The end of offshoring

Artigo publicado por Douglas Macbeth sobre o trade-off entre fabricar produtos e fornecer serviços em países onde os custos são mais baratos.

Faz-me lembrar há uns anos atrás, quando a Maytag (USA) estava com problemas com a Whirlpool que produz os produtos na Alemanha mais baratos, apesar dos custos de mão-de-obra, transportes marítimos, armazenagem serem mais elevados. As vendas da Maytag desceram.

Isto significa que, por vezes, o melhor processo ganha.

O artigo está disponível em

In this latest guest post, Douglas Macbeth of the University of Southampton School of Management argues that western economies can no longer afford to pursue a strategy of relentless offshoring - the costs and the risks are far too high...
Let us start with a few propositions which, in my experience, describe the majority of our manufacturing organisations – as well as many others.
• Procurement isn’t well understood at board level;
• There are not enough CPOs who are able to influence board direction and strategy;
• Short-term financial myopia drives decisions;
• Manufacturing is no longer seen as core to western economies – services are more important.
For many years, western companies have been moving away from manufacturing and have chased the world to find the latest low-cost country from which to source everything from materials to complete products.
But why has this happened?
To some extent there is a certain logic – labour and social costs are initially much lower in developing countries. But does anyone really know how to calculate the total cost of acquisition (far less the total life-cycle cost) of anything? And if not, what data is the decision maker using? While the concepts might be easy to grasp, extracting meaningful data out of ERP or traditional accounting systems is enormously difficult. Add multiple divisions and legacy information systems, and the quest for the Holy Grail looks simple in comparison.
Add to this the fact that the proportion of total cost which is accounted for by labour tends to be very low, and it is slightly puzzling why the trend for low-cost sourcing is so prevalent.
The reality is that the difficulties of offshoring are now well recognised. There is often a shortage of appropriate skills in the target location; infrastructures for physical logistics and legal structures to conduct western-style business transactions may be in short supply; time zones, culture, behaviour and attitudes are likely to require careful consideration and it will often be necessary to pay the costs of ex-patriot managers to help in the start up phases at least.
The alternative to the latter is to train up locals – a form of technology transfer which can create competition much quicker than you would like. And while some companies try and limit this by only transferring some of their capabilities, the same supplier might be building up skills across multiple orders. Who, apart from the supplier managers (and in some cases their governments), would have any view over the whole supply chain to see this pattern?
When we add to this the experiences we have just been through with the global financial system meltdown and we have the makings of a real catastrophe which will challenge the perceived wisdom of offshoring.
One major lesson for me from the banking crisis is that not enough people saw how interconnected the world’s financial systems were. Equally, no one had the appetite to perform a proper due diligence and risk assessment on the nature of the assets that were supposedly underpinning the whole house of cards.
However, before we criticise the bankers too much, how many of us can define our extended networks of suppliers and customers and have done a detailed assessment of where the critical risks are located and what mitigations are needed?
Wwe seem to be in the midst of a perfect storm. Some organisations are replacing bank lending to suppliers with their own financial support just to keep transactions moving, there are issues around currency fluctuations which are difficult to hedge against and the recent threat to business credit insurance threatens to further restrict the fluidity of supply chains. Without trust – or at least, insurance – how can any trade function, especially across international borders?
In addition, while there is talk about avoiding the threat of protectionism in international trade, the levels of taxpayer investment, and therefore future taxation, is at mind-blowing levels. It is no surprise that politicians are trying to control the effects of their investments to derive local benefits.
In the midst of all this, the environmental message seems to be getting heard more clearly. One of the features of this, however, will be measurement and concerns about carbon footprints and the true costs of transportation.
The opportunity for procurement to take centre stage here is clear – no other function has the potential to contribute so much. Risk assessment has always been part of the procurement process, but now we have to extend its horizons beyond the suppliers we are directly contracting with and into our extended networks more explicitly. We also need to be involved in the redesign of products to meet the challenges of extended life, reuse and repurposing that the green agenda will drive.
The fundamental need is to restructure supply chains to support these networks, which might still be international in part rather than simply chasing headline price reductions. It might also be necessary to repatriate some activities closer to customers to reduce the risks and costs of international transportation – companies might have a mixed model with different supply solutions for different channels of customer service, for example.
So, this article started by focusing on manufacturing rather than services. Surely we must by now recognise that the reliance of an economy on invisibles is inherently flawed – we must rebuild a balanced portfolio of activities. Of course we still need an effective and reliable financial services sector but we also depend on goods producers, transportation providers, energy and water providers to live our normal lives.
While some of the information and entertainment industries may be less concerned with some of these aspects since their dependence on physical location is less critical, for the rest, physical location must be a mix of close to source and close to consumer. And let us do that in a more considered way, informed by a vision of a more interdependent future.
And while I’m not suggesting that we should head for a state interventionist system (although that seems to be what is happening) rather, we need to redefine and then persuade our societies’ stakeholders that we need a more enlightened model which recognises and can work with interconnectedness and diversity in a dynamic and entrepreneurial way.
Are procurement leaders up to the challenge?
Professor Douglas Macbeth is director of business development, MSc global supply chain management and supply chain research, as well as professor of purchasing and supply chain management, at the University of Southampton School of Management.


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