just announced today:
You can see my video comment here…
You can hear my audio comment here…
You can see my blog for the National Outsourcing Association here…
It’s an important and interesting deal, even if you don’t usually pay attention to anything related to shared services. Here is a police authority placing their control room in the hands of the private sector. It should lead to improved service and cash savings, as well as allowing the police to focus on their community work – in theory everyone wins.
I expect to see a lot more of these public sector outsourcing deals in the near future as the new government seeks out ways to slash the budget. If they can do it through these kind of efficiencies then it should work in favour of the public, but there is no guarantee that every deal will follow this shared service model.

Author takes off shirt during PowerPoint presentation

OK, so you know how it is. You go along to see a presenter talking about something worthy and connected to your work. Something like outsourcing and globalisation perhaps? But how often does does the presenter:

1. Start off by mentioning the recession only for the audience to be showered in Monopoly money;

2. Change shirt four times while speaking;

3. Kick a football *into* the audience;

4. Get audience members to wave placards around from the front row;

5. Serve audience members food and drinks straight from McDonald’s…

Well, if that sounds a little bit different then take a look at the edited highlights from my own ‘Talking Outsourcing’ book launch.

You get all of that in about 5 minutes… enjoy!

Talking Outsourcing – Book Launch on Oct 1

My new book, Talking Outsourcing, is going to be launched on October 1st at London South Bank University.

Everyone with an interest in the subject is welcome to attend. It’s a National Outsourcing Association (NOA) event supported by the major IT services firm, Steria.

The BPO Strategy Director of Steria, Hilary Robertson, will be speaking along with globalisation expert, Philippe Legrain. I’ll be talking about my new book and hopefully we will all have some fun following the talks with a few drinks.

I’ve got a video on youtube here that tells you a bit more about the event.

For more details you can check here or to register yourself, just email your details to Natalie Milsom at the NOA.

UK Movie Premiere – Outsourced

I’m so pleased the movie screening finally happened! It all took place last night at the Soho hotel in London.

This all started a couple of years ago when I saw this video on youtube. I liked the fact that someone had turned a current affairs story into a human interest story – an actual movie that would interest people beyond the business community. I started using the video in some of the MBA classes I teach, as an example of business strategies crossing into general consciousness. One day I just thought I would contact the person who uploaded the video – out of interest. I was surprised to soon receive an email from the director (and writer) John Jeffcoat!

I then had some chats with John about the movie and how we might arrange a London screening. I started trying to put it together as an event that the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) could host. What I found though was that all the companies I approached for funds (to pay for the cinema, drinks etc) were all a bit scared of the subject matter. The film has some amusing sections, comic situations involving cultural misunderstandings and many of the companies I spoke too just shied away from associating themselves with comedy when the press is often accusing them of stealing jobs from the UK and sending them to India.

Eventually I even got rejected by the NOA board. Not that they didn’t like it – we had a private screening on DVD and the board liked it, but they were wary of using membership funds on an event that was ‘fun’ rather than educational or research driven.

However, the NOA provided a sponsor in the end. Buffalo is the marketing and communications agency that works for the NOA. I had an offer of some cash from the law firm Olswang, but it was not enough to completely cover all the costs. Buffalo stepped in and said they would match Olswang and cover any additional costs so the event could happen!

So… Buffalo did a lot of work and organised a great event at the Soho hotel screening room. There were drinks, and a really nice screening in a great theatre. What was really nice was that I managed to get hold of the actress Ayesha Dharker via the director of the film, John Jeffcoat – i was communicating with him the day before the screening on Facebook and he sent some text messages from the USA to the actors from the movie. She was in London and managed to change her diary for the day so she could come to the screening and also do a Q&A after the movie finished. You can see some video from the Q&A session here…

It was a great event and I’m really pleased that I had started the ball rolling. I’d really like to do something else now themed around getting people together in a networking format for a screening…