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The Professionals 2012: The winner

The Professionals 2012: The winner
The Professionals
  • On December 13, 2012

This article originally appeared in Outsource magazine Issue #30 Winter 2012

We round up 2012’s buy-side competition – and announce the very deserving winner…

Well, another year comes to a close – and with it the first annual instalment of The Professionals, our series of learnings from the buy-side… Earlier this year we put out a call for respondents to a series of set questions designed to elicit buyers’ ideas of best – and worst – practice in outsourcing, shared services and business transformation, and to deliver some genuine insight into – and thoughts upon – the current and future state of this dynamic space.

We thought, though, we’d make things a little bit more exciting by offering a prize for the “best” entry over the course of the year (as determined by the Outsource judging panel): a much-coveted bespoke cover of the magazine. Oh, and an iPad to boot…

Responses came flooding in – and although the majority had to be disqualified immediately for not coming from buyers (apologies to all you consultants and vendors who responded but, really, we did make it pretty clear in the copy…) and a few of them were not quite up to the required standard (including the one consisting entirely of profanities – which did t least amuse the editorial team no end) we finished the first season of The Professionals with ten excellent articles from across the space, with submissions from finance, the supply chain, global services, vendor relationship management and much more. (You can read all of the instalments by checking out the 2012 series index at

With the series closed at the end of November, it was time to choose a winner – so the judging panel went off into huddled seclusion (or, more accurately, studied the entries independently) to determine which of our correspondents would take home the most coveted prize since the Olympics. And, after much humming and hawing and general cogitation, we can announce that the winner is:

Dave Butler, Director, Corporate Affairs Grainger plc

Having been told of his triumph, Dave was overcome with emotion (at least, we like to think so). Holding back the tears manfully (this is pure fiction – Ed) he managed to summon up the strength to issue the following statement:

“I am genuinely surprised and very flattered to be recognised in this way by fellow professionals. It is always good to know that others have read what you have written and hopefully the piece struck a few chords. I am about to kick off a new major change programme in Grainger and this recognition is a great way start. The iPad too will undoubtedly help me find sources of inspiration when things get tough!”

(We like to think that Dave focussed on the iPad because the prospect of the bespoke cover of the magazine was simply too magnificent to consider immediately…)

The judges also held up for special mention (in no particular order) the efforts of Madelein Smit, Ash Bisaria, Nabil Gangi and Qasim Ali; again, you can read their articles via the series index at

You can read Dave Butler’s winning entry overleaf; meanwhile, you’ll be delighted to hear that the 2013 series is now open for submissions – so, if you’re on the buy-side and want to share your learnings (and stand a chance of winning a much-sought-after prize) simply go to – we’re waiting to hear from you!

The Judges

Max Büchler is a senior trusted visionary “agent provocateur”, critic and advisor who thrives when people understand IT and increase business because of it. He is an advocate of the importance of greater ITaaS and cloud computing business. He has over 15 years of experience in IT outsourcing, ITaaS and cloud computing. During the years he has occupied roles as Sales, Consultant, Project Manager and Product Manager. His latest employment was at one of the leading Nordic ITO and ITaaS providers. He now runs his own business: MMind.He writes on his own blog In Max Mind and on sites like Newvem’s Know Your Cloud. He is a frequent tweeter.

Chris Halward is Programmes Director for NOA Pathway, and the managing director of training organisation True North. He is an associate tutor at Middlesex University and a regular writer for Outsource. He has been a key contributor to the design and development of the first university-accredited professional development programme for those in outsourcing roles, and a key contributor to the development of the National Outsourcing Association’s outsourcing Life Cycle framework. You can read Chris’ latest article for Outsource on the NOA Pathway’s Book Of Outsourcing Knowledge on page 82.

Deborah Kops is one of the most versatile and well-regarded figures in the global sourcing space, with a 360-degree view of the industry. Formerly a founding partner of PwC’s BPO unit and the CMO of a leading offshore BPO; MD of FleetBoston’s (now Bank of America) Services Group, MD Global Sourcing Transformation for Deutsche Bank; and consulting partner in two major firms, she has hands-on experience as buyer, vendor and advisor. She now focusses on the challenges of outsourcing change through, a resource dedicated to outsourcing and shared services change management. You can read her latest article on page 32.

Outsource: What are the three most important attributes you seek in a potential partner – and what one single factor is most likely to prevent you partnering with an organisation?

Dave Butler: 1. The willingness/ability to create and share a joint vision of what long-term success will look like.
2. The demonstration of a close cultural fit between the partner and us, the customer – visible through both their ways of working with us as customers and their ability to offer any transferring employees a long-term home.
3. The presence of strong dynamic individuals within the partner’s team who are able to personally demonstrate past successful delivery of the services and service improvements that are sought through the relationship and to sell themselves and the partner to us (and to represent me/the individual responsible for the deal).
The single factor most likely to prevent me partnering is unwillingness by the partner to put any real skin in the game, i.e. to properly align their success to ours though performance-related rewards.

O: What’s the most impressive instance of innovation you’ve encountered during your time in and around the shared services and outsourcing space, and why?

DB: As a source of pure innovation, I guess it was a working with CSC at one of their
innovation centres, based in their aerospace business, which we looked at using as a way
of changing thinking within a financial services business. The opportunity to transfer
knowledge and ideas across industries is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of dealing with multi-national, multi-skilled partners.

However, as I look back, over and over again I am drawn to imaginative and impressive individuals, who are able to draw out the key issues and present solutions based on understanding, insight and experience that I could never imagine myself. From an IT perspective, this tended to involve solutions architecture, particularly Service Orientated Architecture that gave us a new insight into highly complex environments and an approach to managing these and from a business perspective, insights into managing supply chains, by changing the boundaries of the organisation and the tasks and responsibilities of different players in the supply chain.

O: What’s the most outrageous example of shared services/outsourcing “worst practice” you’ve witnessed, and why?

DB: I don’t really think about shared services/outsourcing in this way; more I think it’s about customers and suppliers both getting the partners they deserve. If you go into a relationship expecting to exploit your supplier then it will be you who end up being exploited. You won’t put the effort into selecting a supplier who is capable of meeting your needs and into building a mutually beneficial relationship and there are only two possible outcomes from that. Either your supplier won’t be capable of servicing the contract in which case you will suffer as they go under or they will be smarter than you and you will suffer as they exploit the loopholes in the contract.

O: What do you see as being the biggest obstacle/s to the further expansion and evolution of the shared services and outsourcing space?

DB: The things I have hinted at above, but above all a lack of maturity and thought in the way that we, customers, approach outsourcing. Although there are good examples of great customer/supplier relationships too many times we repeat the same mistakes that we were making 10 or 15 years ago and by behaving in the same way as we always have done, unsurprisingly we get the same results that we always did.

If customers don’t approach outsourcing in a mature way, that learns from the past and instead expect to save money, to improve service and to get rid of their problems to someone else and at the same time don’t invest in the relationship then it’s no wonder that things don’t improve.

If suppliers continue to have a sales-driven approach to contracts, rather than seriously investing in relationships and then try to cut costs or drive down service levels or send in the ‘get well’ teams then it’s no wonder that contracts continue to fail.

Success in relationships comes from trust and trust is built not on a quick beauty parade and a contract negotiation but by competent and empowered individuals working together and creating circumstances at every level across supplier and customer that enable both parties to succeed most of the time. But this trust has to be backed up by comprehensive and transparent contractual obligations that both parties feel are fair.

The alternative I guess is that like serial unhappy marriages, we are doomed to serial divorces, and to making divorce lawyers the only people who are rich and happy.

O: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt over the course of your career?

DB: There are three pretty simple lessons that I’ve learned and that I try to live in my working life:
No one has a monopoly on the truth. Always be ready to learn from others, be open minded and ready to change your position if evidence shows there’s a better answer. This is just plain common sense.

Every idea has its time. In contrast to the last rule, hang on to the ideas that you really believe in. One day, your good idea that no one would accept will become obvious and everyone will suddenly see that it always was so. (See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, for more on this.)

Always treat people as an end in themselves and never as a means to an end. It doesn’t matter how you dress this up whether you refer back to Kant or The Water-Babies, the message is still the same, we are all human beings, we have to get along and treating other people badly just because you can isn’t a great recipe for success.

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