Guest Column | December 17, 2008

When Outsourcing Your Field Force Makes Sense

justin_mclain_endeavor

Written by: Justin McLain, CEO of Endeavor Telecom

For VARs and service providers interested in adding new services or expanding into new territories, staffing up and training their field organizations is a key priority. But those tasks can take time and drain considerable resources. When opportunities arise, time-to-market is key. Outsourcing field services may provide an ideal solution to address such opportunities. The following Q&A with Justin McLain, CEO of Endeavor Telecom, discusses some of the conditions that might be best served by outsourcing field services in the telecommunications industry.

Q. Which field service tasks can most easily be outsourced?

A.We think the best types of outsourced installation and maintenance tasks are those that are easily repeatable ones that can be executed hundreds or thousands of times. These types of tasks provide clear expectations and predictable deliverables, which are associated with scaling a project to many, if not all, of an end user’s locations. Classic examples include extending demarcation points (i.e. the location where a telecommunications provider’s network ends and a private network begins) on new circuits, connecting premise equipment to inside wiring, installing POS (point of sale) and kiosk-based equipment, and installing VPNs and other managed services. Other examples include services like installing T1 and xDSL lines (for dedicated Internet access), voice and data circuits, VPNs (virtual private networks), SIP (session initiation protocol) trunking, and hosted PBX (private branch exchange) offerings. These types of tasks can be easily defined in a statement of work and charged at a flat installation rate, regardless of the geographic location.

Q. How can outsourcing benefit a VAR?

A.We all know that providing traditional telephony access has become a commodity, and that the new “gold rush” is in adopting managed services as a component of the service provider’s business model. Extending demarcs and installing equipment are just the necessary elements of a service provider/VAR servicing a new circuit. But there is a great deal more on the table: Once the service provider/VAR makes the decision that they are no longer in the business of just providing dedicated Internet access, it’s a whole new world, and field service then becomes a revenue center instead of a necessary evil.

End users already are accustomed to paying other vendors for installing the services that operate on the access layer. So, service providers can easily mask the cost of the access installation in their integration work. This not only simplifies matters for the end user, it also provides incremental revenue to the service provider on the managed services required to power the applications.

Q. How can a VAR ensure quality control when outsourcing customer-facing tasks?

A.The most important aspects of quality assurance in respect to field service are: the SLA (service level agreement), real-time status and reporting, field engineers’ knowledge and ability to complete their work, and clear and concise communication of the expected procedures and outcomes for each dispatch. Many organizations subcontract jobs through other national providers, who subcontract to regional organizations, who subcontract to local affiliates, who in turn subcontract to an individual contractor. This adds incremental layers of profit taking, and unnecessary distillations of instructions for the tech. We think that service providers interested in outsourcing should look for companies that maintain direct control over each individual performing the work.

An outsourced provider also should meet mutually agreed upon SLAs. These SLAs should encompass on-time arrival, staff appearance procedures that enhance a service provider’s brand, and they should ensure the quality and workmanship at the premise.

Q. Is there anything a VAR can do to become more comfortable with outsourcing?

A.There are a number of useful ways to test your outsourcing strategy. I recommend limiting the scope of projects to a few hundred sites to get comfortable before committing to a larger engagement. Companies might want to farm out particular products from their portfolio – perhaps T1 router installations, or VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol)-based initiatives – as test cases before expanding to other products and services. Other service providers may choose to select a specific geographic area outside of their local market where they want to grow. And I think it’s always a good idea for companies to seek help for intricate installations that are beyond their in-house skill sets. Whatever the case, there are several ways to evaluate outsourced services. The review of SLAs, the assessment of customer feedback, and the measurable impact on the bottom line, all provide a wealth of data that service providers can use to determine if, where, and when it makes sense to leverage outsourced services as part of their business models.

Endeavor Telecom CEO Justin McLain is responsible for overseeing all of Endeavor’s operations and investor relations activities and has been in executive management with Endeavor since its divestiture in 2002. From 1999 to 2002, McLain served as VP of sales for Endeavor’s former parent company, SSI, where he provided an array of consulting services to telecommunications companies. He can be reached at mailto:jmclain@endeavortelecom.com

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