Godfrey Pinto has great credentials. He has three master’s degrees, including an MBA, and a bachelor’s in economics. He has a solid position, too, as director of offshore outsourcing, a role he has held for six of the nine years he has worked in IT at a large East Coast technology company.
Now Pinto is adding one more accomplishment to his list: Earning the certified outsourcing professional (COP) designation. He acknowledges that many people haven’t yet heard of the certification, but he believes it’s valuable nonetheless. “It means you’ve obtained a certain level of expertise and your skills are transferable,” says Pinto. “This differentiates you.”
Industry leaders say IT outsourcing professionals need skills in technology, finance, law, negotiation and project, change and performance management. They should also be able to work in various corporate environments and national cultures. Knowledge of Hindi or Chinese is a plus.
Because so few people have the combination of skills required to manage an outsourcing relationship, companies often assemble teams to negotiate, implement and oversee outsourcing deals, or they appoint inexperienced and unprepared workers to the job.
The new COP designation is one option for differentiating knowledgeable professionals working in outsourcing. Traditional educational institutions offer others. Carnegie Mellon University and the Stevens Institute of Technology, for example, have outsourcing management concentrations, and the Illinois Institute of Technology provides outsourcing management training for client corporations.
Many in the IT community say they’re looking for these kinds of training and certification programs, says Christina Powers, director of association and professional development at the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) in New York. “Outsourcing used to be a Band-Aid and not a strategic move, but now it is [strategic], and companies are looking for people to lead their relationships with other companies,” she says.
Michael F. Corbett, who has worked in outsourcing for about 15 years, started the IAOP in early 2005 in response to this need. “Everybody was talking about the disappointing results from outsourcing,” he says.
Corbett, who now serves as the IAOP’s executive director, says companies want professionals who can align outsourcing with the organization’s overall strategy, identify the right opportunities for outsourcing, and structure and implement outsourcing arrangements.
The IAOP’s goals include setting standards for the profession as well as recognizing experienced professionals via the COP designation.
Powers compares the certification with the more established project management professional designation awarded by the Project Management Institute. Like the PMP, the COP requires applicants to demonstrate experience and a thorough knowledge of the discipline. They must also have executive sponsorship.
Applicants need 150 points to earn certification, and at least 50 of those need to come from mapping their experience against a body of knowledge set by the IAOP’s standards committee.
Applicants also can earn 75 points by taking the IAOP’s four-day master’s class. (Price tag: US$3,500 for members, and US$4,500 for non-members.) In July, the IAOP announced that it had awarded the first COP designations to 13 professionals, who came from various companies — including Johnson & Johnson, Bell Canada International Inc. and The Procter & Gamble Co. — and disciplines, such as pharmaceutical research and development, contract management and IT. This inaugural class also represented both sides of the outsourcing relationship: Customer and service provider.
Powers says 10 more applications for certification are being reviewed, and hundreds of people have signed up for the Web-based seminars held twice a month to explain the new program.
William Metz, the external business development manager in business services and IT at P&G in Cincinnati, is among the first 13 COPs. Even though he has experience managing outsourcing relationships, Metz says he saw value in earning the COP. “You have to know and understand your competence in a particular area to understand how and where you can improve,” he says.
His executive sponsor, Carlos Amesquita, director of innovation for global business services at P&G, agrees. “For [employees], it provides something widely recognized outside of P&G. And for us, it’s a way to benchmark that we’re getting the best skills over time,” says Amesquita.
Will other executives share Amesquita’s view? Time will tell. Meanwhile, IAOP officials acknowledge that they have to market the organization as well as the designation. And even with those efforts under way, they say they expect the COP will take years to become an industry standard.
Joseph E. Hogan, vice-president of strategic programs for outsourcing at Unisys Corp. in Blue Bell, Pa., is another member of the inaugural 13. He says he’s surprised by the number of phone calls and e-mails he has received from colleagues, not only congratulating him on earning the COP designation, but also asking questions about it. Hogan says he tells them that the new certification recognizes people with the complex mix of skills required to successfully arrange and manage outsourcing relationships.
But he doesn’t expect any immediate star power from his new designation. “In five to 10 years, it definitely should be a preferable qualification,” Hogan says.
Others stress that any certification is only one arrow in a professional’s quiver. “I would be hard-pressed to say certification would be required [by employers]. I always say it’s not [just] your degree; it’s your degree, your motivation and what you bring to the table. You can do that without certification,” says Kate M. Kaiser, an associate professor of IT at Marquette University and coordinator for a recent Society for Information Management (SIM) study, The Information Technology Workforce: Trends and Implications 2005-2008.
Even so, Kaiser lists outsourcing management as one of the hot skills for IT workers. Discussing the mix of abilities required she comments, “To get that in one package is pretty rare.”
Consider the case of one financial company that sought such a person, says Christine V. Bullen, professor of information systems and director of the IT outsourcing program at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
“They were looking for the person who could walk on water in this area,” says Bullen, who interviewed the company’s CIO for a SIM study. After a year of searching, the CIO found the ideal person, she says. Problem was, everyone else wanted him, too. The CIO offered a high salary and signing bonuses, but the candidate was looking for additional concessions, such as more vacation time.
“I was amused that this person had this much power,” Bullen says.
Stories like this — whose outcome Bullen was not privy to — led the Stevens Institute to introduce a new four-course concentration in outsourcing for graduate students in 2005. “We felt it was such an important area for management students,” Bullen says.
So far, only about 25 of the school’s 2,100 MSIS and MBA students have taken theses courses, and none has completed all four, but Bullen is not deterred. “As outsourcing increases, there [will] be more demand,” she says.
The Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago has also responded to the need for training in outsourcing management. Since 2004, the school has offered a strategic outsourcing program for corporations looking to train staffers.
“Outsourcing needs to be a core competency of the company,” says Mark J. Power, adjunct professor and co-author of The Outsourcing Handbook: How to Implement a Successful Outsourcing Process.
Carnegie Mellon introduced in 2005 a concentration in service management as part of its full-time master’s degree program in information systems management and its part-time master’s program in IT. The courses cover IT program management, contracts, negotiations, service organization management, capability and process improvement, and sourcing management.
“Those are things you don’t get in a hard-core technology program,” says associate professor Bill Hefley, who is also associate director of Carnegie Mellon’s IT Services Qualification Center.
Carnegie Mellon began offering the concentration after corporate executives at a 2004 symposium expressed a need for workers who could manage outsourcing relationships. Hefley says the introduction of these kinds of courses and the COP designation show a maturation of outsourcing. He says there aren’t enough trained and experienced workers to meet corporate demand, and even if there were, most companies wouldn’t know what to do with them. Many companies keep people with these skills in old IT positions and just add responsibilities, he says. Or they put them in the procurement office.
But that’s starting to change. Progressive companies are developing career paths for these professionals as more and more of them come to the table with experience and credentials, Hefley says.
“It’s probably a good sign that people are asking, ‘How are we going to train these people?’” he adds. “It shows there’s an increasing attention on servicing and the service economy.”
Side Bar–Which side are you on?
The battle lines seemed fixed in professor Christine V. Bullen’s IT Outsourcing Governance class at the Stevens Institute of Technology. One student worked for a vendor, another lost her job to outsourcing, a third worked at a client company where his responsibilities increasingly involved managing the outsourcing relationships, and a fourth started the class with the attitude that outsourcing was bad. “I think he just wanted to come to complain,” Bullen says.
But instead of prompting adversarial conversations, Bullen says the mix of students resulted in “wonderful class discussions.”
The outsourcing management programs at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals include a mix of students from both sides of the outsourcing relationship. While that approach initially might seem counterintuitive, considering that client companies and vendors have very different goals, instructors and students say the combination leads to insights that help workers do a better job.
For example, Godfrey Pinto, who recently earned the IAOP’s certified outsourcing professional designation, found himself studying with two vendor-side professionals who willingly shared issues and concerns from their perspective. Pinto, a director of offshore outsourcing at a client company, says he found his classmates’ discussion about how vendors are stemming the high attrition rate of overseas employees to be particularly helpful. He says it’s the kind of information he can take back to his supervisors, who are concerned about the high turnover rates at offshore providers.
Bill Hefley, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon, says it’s important to have this mix in the classes because many workers will move between the two sides as outsourcing management matures. “The barrier is permeable,” he explains. “So it’s really important that people understand the other side as well.”