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TOP TEN: Outsourcing Myths & Legends

Posted: 06/27/2016 - 20:04

The world of outsourcing is a mysterious place anyway, full of bizarre practice, obscure (even obscurantist) jargon, and technology that is increasingly indistinguishable from magic – yet some parts of our shared folklore take this oddness to a whole new level of spookiness. Look beneath the surface and one finds a repository of strange tales of enigmatic events and curious characters that gives the Ancient Greeks a run for their money – and it’s time Outsource took the plunge… Prepare to be amazed, astounded and astonished as our Top Ten series steps into the unexpected, and reveals the most persistently mind-boggling of outsourcing’s many myths and legends…

1. El acuerdo exitoso (Monterrey, Mexico)
Spend a while amongst the villagers living to the north of Monterrery, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, and you will undoubtedly hear – perhaps huddled round a campfire, voices kept to a murmur – the legend of el acuerdo existoso: the successful deal. According to the more superstitious locals, several generations ago an outsourcing agreement in the area came to the end of its term having achieved exactly what it was supposed to do, with no complaints from either side. A victim of its own unique success, this hapless deal was shunned by the community, whose members simply couldn’t believe nothing had gone wrong and eventually swore to dissect it to get to the truth; these threats and accompanying accusatory curses ringing in its ears, it fled to the mountains, where its spirit is said to dwell to this day – though experts naturally dismiss the tale as pure fancy residing far beyond the realm of the possible.

2. Long-tailed Jack (London, UK)
Victorian England saw the birth of a host of mysterious tales, but few have retained such a prominent place in the public imagination as that occupied by the demonic Long-tailed Jack, a grotesque figure rumoured to visit SMEs in the depths of night and impose upon them a hideous array of outsourcing deals clearly designed – and priced – for large enterprise customers. Many eye-witness accounts – frequently lurid, some downright deranged – exist of encounters with this terrifying ghoul, yet no evidence remains of any of the deals in questions – though some more sympathetic scholars contend that this is simply a function of the companies in question having gone under, dragged to oblivion by the weight of their contractual obligations.

3. The Abominable Advisor (The Alps, France/Switzerland/Italy)
The legend of the yeti, or the “abominable snowman”, is one of the best-known of all modern myths – yet vastly fewer people have heard of its European counterpart, a similar beast said to inhabit the upper reaches of that area of the Alps where Switzerland, France and Italy meet. While stories of this creature have circulated for generations, the most famous alleged sighting of this shaggy humanoid came in 2004 when a pair of vacationing BPO salesmen skied off-piste and ended up trapped overnight on the side of a mountain. Already fearing for their lives as temperatures plummeted, the two were taken to new heights of terror as they began to hear a mournful howling coming from somewhere in their vicinity – and even more so as the howls grew nearer and became decipherable. One of the pair later told police that he could clearly make out phrases such as “it’s fine to outsource a mess!”, “cultural fit is only a nice-to-have” and “don’t worry about the governance, it’ll happen organically!” – and for a few seconds, the speaker became visible through the darkness and the driving snow: a shambling figure over two metres tall, covered in thick fur, clasping a ring-binder. The two salesmen, utterly crazed with fear, fled down the slopes and were found shortly afterwards by a search party sent out by their employer – which proceeded to look for the being they described, to no avail. Further sightings were reported in 2009 and 2013, but again no other trace of this possible “missing link” were found; the French government has thus far made no official comment on allegations that the creature has since been captured and put to work advising local councils on their outsourcing strategies, despite threats by union representatives of strikes should no further information be forthcoming.

4. The Flying Warehouse (Atlantic/Indian/Pacific Oceans)
Catch an old sea dog in a particularly loquacious mood and, before too long, it’s inevitable that talk will turn to some of the many supernatural encounters s/he has had over the course of many a long year out on the water – yet it’s a rare privilege indeed to find one brave or inebriated enough to discuss the infamous Flying Warehouse. The tales of this terror of the seas are many and various, but all have at heart the eponymous ill-starred vessel, supposedly staffed by the ghosts of several hundred Indian call centre operatives, doomed to sail constantly around the world in a futile race against timezones – constantly, that is, unless even one of their number can succeed in resolving an incoming complaint on behalf of the client whose curse it was that condemned these pour souls to such a hideous fate. Alas, it is said that the Flying Warehouse’s owners refused to settle accounts with their telephony providers before absconding, and the ghosts of their former employees thus sit at their desks as the years roll by, their phones eternally silent, their once-proud 0% attrition rate now mocking them forever from the mildewed notice-board above their transparent heads.

5. The Analysts in Black (USA)
From its birth the American outsourcing industry has had to contend with rumours of a mysterious band of consultants – supposedly in funereal garb, lending them their rather intimidating name – said to call uninvited upon potential buyers of services and to disseminate amongst their hosts’ already-anxious staff the most profoundly negative assessments of the providers with which the would-be buyer organisation is in discussion. Invariably, upon being confronted these unwanted guests are said to disappear into thin air, leaving behind them an atmosphere of intense trepidation and print-outs of various matrices – featuring in very positive positions alternative suppliers whose leaders, so the legend has it, have been rather more financially forthcoming towards the shadowy analysts than have the providers which the latter have just maligned so terribly. Wildly fanciful though such stories clearly are, their persistence demonstrates the remarkable power of fairytales to seize the popular imagination, even in a B2B environment.

6. Black Shuck (East Anglia, UK)
Another sable-monikered legendary beast, Black Shuck may be at first glance merely “one of many ghostly black dogs recorded across the British Isles” (in the words of Wikipedia) – yet this demonic hound, reputed to have plagued East Anglia for nearly a millennium, has earnt itself a chapter in outsourcing’s legendarium thanks to rumours of sightings during HP’s ill-fated acquisition of Cambridge-based Autonomy in 2011: the lawyers still wrangling extremely profitably following HP’s $8.8bn write-off have apparently (and, in the opinion of this organ, inexplicably) thus far paid little heed to eye-witness accounts of a monstrous black dog padding through Autonomy’s offices and feasting upon, variously, a gigantic pile of money; a huge quantity of potentially extremely valuable source code; and an accountant clutching a whistle. No trace of any of the above has been seen since, and the very large bloody paw prints which other witnesses describe leading from the offices away in the general direction of Palo Alto might just as well never have existed at all.

7. Phantom judges (Global)
In today’s international outsourcing space there’s an awards ceremony going on somewhere on Earth at any given moment – or, at least, that’s how it can sometimes feel, so numerous are the competitions and so interminable the ceremonies themselves. With such a proliferation of awards, the casual observer could be forgiven for asking how so many industry experts of good repute can be persuaded to give up so much of their precious free time to participate in such penetrative, all-encompassing judging processes… However, some outsourcing professionals of a spiritualistic nature believe that the industry is subject to visitations by “phantom judges”, restless spirits – undetectable by the vast majority of the living – who enter our world to contribute their votes to awards competitions, potentially having a decisive impact upon the processes in question. Some of the most ardent believers in these phantoms hold that before disappearing whence they came these spectral visitors will communicate news of their actions to the award winners; should you ever find yourself at one of the many ceremonies where the identities of the winners are consistently surprising, but the winners themselves seem completely unsurprised, this may well be what’s taken place. Certainly we at Outsource can think of no more rational explanation.

8. The Carnatic Triangle (India)
One of the best-known and most deeply entrenched of all outsourcing myths, the “Carnatic Triangle” refers to an area centred upon the India city of Bangalore within which a large amount of data (some of it highly sensitive) is said to disappear each year. Sceptics dismiss this phenomenon as being nothing more than a combination of prejudice and media hype, and point out that the quantity of the data in question is unknown (and that losses may therefore be no higher on average than those taking place anywhere else) and that anyway much of it reappears within a short period, usually up for sale on the dark web. Nevertheless, a growing number of professionals are coming out as believers in the Triangle, and a conference (of which Outsource is a media partner) addressing the topic was launched this year; unfortunately the organisers have had to postpone this event, as the major study upon which much of the conference was to be based now lies in tatters following the loss of three years’ worth of survey data.

9. UFOs – Unidentified Flying Outsourcings (Global)
Just as the start of the Cold War saw an explosion in reports of flying saucers and little green men, so its aftermath has seen a proliferation in alleged sightings of a very different type of UFO. Across the world, each year thousands of people report encounters with outsourcing deals of indeterminate origin, soaring at speeds unattainable by human-designed agreements and invariably disappearing before being recorded. Despite the huge number of eye-witness accounts, however, no government has yet acknowledged the existence of these deals, putting sightings down to such various causes as weather balloons, swamp gas, lightning and rogue captive shared service organisations. The recent formation of SETBI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Business Intelligence) may perhaps shed valuable light on this issue in years to come, but for now sceptics and believers continue to argue in the absence of any real evidence on either side – as do those debating the recent, puzzling spate of “crop KPIs”, which some contend are a related phenomenon.

10. The Loch Ness RFI (Scotland, UK)
No list of outsourcing legends would, of course, be worth its weight in pixels without the inclusion of “Nessie”, the Request for Information (RFI) reputed to dwell in Loch Ness, the United Kingdom’s largest lake by volume and one of its deepest. For many centuries, stories have circulated of a mysterious entity inhabiting the lake, occasionally breaching the surface to enquire as to the capabilities of service providers before returning to the depths. One of the most famous early encounters was that of Saint Columba, journeying through the land of the Picts in the sixth century AD, who is said to have come across a “strange inquisitive beast of the water” which fled when the Irish monk demanded to know the identity of the potential buyer of services. Popular interest in “Nessie” really surged in the twentieth century when descriptions in the press of alleged sightings, the publication of a couple of grainy photographs that may or may not be of an aquatic RFI, and the beast’s appearance in a number of movies gave the phenomenon a global renown. However, despite several searches of Loch Ness using increasingly advanced technology no trace of anything even vaguely resembling an RFI has ever been found – the “400-year-old Statement of Work” found by divers in 1993 has since been confirmed as a hoax – and most industry experts maintain that poor Nessie simply doesn’t exist. In the words of one sceptical analyst, “Nessie is a bloody ridiculous theory. Absolute crackpot nonsense. The idea that an RFI could exist there is totally deranged. Have you been to Loch Ness? Who’d be doing any buying there? It’s just farmers, fishermen and an assortment of desperate top-tier service providers scanning the lake 24/7 in the hope that a deal will just leap out of the water and into their laps. Tragic, really – oh, sorry. Gotta go: my caviar, oyster and champagne smoothie’s just arrived.”

Do you know of other myths and legends we should add to this list? Write to the editor at jliddell@sig.org and we’ll investigate – and, if we get enough, we’ll publish a follow-up to this Top Ten somewhere down the line…

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