Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing

Gaining competitive advantage
through outsourcing
Sarah Tagliapietra
Peter Platan
Ng Seow Li
Ralph Schneider
Executive Summary
Today’s escalating, competitive and demanding environment has forced players in the
marketplace to be more efficient, to emphasize on a leaner organization and continuously
innovate new procedures to keep ahead of competitors. Adding final consumer value to the
product or service in the form of lower prices, quality and better service has become an
essential requirement in the global marketplace.

Logistics outsourcing has become an attractive option in order to take advantage of global
opportunities, to acquire state of the art logistics capabilities, significantly improve customer
service and to enable focusing on core competencies.

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The purpose of this study is to present a theoretical framework for outsourcing actions as a
guideline for companies on why and how to outsource. It gives a deeper insight on logistical
outsourcing as a new and promising trend in the global environment while presenting the
main logistical areas of outsourcing as well as the advantages and disadvantages.

In order to effectively implement outsourcing, commitment from top to down management
and a wide understanding of all the stages and implications of outsourcing are required. In
order to achieve these prerequisites and a successful implementation process, a model
integrating the third- party logistics buying process and relationship improvement process is
presented. It emphasizes the importance of carefully identifying alternatives, the overall
analysis of partner selection with the help of specific criteria, mutual relationship building
between logistics service buyer and provider through joint team building and continuous
improvement and performance measurement. The relationship positioning tool model can be
used for the continuous enhancement and improving of the supplier-customer relationship.

The results and overall reasons of outsourcing should focus on adding value to the final
consumer of the product or service. By achieving lower logistical costs and a higher level of
quality and expertise these results can be used to add value to the consumer.

The study points out that there is an increasing need for logistical outsourcing as a way to gain
competitive advantage and as an instrument to meet the requirements of the company’s
complex environment.

1.0 INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
1.1 OUTSOURCING TODAY…………………………………………………………………………………………. 1
1.2 LOGISTICS OUTSOURCING ……………………………………………………………………………………. 1
2.0 APPROACH ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2
2.1 PURPOSE…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2
2.2 METHOD…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3
3.0 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK ……………………………………………………………………….. 3
3.1 LOGISTICS OUTSOURCING DRIVERS……………………………………………………………………….. 3
3.1.1. Advantages and disadvantages …………………………………………………………………….. 4
3.2 THE IMPLEMENTATION OF OUTSOURCING ……………………………………………………………….. 6
3.2.1 Model for outsourcing………………………………………………………………………………….. 6
3.2.2 Relationship positioning tool ………………………………………………………………………… 9
3.3 AREAS OF OUTSOURCING……………………………………………………………………………………. 10
3.3.1 Transportation…………………………………………………………………………………………… 10
3.3.2 Warehousing……………………………………………………………………………………………… 11
3.3.3 Inventory management ……………………………………………………………………………….. 13
3.3.4 Information systems……………………………………………………………………………………. 14
4.0 CASE EXAMPLE ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 15
4.1 BACKGROUND ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 15
4.2 OUTSOURCING SOLUTION …………………………………………………………………………………… 16
5.0 CONCLUSION………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 18
6.0 REFERENCES………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 19
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
1.1 Outsourcing today
Today’s escalating, competitive and demanding environment has forced players in the
marketplace to be more efficient and to emphasize on a leaner organization. Enterprises must
adapt with increasing speed to market pressure and competitors’ innovations. To survive in the
21st century, enterprises are hurrying to:
1) search globally for opportunities and resources
2) focus on core competencies and mutually beneficial longer term relationships
3) outsource those activities that can be performed more quickly and at a lower cost by
Outsourcing seems to be an attractive option to take advantage of global opportunities, to
acquire state of the art logistics capabilities (often at lower costs), significantly improve
customer service and most important to focus on core competencies.

The idea of outsourcing is not new. It has been utilized traditionally, but on menial chores.

Now it is currently a very popular strategy, commonly used by many companies. The
International Trade Commission reported that the trend is global. It expects the global 12%
growth in outsourcing to continue, with revenues reaching US$ 99 billion.

1.2 Logistics Outsourcing
Logistics outsourcing1 is a significant process. The total costs of logistics in highly
industrialized countries reach about 18% to 30% of GNP. More than 50% of the final price of
the product consists of logistical cost.2
But this function, for many companies, is not a core competence. This meaning that logistics
is not the means by which the company differentiates itself. Yet it is a significant operation,
because it can show a dramatic return on investment. When there exists an industry segment
such as logistics, which is a non-core activity to a large number of companies, there is an
opportunity for a marketplace for outsourcing to develop.

Logistics outsourcing is an attractive alternative, because it matches the three characteristics
companies are striving for mentioned above (enhance globalization, gain benefits from
economies of scale and specialized process expertise). It has clear and objective metrics that
can be easily measured by the buyer (inventory costs, inventory levels, the cost of
warehousing space and transportation etc). The buyer can understand the benefits received
from the outsourcing supplier and so the outsourcing relationships becomes an easy sell in
today’s competitive market place.

1 This practice is also known as Third Party Logistics (TPL).

2 Storhagen, 1995.

Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Another driving factor for the decision to outsource is that specialized skills required for
success in supply-chain management are rapidly becoming more advanced and complex, so it
becomes essential to have good expertise at hand. These specialised skills include having the
ability to effectively use handling and storage technologies; planning software and supporting
infrastructure; data-communications technologies; decision-support; demand-planning and
advanced transportation planning and control tools.

Example: Compaq, the world’s number one producer of personal computers, estimates it has
lost around $1 billion in sales in 1994 because its laptops and desktops were not available
when and where customers were willing to buy them. Compaq’s chief financial officer argues
that his company made the most of what needed to be done in order to be more competitive.

Compaq changed the developing, manufacturing, marketing and advertising of products. The
only area that was not addressed was logistics.

For most companies products, promotion and price are the competitive ingredients, while time
and place have taken a back seat. This relative neglect is now changing. The increase in the
geographical distances between production and consumption, and the concentration of
production to fewer and bigger units in order to be able to enjoy the economies-of-scale in
production has increased the need to store and to transport. Distribution costs, as a percentage
of revenue, are greater for international companies than their domestic counterparts.

Complexity, long order lead times, unusual product-service requirements and differing legal
and cultural factors in foreign countries have combined to create a more challenging operating
environment. Many companies are now seeking to exploit their logistical competence.

Strategic vision calls for a willingness to offer extra value-adding services. Logistically
speaking, it means meeting commitments and shipments arriving when and where promised.

Companies committed to the strategic use of logistics usually outperform the competition in
speed and consistency of the order cycle. The objective is to be the preferred supplier for key
customers. Consequently companies are willing to use qualified external support to outsource.

2.0 Approach
We will approach outsourcing from a theoretical framework by describing the processes and
possibilities of outsourcing and finally apply the methods to a practical case.

2.1 Purpose
Our purpose is to present a theoretical framework for outsourcing actions as a guideline for
companies on why and how to outsource. With this work we want to give a deep insight on
logistical outsourcing, as a new and promising trend in the global environment. We will
explain what outsourcing is and which are the opportunities offered in this field and
demonstrate how it can create value for the customer. To better show that it is not a risky
investment, but a new opportunity, we will propose a framework for the implementation of
the outsourcing decisions, describing a possible relationship between a firm that wants to test
outsourcing opportunities and a logistical consultant company. We will also apply this theory
to a small case to give an example of how the consultant company could work in that
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
situation. Our purpose is to present the theoretical framework for outsourcing actions as a
guideline for companies on why and how to outsource.

2.2 Method
The report has been based on a descriptive approach in strive to describe the reality; how
outsourcing can create value.

No primary data was used in this report, as we used a case example for background on our
example implementation. As such all information is secondary, achieved through studies of
relevant literature, books and journals that proved useful to the study.

3.0 Theoretical Framework
This capital will deal with the theoretical framework of outsourcing. Presenting some of the
basic reasons why companies outsource and the advantages and disadvantages of the
procedure. A model for implementing the practical phases of the outsourcing process is also
presented. Finally four possible areas of outsourcing are explored.

3.1 Logistics Outsourcing Drivers
Although logistics outsourcing can vary from one business enterprise to another the basic
reasons and driving factors for outsourcing are:
1) Facilitate and accelerate business reengineering: outsourcing allows enterprises to
realize quickly the anticipated benefits of reengineering. Not only does outsourcing allow
enterprises to accomplish rapidly the anticipated benefits of a structural change, but take
advantage of already reengineered world-class provider.

2) Flexibility and reduced risk: an additional logistics outsourcing driver is risk reduction.

Investments of a sizeable amount in a non-core business can have tremendous risks. When
enterprises outsource they reduce workload fluctuations, improve flexibility and enhance
capabilities to adapt to changing opportunities.

3) Investment priority: logistics outsourcing is appealing to business enterprises because
they can switch a large proportion of fixed costs into variable costs. This will not only
improve the enterprise’s balance sheet but also free capital funds for core business areas.

4) Reduce or control operating costs: cost reductions and operating cost controls are the
most often cited reasons to use third party logistics (TPL). TPL seems to have leaner
overhead structures, more expertise, less excess capacity and better control.

5) Concentration on core business: to achieve a competitive advantage throughout the
logistical activities the company should continuously develop outsourcing, upgrading its
resources; but by doing this the company may loose the focus on its core activities. By
applying third party logistics it can fill in the lack of expertise and technology knowledge
without loosing the focus on its business:
High quality logistics service: TPL enterprises are medium to large businesses.

They tend to have extensive logistics expertise, state of the art equipment and
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
excellent training for their personnel. The acquisition of these capabilities through an
outsourcing arrangement can result in an increase in the quality of logistics service that
the contracting enterprise receives.

Better and newer technology: logistics technology requires more often special
expertise. A competent logistics provider can relieve the outsourcer of a timeconsuming
logistics function and a non-core business area that requires the latest
technology to be successful.

Figure 1: Driving factors of outsourcing
3.1.1. Advantages and disadvantages
By outsourcing the logistical activities the company can achieve great benefits, but it will have
to cope with some common issues. The following is a list of the most important ones, to give
a useful insight on the convenience of undertaking this decision.

The advantage that a company could gain through outsourcing can be seen both from the
operational and the strategic point of view. Too often companies look at outsourcing as a
mean to lower only short-term direct costs (operational impact). However, through strategic
outsourcing, companies can lower also their long-term capital investments and leverage their
key competencies significantly (strategic impact). The following is a summarization of the
operational and strategic advantages of outsourcing.

Cost reduction: the outsourcer can experience lower logistics costs due to the
increased efficiency of the TPL;
Improved logistics service: the outsourcer can benefit from the third party
logistics provider’s increased levels of service consistency. This enhances
efficiency and can lead to higher customer satisfaction;
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Reduced inventory costs: access to state of the art physical distribution systems
through outsourcing can reduce the amount of inventory required in the system.

This results in lower inventory costs for the outsourcer;
Capital investment reduction: the outsourcer doesn’t have to face the asset
investment because it is using the TPL provider’s facilities and equipment;
Upgrade logistics system: the outsourcer can gain access to state of the art
logistics capabilities, at a fraction of the cost of upgrading its own system, by
outsourcing its logistics functions;
Accommodated seasonal peaks: the problem of seasonal changes shifts from the
outsourcer to the TPL provider, so the former doesn’t have to cope with it and
can achieve great flexibility.

Access to logistic expertise: a strategic goal of the outsourcer could be to acquire
and maintain a state of the art logistics expertise. The TPL provider is likely to
be aware of current developments in the logistics field such as new regulations,
innovations and logistics technology. It will therefore pass on the benefits of its
knowledge to the outsourcer as a result of the outsourcing agreement;
Easier access to foreign markets: an enterprise can gain access to foreign
markets much more rapidly with the help of a TPL provider than if it tried to set
up its own logistics network. By engaging in outsourcing, the outsourcer gains
access to the previously established local contacts of the third party logistics
provider. It also acquires the ability to resolve local regulatory problems and
overcome cultural differences using local expertise with professional
accreditation. Possibly most important, however, is the opportunity to enter a
new market without the necessary infrastructure costs. This reduced cost
diminishes the risk of entering new markets;
Concentrate on core competencies : some enterprises have found out that in
order to remain competitive in their field they must reduce the range of functions
they perform and concentrate on their core competencies. To do this they must
reduce the resources and efforts expended outside their core skills. Many
enterprises have made the strategic decision to minimize their involvement in
logistics functions. Outsourcing offers enterprises the opportunity to reduce their
logistics efforts while maintaining high standards of logistics service;
Economies of scale: for many enterprises logistics economies of scale are not
achievable due to the relatively small size of the enterprise. In some cases, a
strategic decision can be made to access these economies of scale, not by
expanding, but by outsourcing the logistics functions to a TPL, which is already
large and efficient enough to achieve the desired economies of scale.

Outsourcing complete or partial activities creates great opportunities, but also new types of
risks. The main disadvantages that the management can face are:
Loss of critical skills: if the company doesn’t realize that the logistic function in
question is a core activity for itself, and it decides to outsource it, it will loose
the specific skills that constitute part of its competence;
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Loss of cross-functional skills: communication among the different functional
departments is usually difficult enough in a normal company, especially
regarding logistics. It is easy to understand that it will be more difficult if the
function is taken over by an external company (the outsourcing provider), so one
of the main issues in the implementation of the TPL relationship concerns the
information system and its interfaces;
Loss of control over the supply chain: since the logistics functions are being
outsourced to another firm, which the parent company has no control over, it
may mean a loss of control over the logistics process and the service levels. This
may in fact lead to the risk of trusting your partner too much; in fact there are no
legal restrictions on the penalties that can be sentenced on vendors for service
levels not reached;
Human resource issues: the outsourcing usually means a reorganization of the
work and may sometimes not be accepted by management and employees, which
can see the outsourcing provider as an interference. Management should solve
this issue by focusing on commitment and employee education;
Lack of global logistics providers: even though the trend is to have a unique
partner in outsourcing in order to achieve better communication and coordination,
and even though we are going towards the globalization of the
markets, the company cannot trust a world-wide logistics network that would
completely cover all of the relevant markets.

3.2 The implementation of outsourcing
As with other management strategies the most challenging phase in outsourcing is often the
implementing and realization of the change. Converting the theory and ideas into effective
practice demands decisive co-operation and synchronizing of efforts. Multiple factors may
prevent the successful implementation of the outsourcing plan. The key factors in
implementation are commitment and understanding. Commitment for the outsourcing
decisions is required throughout the organization from top to floor management. Commitment
is also reflected in the level of trust between the participating parties and mutual
understanding of the importance of commitment. Company-wide understanding of the
partnership-outsourcing concept and the goals set by management are also critical factors.

3.2.1 Model for outsourcing
In order to successfully implement this process, by which outsourcing and partnership is
finally achieved, a solid set of procedures and models are required. Therefore we have chosen
to present a basic model and framework for the practical actions needed to achieve company
goals. This model is an integrated framework of the buying process model3 and relationship
improvement process4 model, which we found suitable for implementing outsourcing.

This is a presentation of the buying process and relationship improvement model used by
customers (the party wishing to outsource some or all of its activities) in relation to the thirdparty
decision and consists of 6 different stages.

3 Coyle, Bardi, Langley, (1996) The management of business logistics
4 Macbeth and Ferguson, (1997) Partnership outsourcing
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Phase 1: Diagnose and conceptualize needs
This first stage consists of the company realizing and defining its needs for outsourcing
logistical functions. Some of the decisive factors (outsourcing drivers also mentioned in 3.1),
which may compel a company to choose outsourcing activities as an alternative to
independent logistic operations are:
Capacity/space constraints
Lack of needed expertise
Organizational change
Mergers and acquisitions
Changing markets and customer requirements
New products and cost pressure
The benefits of outsourcing are also considered at this point. From an overall view the
emphasis should be on taking cost out of the entire supply chain – not just on an individual
component. Other benefits deriving from outsourcing, in addition to cost reduction and the
facts mentioned in section 3.1.1., are improvement of customer service, ability to focus more
on core competencies, reduction of employee base and capital cost reductions.

Phase 2: Internal commitment and team building
As previously mentioned commitment and understanding of the issues involved in
outsourcing are crucial factors to the development of the relationship process. Thus
management expertise and commitment are essential prerequisites for success. The process
itself requires coordinated effort, which is effectively achieved through the building of a
cross-functional implementation team. This team has the responsibility of carrying out the
outsourcing process, development of collaborative supplier relationships and managing the
relationship change program. It should have the following characteristics:
Stakeholder representation, including key operational people e.g. sales
production, engineering and purchasing
Technical expertise
Organizational expertise
High level managers
Strong leadership
Right size. Preferably eight to ten members.

From this point on the implementation team plays an important part in coordinating efforts
and selecting suppliers.

Phase 3: Identify Alternatives
This stage should be devoted to the determining of selection criteria for a third-party supplier.

The needs defined in phase one should act as a basis for defining the characteristics and
factors required for the coming relationship between company and third party. The process of
identifying possible alternatives should also include a request for proposals from interested
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
suppliers. A pre-screening based on this list of proposals received should identify the relevant
suppliers according to the company’s specific needs.

Phase 4: Selecting partner
The selecting of a third-party logistics partner is the most critical phase in the outsourcing
process. Suppliers that offer the lowest prices are not necessarily the most suitable ones for
developing long-term mutual relationships. The emphasis should be on the total acquisitions
cost including selection process, implementation and estimated future expenses instead of
supplier quoted unit prices. Crucial selection factors include the following:
Technical capability. Does the supplier have access to technology, which
provides basis for customer service and development.

Existing level of business. Experience of supplier and key figures indicating
profit, turnover and healthy levels of investment.

Design capability. Is the supplier experienced in working with customers in

Capability for development. Does the supplier have processes, which are fully
capable now and plans to ensure their effectiveness in the future.

Organization management. Does the supplier have an organizational structure
capably of managing desired processes and a TQM environment.

Personnel capability. How experienced is the staff and how well does the
supplier organize, train and use its people resources.

Company strategy. Does the supplier have a strategy compatible with forming
collaborative, long-term relationships with customers.

The following up and assessing of these criteria’s involve visits to each supplier’s premises,
interviews with key personnel and the building of professional contacts on a personal basis. It
is important to achieve consensus on the final selection and ensure that everyone has a
consistent understanding of the decision and its implications. A win-win relationship objective
is essential.

Phase 5: Supplier commitment and joint team building
After choosing the most suitable supplier, the aim of this phase is to encourage the chosen
supplier to buy into the relationship improvement process and the building of a joint team
with the supplier in order to carry forward the rest of the relationship building process. It is
important that both parties go through a process to develop full understanding amongst
supplier management of the coming changes and improvements. The basic requirement is thus
the provision of information and education from company to the chosen supplier. This is
efficiently achieved through the building of a joint team between the supplier and company,
which will direct the rest of the relationship improvement process. The same criteria’s and
factors as in the team building of phase 2 are important. As a result of this phase mutual goals
and commitment should be agreed on as well as sharing of benefits and a statement on
expectations set for both partners.

Phase 6: Implementation and continues improvement
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
This phase covers the actual effort of implementing the goals and commitments identified by
the joint team during phase 5. The whole concept of achieving mutual benefits and
competitive advantage depend on the successful implementation of agreed plans. Depending
on the complexity of the new third-party relationship the overall time needed for
implementation and success may be relatively short or extended over a more extensive period
of time.

It is important to keep up a continuing feeling of progress through identifying critical targets
and time-scales for actions and establishing performance measures to estimate the success in
meeting these goals. Continues improvement of the supplier-company relationship should also
be considered as a priority. An effective model to measure the relationship is the relationship
positioning tool described below (3.2.2). Encouraging “out-of-the-box” thinking and being
creative and innovative are important factors affecting the level of success achieved through
third party outsourcing.

3.2.2 Relationship positioning tool
In order to measure and continuously improve the relationship between supplier and company
a systematic process of rating key elements included in this process is essential. A useful
model here is the Relationship Positioning Tool5, which identifies the effectiveness of the
relationship and the critical factors determining it. It is based on a model of customer-supplier
relationship shown in figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Structure of the Relationship Improvement Tool model
The leaves of the tree in the figure represent the overall health of the relationship, which are
divided into four components of performance elements: quality, delivery, cost and innovation.

Measured variations from quality, delivery and cost indicate weakness in the performance of
the relationship. Similarly the effectiveness is measured by ensuring that continues
5 SCMG Increasing The Potential for Local Sourcing to OEMs, Report of SERC/ACME grant GR/F68119,
Glasgow, 1991
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
improvement takes place through innovation of the supplied goods and services. However the
overall health of the tree is dependent on the strength of its root system which is divided into
three major contributing factors between the customer (party buying third-party outsourcing)
and supplier (party providing logistical functions). The potential of the relationship is thus
dependent on:
Customer strategy. How well the customer creates the right conditions for a
successful relationship with the supplier.

Supplier Capability. The suppliers raw capability to deliver products/services at
a high level of quality, at the right time and the lowest overall cost.

Information flow between customer and supplier. The effectiveness in which
partners create a flow of information between each other providing basis for
effective sharing of knowledge and ideas.

The Relationship Positioning Tool framework can be used to provide the basis of
measurements on the effectiveness of the supplier-customer relationship. It measures current,
visible performance against the business deliverables of innovation, quality, delivery and cost
thus acting as an incitement for further and continues improvement. It also examines the
factors below the surface giving insight into tomorrow’s performance.

3.3 Areas of outsourcing
Outsourcing can be applied to various fields of logistics. The following is a presentation of
four core capabilities, which can be considered as important areas for outsourcing. These areas
are transportation, warehousing, inventory management and information systems.

3.3.1 Transportation
Transportation is the linkage process in logistics, permitting the flow of goods to the final
consumers. Customer satisfaction is achieved through place and time utility; with the physical
movement of goods to the place and time desired. As the geographical distance between
consumption and production increases in today’s global economy, transportation has become
an even more important operation.

Transportation issues involve the selection of the transportation mode (air, sea, rail or motor),
and then the specific carrier. Company characteristic and philosophy, market structure,
product characteristics, customer characteristic and environmental issues are often the
strategic issues influencing transportation mode options. Specific carrier selection begins with
identifying carrier attributes required to achieve customer service, followed by the ranking of
the importance and ended with the evaluation of the potential carrier against the criteria.

Transportation decisions are prominent within the company logistic decision due to the tradeoff
potential existing between alternative transportation modes and carriers.

Decision making in transportation offers 3 alternatives; the company can choose to operate its
own transport function, lease the vehicles and manage the service function, or it may opt to
use a specialist service company.

To make or to buy transportation often revolves around factors such as financial policy,
customer service policy, the control the company requires and the intensity of the competition
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
in the market. For example, the view of how profit objectives are met will be reflected in
financial structure decision. Many companies are questioning the ownership of non-essential
asset. The decision to lease will eliminate many direct cost items, but increases operating or
variable cost. Risk of poor capacity utilization is reduced with a lower level of investment in
vehicles, special equipment and service support. Market characteristics and competitive offers
influence customer service. Order cycle length and reliability are important factors within the
scope of transportation decision making.

Today, there are many large transportation firms, such as UPS Worldwide Logistic, FedEx
Logistic Service etc., providing a wide range of logistical solutions. Many companies seek to
create synergy by concentrating on their competence and exploiting the carrier provider’s
competence. A prime example is Drug Transport, Inc., which has carved out a niche in lessthan-
truckload distribution in the pharmaceutical and office supply fields.

Some examples of services offered transportation service providers:
planning of shipments and determining the best carrier for each need
professional assistance in negotiating with commercial carriers for enhanced
assistance in damage and lost merchandise claims, provision of management
reports which enable effective analysis of transportation costs and monitor
carrier performance
consolidation and centralization of pre-audit and payment for all intrastate,
interstate, and international freight companies.

3.3.2 Warehousing
Warehousing is defined as the storage (holding) of goods. Warehousing is one possible area
for outsourcing. By the year 2000, private warehousing will decrease to 63% and public and
in-transit storage will increase to 22% and 13% respectively. As our question is how to create
value for the customer through outsourcing, we go directly on to describe what the advantages
and the disadvantages are for this action. By using third party warehousing, companies can
concentrate on their core competencies like marketing or manufacturing. The contract or
public warehouse can not only provide storage, but also provide the logistics services package
the user requires to support a firm’s logistic channel. Generally at lower output levels contract
warehousing is the best alternative. When volumes increase so that companies can spread the
fixed costs over the larger output volumes, it might be more efficient to use private
warehousing. The contracted party can offer, not only packaging and light assembly, but also
freight audits, order entry system operation, inventory management and the picking and
packaging of goods. But several other advantages speak for outsourcing warehousing.

First of all the company can compensate for seasonality in products: A contract distributor can
handle the peaks and troughs typical in seasonal industries more effectively than a private
distributor can. That is to say if the output is not stable the company may have problems to
decide over the right output amounts and use its warehouse inefficiently. Nevertheless some
companies have multiple-product lines and this helps to stabilise the private warehouse

Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Additionally with third party warehousing the firm can increase geographical coverage by a
network of facilities. A company could have warehouse locations in different regions without
investing in numerous private facilities. With a combined private and contract warehouse
network, a company can remain in direct control of the centralised facilities, while using the
contract warehouses to lower direct labour costs and increase geographical market coverage.

Moreover it can gain flexibility in testing new target markets. Contract logistics flexibility can
enhance customer service. Firms promoting existing products or introducing new ones can use
short-term contract distribution services to test market demand for the products. Therefor
when building an own warehouse knowledge on the best market area will already be acquired
(closest to vendors or most dense market area). A further rationale for contract warehousing
referring to this is, that when a company builds it establishes a long-term financial
commitment. This assumes that the firm has adequately forecasted and located consumer
demand and concentration and that technological breakthroughs in construction,
transportation, or warehouse systems will not make the facility obsolete, in order for the firm
to get the necessary pay-off.

Another point is the obtaining of management expertise and dedicated resources. Contracting
out is a unique opportunity to hand a company’s logistics function over to a team of managers
who are distribution experts. These can provide innovative distribution ideas and costreducing
product-handling procedures.

Permit off-balance-sheet financing is another advantage. Hiring a contract distributor to
perform distribution operations can increase a company’s return on investment (ROI),
allowing the company to invest only in those assets that support its primary business. In
addition these assets represent an opportunity cost to invest funds elsewhere. Contracting out
the distribution services takes these assets off the balance sheet, thereby increasing a
company’s ROI.

Finally, because the contracted firm handles a high volume of products from different client
accounts, contract warehouses offer significant freight savings by consolidating freight into
full truckloads.

Along with the advantages of outsourcing come some disadvantages.

There is the loose of control of the logistics function. The company exerts less control over
personnel, hiring practices, policies and procedures. Companies with high-value products such
as pharmaceuticals must be very cautious to reduce employee theft as much as possible.

Physical control like security, refrigeration and service control for customers and plants will
be lost and certain raw materials and finished goods are highly susceptible to theft, damage or
spoilage. Thus hiring an outside company to handle products is more risky than using a
private facility. Even if contract warehousing usually has a good reputation, the chances of
loss are greater.

Contact costs possibly exceed private costs. Also there may be management and union
acceptance problems, lack of product volume, incompatibility with company needs and
insufficient understanding of contract warehousing and its value.

Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Finally, in some regions there might be no contract warehousing possible, because of their
hazardous nature or for some other reason, where the loss for the contacted firm would be to
great. In this regions private warehousing is unavoidable.

3.3.3 Inventory management
A potential area of outsourcing is the inventory management functions, which are closely
related to warehousing. Inventory management is defined as inventory administration through
planning, stock positioning, monitoring product age and ensuring product availability.

A recent trend in logistics has been the reducing of carried inventory in order to reduce the
overall costs in the entire supply chain. This can be achieved through various alternatives, one
of them being outsourcing the inventory management function. Inventory management
functions include all the actions between the receiving of each stock-keeping unit until the
specific unit is load for transport. These functions are closely related to warehouse operations
and thus inventory management is often outsourced in combination with warehousing.

The reasons for outsourcing inventory management include cost pressure due to new products
or scarcity of assets. Inventory costs represent a significant component of total logistics costs
in many companies and the expanding product range increases the need for multiple types of
stock keeping units. Another reason is capacity constraints, which are effectively resolved by
buying extra capacity from outside. A third reason is the changing markets and customer
requirements. The inventory levels that a company holds directly effect the customer service
level and ability to reach the market. All of these factors can be resolved by buying third-party
logistical functions from outside which offer a variety of services.

The outsourcing of inventory management has a major affect on the company’s inventory cost
which consists of inventory carrying cost, order/setup cost, expected stockout costs and intransit
inventory carrying cost. Of the above mentioned, inventory carrying cost is most
important. It consists of capital cost, storage space cost, inventory service cost and inventory
risk cost, which may all be significantly reduced or totally removed through outsourcing. Thus
the inventory cost may also be used as a decision criteria for choosing an external service
provider. If the company’s inventory carrying costs, added with other overhead inventory
costs, amount to a higher expenditure than the cost of outsourcing inventory management,
then outsourcing should be considered as an effective solution. By calculating the total
amount of inventory cost by unit and comparing these numbers with corresponding
outsourcing unit prices valuable insight into the decision process can be gained.

From an overall point of view the major effect of outsourcing inventory management is on
inventory costs. Thus an essential decision driver in outsourcing inventory management is the
reducing of asset investment in order to improve asset productivity. Third-party suppliers offer
asset based facilities such as warehouses, which can be combined with inventory management
functions and services. Therefor outsourcing will eventually lead to improved asset
productivity, measured for example with return on investment, inventory turnover and profit
margin. This enables adding additional value to the company’s products and for the final
customer in the form of better service and lower prices
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
3.3.4 Information systems
Driven by information technology’s ability to reduce co-ordination costs, business enterprises
are designing and implementing inter-organisational links to support commerce activities.

These links take many forms, such as Integrated Logistics Information Systems (ILIS), Just In
Time systems (JIT), Electronic Hierarchies and Markets and Enterprise Integration. The
information systems make available all the information for carrier negotiations, carrier
management, shipment control and consolidation, financial reporting and freight in a faster,
smarter, and less expensive way by reducing paperwork and redundant processes. But the
consolidation of different software programs can lead to problems, so outsourcing can be a
good solution to have at the company’s disposal resulting in high expertise and a better

The most outsourced activities in the information systems area are freight payment and
auditing, cost accounting and control, and logistics management tools for monitoring,
booking, tracking, tracing, and inventory management.

To give an exhaustive view of the services usually provided by third-party logistics, we
searched information on the web sites of some of the firms included in this category. The
following are examples of how different companies have resolved information system
procedures and some of the services they offer in the area.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
Purchasing and supplier management
Internet/Intranet/Extranet (this includes building trading communities of internal
and external business partners, streamlining business processes and leveraging
investments in enterprise-wide systems)
Risk management
Trading community management services
Network services (providing local support and customer service in all major
global markets)
Messaging services ( e-mail, bulletin board and database management )
Freight invoicing, processing and controlling
Management reporting
Client database interface systems
On-line information retrieval
Internet delivery systems (a supply chain management system which handles
transportation transactions, procurement of materials and supplies, maintenance
and reparation of items, utility, and warehousing )
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Programming services
Local area networking (LAN) (design, upgrades/conversions, wide area connect
on demand (ISDN), equipment installation, troubleshooting)
Telecommuting systems
Real time system and network integration (office automation systems,
information/document repositories, license tracking and metering, e-mail
Needs analysis (needs identification, cost/benefit analysis, migration planning,
standards and procedures, disaster recovery planning)
Training services
4.0 Case example
4.1 Background
Our company is situated in the United States. It supplies medical and diagnostic systems to
hospitals, physicians office, clinical laboratories and pharmacies. Since the company has been
restructuring its line of business to focus exclusively on health care; during this time several
non-health care businesses were divested. Substantial changes in the company’s environment
demand for a essential rethinking of the logistics system.

The health care system itself is made up of two constituencies: payers (insurers, managed care
organisation and government entities) and providers (physicians, hospitals, long-term care and
specialty organisations). The soaring cost of health care had plunged the health care system
throughout the industrialised world into turmoil. Efforts to control costs created greater
pressures for efficiency, technological breakthroughs and actions to widen access to health
care systems and to improve the quality of services. The ability to respond efficiently and
innovatively became an important basis for competition among medical and diagnostic
suppliers. Conflicting pressures of providing quality medical care to all, while controlling the
cost of health care products and services challenged the companies.

In an attempt to control drug costs, the fastest growing expense in many health plans, health
insurers began to offer financial incentives to providers who selected a lower-priced or generic
drug when a choice was available. Insurers made similar efforts to influence a patient’s choice
of doctors and hospitals. Intervention by insurers in decisions that had formerly rested solely
with the doctor and patient marked a major shift in the way people accessed the nation’s
health care system. As insurers gained more control over the medical choices of individuals,
suppliers to the health care industry began to address the economic needs of their customers
and adapted their sales strategies accordingly. Purchasers were now more likely to use
economic selection criteria in their purchasing decisions. Cost-benefit analyses, consideration
of the supplier’s distribution systems and the consolidation of vendors took precedence over
traditional relationship-building and attention to a product’s features and benefits. Group
purchasing became widespread and customers began to demand new services such as
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
corporate supply agreements. As hospitals placed greater emphasis on inventory management
and purchasing programs with prime vendors, the ability to bundle products together or
deliver them at specified times and in prescribed ways became a major factor in vendor
selection. Suppliers in turn looked for ways to improve their price position and become more
attractive to the hospitals, thus logistics took an important strategic role. Demonstrating value
was no longer merely a competitive marketing advantage: it was the factor that sold the

The increasing demand by hospitals to centralise and co-ordinate relationships with suppliers
to achieve economies that they could pass on to their patients forces our company to react to
the demands through better logistic management, in particular outsourcing. Many studies
today have argued on the need to focus on core competence. That is, our company should
focus on the areas that it can dominate and it consists of elements that are important to the
customers in the long-run. This can be achieved by outsourcing through external logistic
specialists who can provide a customised solution for the company.

4.2 Outsourcing solution
The following is a description of the practical implementation of outsourcing in the case of the
described company with the help of the models and methods presented in this study. The
procedure is based on the implementation model described in section 3.2.

The first phase: Diagnose and conceptualize needs
This requires defining the company’s needs. It has to know what to outsource and what are the
benefits through logistical outsourcing. The possible areas and benefits of outsourcing are
identified in the table as follows:
Areas Benefits
Warehousing ;
Geographical coverage
High flexibility
No capital investment
Opportunity to hand function over to a team of expert
distribution managers
Consolidating freight into full truckloads
Geographical coverage
The company has to be clear with the scope of the project and its ultimate objective. Given the
importance of time and costs in the pharmaceutical industry and the company’s global market,
we feel that transportation and warehousing are potential areas for outsourcing. We assume
that the company’s scope in this particular outsourcing project is to focus on domestic
outbound truck transportation and warehousing of medical supplies, thus they will also have
to partly outsource their inventory management. We suggest to not outsource “information
technology” as it is vital to the company to keep track with the rapid trace of innovation of
new medical products and diagnostic systems, thus it contributes significant to its core
competence. Therefor it will be useful to keep full control over “Information Technology”.

Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
The main objective is to create value for the customer for example by reducing the costs and
being more flexible. The company can also benefit from the more general advantages like
handing over the logistic functions to experts or extended market coverage. This will lower
costs and add value to the final consumer in the form of better service and lower prices.

There are specific advantages for the firm, which are very important to meet the requirements
given by the company’s environment. First the hiring of the contract distributor allows the
company to invest in the assets that support its primary business, as they want to concentrate
on their core competencies. These assets represent an opportunity cost to invest funds
elsewhere, which is a big advantage as they can relocate the funds to research and
development functions, which is fundamental to a company in such a highly competitive and
innovative environment.

The contracted firm will handle a higher volume of products from different client accounts.

The contracted warehouses offer significant freight savings, especially on an international
level, by consolidating freight into full truckloads, thus reducing costs which they can pass on
to their customers. This also fits the request by customers for the ability to bundle products
together or deliver them at specified times and in prescribed ways.

In addition the increased market coverage along with more flexibility plays an important role
in offering better service to their customers as they began to take the supplier’s distribution
systems into consideration.

Nevertheless, we have to weigh these advantages against the possible disadvantages. First of
all the company with its high-value pharmaceuticals must reduce employee theft as much as
possible, which might be greater when contracting logistical services. Physical control in the
form of security and necessary refrigeration for the medical products will be reduced and
service control for their customers and plants could be lost. Additionally there is the risk of
damage to products or spoilage. But contract service providers usually have a good reputation,
because they also have to navigate in an increasingly competitive environment.

Possibly contact costs will not exceed private costs and there will be no management or union
acceptance problems. Neither will the lack of product volume be a problem in our company’s
case. After our consulting work there will also be a sufficient understanding of contract
service and its value.

Finally, in some regions contract warehousing may not be possible, because of the products
hazardous nature or for some other reason, where the loss for the contracted firm would be too
great. In this regions private warehousing for our company will be unavoidable.

The second phase: Internal commitment and team building
This phase calls for a committed project team with people who thoroughly understand the
outsourcing process, objectives, agreed evaluation criteria and resources. The team should
include people involved in the outbound truck transportation and warehousing functions.

The third phase: Identify Alternatives
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
The large number of logistic service providers, offering a wide range of services ranging from
order processing to customer service, offer many alternatives for the company. Our company
has to identify the alternative suppliers based on its cost reduction objective in outbound truck
transportation. Selection criteria will revolve around the common transportation issues of cost,
transit time, reliability, capability, accessibility and security. Given the cost objective,
potential partners are likely to be those who can provide the service at low cost. Cost issues on
rates, minimum weights, loading and unloading facilities, packaging, damages in transit and
special service available from a carrier are important.

The fourth phase: Selecting partner
Our company has to reach a decision to choose a partner based on the evaluation of the
alternatives. Using the theory of the previous section we suggest evaluating the alternatives
mainly on the basis of the specific business requirements. This means finding partners able to
handle the sensitive products and the time, place and cost requirements to create final value to
the customers which is the overall objective of our company.

The fifth and the sixth: Supplier commitment, implementation and continues improvement
In these two phases the company should proceed according to the given theory. Most
important is that there should be commitment between the company and the supplier. An
ongoing improvement process should accomplish this.

5.0 Conclusion
In order to effectively implement outsourcing, commitment from top to down management
and a wide understanding of all the stages and implications of outsourcing are required. In
order to achieve these prerequisites and a successful implementation process, a model
integrating the third-party logistics buying process and relationship improvement process is
presented. It emphasizes the importance of carefully identifying alternatives, the overall
analysis of partner selection with the help of specific criteria, mutual relationship building
between logistics service buyer and provider through joint team building and continuous
improvement and performance measurement. The relationship positioning tool model can be
used for the continuous enhancement and improving of the supplier-customer relationship.

As we pointed out there is an increasing need for logistical outsourcing as a way to gain
competitive advantage and as an instrument to meet the requirements of the company’s
complex environment. Some of the basic advantages are lower short-term direct costs
(operational impact). Through strategic outsourcing companies can also lower their long-term
capital investments and leverage their key competencies significantly (strategic impact).

The results and overall reasons for outsourcing should focus on adding value to the final
consumer of the product or service. By achieving lower logistical costs and a higher level of
quality and expertise these results can be used to add value to the consumer in the form of
lower prices and better service.

Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
Our report has presented the possible benefits of outsourcing in four important areas of
logistics. All the advantages and disadvantages have to be carefully taken into account before
taking the final step in outsourcing. This will help companies to concentrate on their core
competence and keep ahead of their competitors.

6.0 References
Andersson, (1997) Third party logistics: outsourcing logistics in partnerships, Linkopings
Coyle, Bardi, Langley, (1996) The management of business logistics, West Publishing
Macbeth and Ferguson, (1997) Partnership outsourcing
Gaining competitive advantage through outsourcing
SCMG Increasing The Potential for Local Sourcing to OEMs, Report of SERC/ACME grant
GR/F68119, Glasgow, 1991


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