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Amid declines in outsourcing contracts, four industries pick up pace

It seems this Great Recession is pressuring some industry sectors more than others to turn to outsourcing.

While total value of large outsourcing contracts is down dramatically in the first quarter of the year, according to industry watchers, the number of contracts awarded by telecom, media, retail and the utilities, traditionally cool to outside help, is up at least 20% year over year.

Except for utilities, the sectors showing a 20% jump share another trait: All of them underperformed the Forbes Global 2,000 in growth of revenue and earnings and in market capitalization.

The data comes from TPI, a large global outsourcing advisory firm that tracks IT and business process outsourcing deals of $25 million or greater. Results from the first three months of the year show the total value of outsourcing contracts signed  declined 22% from the same period a year ago to $19 billion, the lowest since the first quarter of 2001, when the air went out of the dot-com bubble. The number of contracts slipped to 141, 1.3% down from the same time a year ago. And the bulk of the contracts — 101 — were for IT work.

The utilities industry accounted for 30 of the 141 big deals signed over the past 12 months, compared with 23 contracts between 2007 and 2008. Highly regulated and influenced by unions, this is a sector that has traditionally avoided offshoring, according to TPI. But an aging workforce disproportionately hit by layoffs during the recession has depleted expertise, causing companies to look outside their four walls. The expense of compliance is also driving companies to cut costs on labor, even in the face of high demand for their products. “The industry has got to deal with the harsh reality of continued growth and demand for electricity, while the construction of the power plants to meet these new demands face increasing regulatory hurdles,” said TPI industry sector specialist Tom Lang.

The volume in retail, which also accounted for 30 contracts in first quarter, was up 40% from a year ago, although the total value of the awards dropped to its lowest level in five years, more evidence that the trend is to enact shorter contracts focused on fixing the problem at hand.

Telecom’s 99 contracts marked an all time high for that industry.

The underperforming media industry showed an uptick in both the number and value of contracts, consistent with the trend in that sector for the past five years. Most media outsourcing activity stems from the U.S., with about 60% of the transactions signed in the Americas. These are now increasingly coming not just from the top 25 global Forbes media companies, but also from smaller players.

“Companies of all sizes are aggressively seeking new ways to reduce costs and develop new revenue streams,” Lang said. “To make the most of their assets, they are also looking to leverage content across multiple platforms, which often requires the development of new software applications and other IT-driven innovations. But there is also a fair amount of BPO, largely focused on the financial processes.”

The media market is an exception on business process outsourcing (BPO). The market for big, transformational BPO work, hot during the boom-boom years, has shriveled, especially in the Americas, and it is unlikely to come close to any of the metrics of the past five years, TPI’s Peter Allen said. “The cost savings are generally longer in coming in BPO and require broader organizational change than we see in IT outsourcing, giving ITO the priority.”

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