Magazine article Information Outlook

Managing an Offshore Team: Is the Elephant Still Here? Changing Client Expectations Prompted a Professional Services Firm to Rethink Its Research Process and Transition to a New Offshore Team That Better Serves Its Needs

Magazine article Information Outlook

Managing an Offshore Team: Is the Elephant Still Here? Changing Client Expectations Prompted a Professional Services Firm to Rethink Its Research Process and Transition to a New Offshore Team That Better Serves Its Needs

Article excerpt

At the SLA 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, I presented a paper titled "There's an Elephant in the Room, but Your Staff Isn't: Connecting and Collaborating with Your Offshore Team." The paper discussed the PwC Research Department's experience in creating a remote (offshore) support team.

I thought it might be interesting to revisit the topic and take a look at where we are now. What have we learned? How has our work changed?

The short answer to both questions is, a great deal.

The expression "there's an elephant in the room" means there is a conspicuous problem that no one wants to address. Among librarians and information professionals, the use of offshore teams to conduct research services has often played the role of the pachyderm.

Today, at least with respect to PwC's Analytical Insights group, this is no longer the situation. While almost all of my unit's "transactional" desk research, as well as a great deal of higher aggregation and synthesis of research findings, is being handled by our remote team, onshore staff are focusing on complex, high-profile questions involving both core, traditional research skills as well as data analytics and visualization. This staffing structure makes it difficult to extend the "elephant in the room" analogy, so perhaps we should say the elephant has morphed into a typical and well-used furnishing in that room.

Broadening Our Services

In 2013, after two years of training, transition, and collaboration, offshore researchers were handling more than 80 percent of research requests, representing more than 90 percent of research hours. Adding this offshore capacity enabled us to handle twice the volume of research requests as when we first began the transition process in 2011. Managing the request queue became a shared responsibility between the onshore and offshore teams based on timing, sources required, and the level of research complexity. The U.S. team focused on creating new research opportunities for the department at large and addressing higher-level requests with more added value.

This ongoing collaboration with the offshore team was facilitated by implementing the following systems and processes:

* using instant messaging or chat to discuss immediate issues and requests;

* scheduling virtual meetings on a daily or weekly basis;

* working from a shared request management system;

* conducting surveys of the offshore team members and managers to gather their feedback;

* visiting the offshore team annually; and

* gathering client feedback on a periodic, ad hoc basis.

In 2015, we determined that our clients' needs and expectations were changing and that we would have to adjust by changing and enhancing our research process and deliverables. We viewed this shift not as a switch to an alternative solution, but rather as a progressive growth and broadening of our services.

To a considerable extent, these changes reflected PwC's increased emphasis on including data and analytics in research projects. Our onshore research team needed to be part of interdisciplinary teams combining data, analytics, traditional research, and visualization skills. On one hand, our onshore team needed to develop new analytical skills; on the other hand, any analytical service we provided needed to be strongly linked to the core research skills that our department had consistently demonstrated.

To meet these enhanced responsibilities, we needed the following:

* increased access to offshore support, particularly during regular U.S business hours;

* a team that possessed basic reference skills and could handle a high volume of transactional requests with minimal guidance;

* a second, higher-level team to develop newsletters, format company and industry profiles and biographies, and aggregate and synthesize research findings as part of standard deliverables; and

* a vendor-maintained request management system that could be tailored to our specific needs and provide required performance metrics. …

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