Can outsourcers survive the economic storm?

Outsourcers could see revenue grow during economic downturn while other technology providers suffer losses

IT service spending might not feel drastic cuts as high-tech leaders look to shave dollars off their budgets, because outsourcers and service providers could help them contain costs and streamline operations, industry analysts say.

A majority of IT executives report they are re-assessing how to invest what's left of their 2008 IT budgets. Many have decided to cut overall IT spending, but relatively fewer are reducing the amount they put toward outsourcing IT services, according to Forrester Research. A recent Forrester survey shows that while 46 percent of 258 Global 2000 enterprises have already cut back their IT budgets, only 21 percent have cut back on their IT services spend.

"The primary value proposition of a good IT services deal for enterprise IT buyers is lowered costs, improved processes and streamlined operations," says Paul Roehrig, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

That means IT executives that currently invest in outsourcing will continue that trend during cost-cutting times, and companies that might not have previously considered sending IT services to an external provider might turn to the delivery model to avoid adding head count or investing in new technology.

"For the enterprise, outsourcing could help the total spending go down even though outsourcing revenue for the service provider would go up," Roehrig says.

For instance, despite reported softness in the third quarter, global sourcing advisory firm TPI anticipates 2008 to outperform 2007 in terms of the outsourcing contracts awarded. The number of contracts awarded until this point is up 5 percent compared to last year, and the total contract value of the deals is up 19 percent. TPI estimates that the global outsourcing market will reach US$88 billion in 2008, up 10 percent from the previous year. Specifically business process outsourcing is expected to increase a total of 14 percent to US$22 billion, and information technology outsourcing is forecast to be up about 9 percent, bringing revenue to US$66 billion.

"Infrastructure-oriented management of servers, desktops and other IT components is expected to go unchanged, but application development work could be potentially impacted. There will be a downturn in discretionary projects in the short term, but application maintenance won't be affected," says Brian Smith, partner and managing director of financial services operations for TPI North America.

Still the outsourcing industry won't go completely unscathed, according to TPI. TPI reports that the outsourcing industry overall experienced a 22 percent drop in the number of deals from the second to third quarter this year, but the firm attributes that to IT executive caution in late 2007 and a lessened demand in the financial services industry. Still, TPI says it doesn't anticipate certain types of sourcing deals to be cut in reaction to more recent economic woes.

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