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African Journal of Business Management Vol. 4(15), pp. 3307-3314, 4 November, 2010 Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/AJBM Outsourcing decision processes: A case study of a
Malaysian firm
Noradiva Hamzah*, Aini Aman, Ruhanita Maelah, Sofiah Md Auzair and Rozita Amiruddin
Faculty of Economics and Business, School of Accounting, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, There is a growth trend towards the outsourcing of accounting activities. The drivers of outsourcing
emanate from organisational initiatives, improvement focus, financial and cost objectives or growth
objectives. Despite the increasing practical significance of this phenomenon, the academic literature is
limited to a handfull of studies concerned with the delegation of accounting functions. There are
different drives and phases in the process of outsourcing but little is known on what drives accounting
outsourcing and its process. Based on an in-depth case study, this paper seeks to understand the
drivers and processes in accounting outsourcing. This study examines the mechanisms and practices
adopted in accounting outsourcing in a Malaysian company. Interviews were conducted with vendor
and client of the company studied. The findings reveal that there is no firm basis used by the company
studied for evaluating its outsourcing decision.

Key words:
Outsourcing, accounting, academic literature, vendor, client.

INTRODUCTION
Outsourcing is an increasingly important initiative being long-term contractual relationship within which only some pursued by organizations to improve efficiency (Vining of the expected mutual benefits and obligations are and Globerman, 1999). To be able to survive and be formal y defined. It involves very high-level strategic profitable in current globalization era, companies tend to decision answering the question ‘what to make and what use outsourcing in larger extent (Brannemo, 2006). In to buy’ (Kakouris et al., 2006). According to El ram et al. today’s business environment, companies considered (2007), outsourcing has implications for day-to-day outsourcing to empower business focus, mitigate risks, management and performance, as wel as strategic build sustainable competitive advantage, extend technical implications. Therefore, company must outsource intel i- capabilities and free resources for core business gently. Outsourcing decisions may affect company’s cost purposes (Bartel , 1998). Some companies outsource structures, long-term competitive situation and can also their core activities on the value chain extensively and alter the nature of risks that the company must manage other companies in contrast are extensively outsourcing (Brannemo, 2006). Hence, it is crucial for company to their secondary activities of their value chains such as understand and have a clear conceptual framework of the information technology, accounting systems and outsourcing decision. Furthermore, company must also distribution (Johnson and Schneider, 1995; Lacity and know the benefits and risks of outsourcing. Outsourcing has long been studied with a focus on manufacturing Juma’h and Wood (1999), defined outsourcing as the industries (Markides and Berg, 1998; Mol et al., 2004) replacement of inputs or value added previously created and only more recently in the case of services (Kotabe et in-house by provisions by an external provider within a al., 1998) and the first services to be outsourced has been IT service. In Malaysia, limited studies can be found although outsourcing has gained tremendous interest especial y in the financial sector. Kadir (2007) points out *Corresponding author. E-mail: [email protected] Fax: 6 8921 that Malaysia is a leading destination for the establishment of shared services and outsourcing hubs due to its low costs, modern infrastructure, business section suggests theoretical and practical implications of environment and high levels of global integration. Study by Abdul-Aziz and Ali (2004) explored outsourcing quality of quantity surveying activities at Malaysia’s public works department and found that the officers view the consul- Literature review
tants’ performance as general y unsatisfactory. Based on the finding, they argue that it is important to monitor and Outsourcing
control the outsourcing activities. Suhaimi et al. (2007), on the other hand, studied the practices of information Outsourcing is a process of transfering the responsibility systems outsourcing at a commercial bank. Their study for a specific business function from an employee group highlighted chal enges faced in outsourcing process to a non-employee group. Today, accounting outsourcing including managing the partnership and handling staff service is recognised as an effective management tool. Companies often incorporate outsourcing as a strategy in In another study conducted by Sohail et al. (2006) on business planning. Companies can provide better client the use of third party logistics services by manufacturing service, produce a better product, do a better job effi- firms in Singapore and Malaysia found similarities and ciently by outsourcing their non-core business function. differences between firms in both countries. The When the companies outsource their accounting services similarities are in areas such as proportion of functions, they put those responsibilities in the hands of organizations using outsourcing service, involvement of functional managers, types of activities outsourced and Accounting outsourcing means transferring part of budget al ocation for outsourcing. Differences include accounting functions to a third party provider or a ful y process of making decision, benefits received and types owned subsidiary in order to cut cost, gain access to of businesses utilizing the services. Their study also scarce skil s or obtain competitiveness (Nicholson and reported the fol owing:(1) Malaysian organizations Aman, 2008). Some common examples of accounting decision on outsourcing was made at the operational outsourcing include general accounting, treasury and level, (2) Malaysian organizations utilize third party cash management, payrol processing, accounts payable logistics services mainly for international businesses and outsourcing, invoice processing, and other industry (3) Malaysian respondents indicated time saving, improved customer services and payment or credit terms as the major benefits. Malaysia already had more than 130 shared services and outsourcing companies in Outsourcing decision
Multimedia super Corridor (MSC) ranging from major local players to multinationals. Kearney (2009) Offshore Economic principles is an ideal and commonly used basis Location Attractiveness Index has ranked Malaysia as the in outsourcing decision making. Efficiency theory indicate world’s third most attractive shared sources and that companies wil al ocate their resources within the outsourcing (SSO) location. Malaysia offers low cost of value chain to those activities that give them a com- labor and taxes, and good infrastructure for offshore parative advantage. Meanwhile, other activities that do centre to companies who are looking to set up shared not offer such advantages wil be outsourced to external services centre or to outsourcing their services in Asia. suppliers or partners. This is because some companies Despite these, little is known about accounting activities are highly integrated; others specialize and outsource especial y the outsourcing decision making process in their remaining transactions in market. Basical y when companies outsource their activities to produce their The main purpose of this paper is to understand products and services, they usual y move towards a outsourcing decision process by Malaysian firm. The business strategy which helps them in maintaining their research questions are (1) how does Malaysian firm competitive advantage in serving customers. Hence, performs outsourcing decision process and (2) why does outsourcing is expected to imply cost saving relative to the firm decides to outsource some of their accounting internal production or internal service function. activities. The findings wil enhance the understanding of Beside cost savings, there are other drivers that the drivers of accounting outsourcing decision practices influence outsourcing engagement. Ghodeswar and Vaidyanathan (2008) classify drivers of outsourcing into This paper is structured as fol ows. The next section four categories: organizational drivers, improvement discusses the relevant studies in outsourcing. The fol ow- drivers, financial and cost drivers, and revenue drivers ing section presents theoretical framework for assessing (Table 1). The decision to outsource can also be outsourcing decision, costs and benefits from the com- explained by transaction cost theory. Transaction cost pany’s perspective; Methodology section describes case theory explains how companies consider the relative cost study method used in this study; Finding section analy- of transaction using their own employees on the other zes the decision making process. Final y, the conclusion hand and external parties on the other (Coase, 1937).
Table 1. Drivers for outsourcing.
Organizational drivers
(1) To achieve a greater focus on core business. (2) To increase flexibility to deal with ever changing business conditions. (3) To gain access to products, services and emerging technologies. (4) To assign operational issues to an outside expert. (5) To have greater thrust on market positioning and new product development. (6) To redirect resources from non-core activities to greater focus in serving the Improvement drivers
(1) To improve operating performance, quality, timeliness, and productivity. (2) To obtain expertise, skil s, and innovative ideas. (3) To obtain technologies which otherwise wil not be available. (4) To improve management and control of operational process including risk management. (5) To improve credibility and image by associating with superior providers. (6) To eliminate the fixed cost of internal staff by moving the function to a supplier. Financial and cost drivers
(1) To reduce investment in assets. (2)To reduce the invested capital funds in non-core business functions. (3) To expanding its operations into a new geographical region. (4) To reduce or control operating costs. (5) To access an outside provider’s lower cost structure. (6) To achieve cost reduction with enhanced performance. (7) To handle varying demand more efficiently because of economies of scale.
Revenue drivers
(1) To achieve aggresive growth objectives by gaining increased market access. (2) To leverage on the service provider’s best process, capacity and systems. (3) To expand capacity to design, test and build new products and service. (4) To stretch its limit in handling the increased volume of business. (5) To manage demand efficiently through outsider’s automation, process maturity and the latest technology. (6) To focus on enablers of business growth and strategies to fulfil them Source: Ghodeswar and Vaidyanathan (2008). According to Klein (2005), transactions differ in the concentrated on the outsourcing of production tasks (so- degree to which relationship-specific assets are involved (asset specificity), the amount of uncertainty about the According to Vandaele et al. (2007), to govern the future (environmental uncertainty), the amount of uncer- outsourcing decision of business service, more emphasis tainty about other parties’ actions (behavior uncertainty) should be placed on behavioral uncertainty, asset and the frequency with which a given transaction occurs specificity (especial y human asset) and trust. Klein (Everaert et al., 2007). Previous studies provide evidence (2005) suggests that alternative theories of the that asset specificity is a significant driver in the companies, based on capabilities, power and trust could outsourcing decision (Masten et al., 1989; John and be potential y become important in explaining why Weitz, 1988; Monteverde and Teece, 1982). Meanwhile companies outsourcing some of their activities. Further- study carried out by Anderson and Gatignon (2005) more, companies should also look from the strategic explained that both asset specificity and behavioral perspective, which focuses on further aspects to the uncertainty seemed significant in explaining the entry mode of outsourcing activity. Asset specificity has been found to be an important driver for outsourcing of IT (Watjatrakul, 2005; Barthelemy and Geyer, 2005). Speklé Outsourcing decision process
et al. (2007) and Widener and Selto (1999) found that both asset specificity and frequency is important driver for In order to make an effective decision, an organization outsourcing of the internal audit function. These studies must also identify its needs and understand why outsourcing may or may not be appropriate to the organization. Some outsource – assess strategic risk and rationale for organizations outsource their core activities on the value outsourcing, (i ) Due diligence process – ensure supplier chain so extensively and others are extensively out- is competent, honest, financial y sound, and has relevant sourcing their secondary activities of value chains. Yet, knowledge and expertise, (i i) Contract and service level many organizations only understand a general idea of agreement – formal contract and service level agreement outsourcing is to save resources and al ow them to focus between the two parties, (iv) Change management – as on core competencies (Smith et al., 1998). Outsourcing company’s risk can increase, plan and effectively use decisions depend on more than that and questions such project or change management, (v) Contract manage- as when should an organization outsource its activity, ment – Appointment individuals to manage the contract whom should an organization select and how much and do periodic review, (vi) Exit strategy and contingency control should be given to the supplier/vendors are planning – prepared for new arrangement with minimal povital and must be considered and answered. ‘Make-or-buy’ question asked by manufacturers themselves and the ‘do it ourselves or buy it on’ question asked by service providers must be answered by those Theoretical framework
responsible for sourcing (Kakouris et al., 2006). Furthermore, as highlighted by Hickey (2005), in the There are few frameworks available to analyse decision current global economy, factors that should be process in outsourcing. For example, Choudhury et al. considered when making outsourcing decisions are long- (1995) explain outsourcing process model that consists of term productivity and cost projections, physical and data six steps: (i) the company describes whether to outsource security, long-term business and employment stability, or not (i ) the company decides on the degree to political agenda and cultural differences and business outsource (iv) the company prepares a list of possible continuity capability. Those factors are important because vendors and (iv) the company start lists vendors based outsourcing enables companies to leverage the global on key decisions (v) company issues request for proposal market place, to choose the work they want to do and to receive bids from the short-listed vendors (vi) company where they want to do the work in order to ensure the selects a vendor and develops policies and control to greatest profit. Once a company decides to outsource its’ manage outsource issues. Next, Lee and Kim (1997) activity/activities, the process of selecting a partner or suggested that outsourcing process model involves six supplier must be put in place. Analytical, thoroughness stages: (i) outsourcing strategy selection (i ) service and careful insight are required in order to choose the provider evaluation (i i) service provider selection (iv) ‘right’ supplier or partner (Hatonen and Eriksson, 2009). contract negotiation (v) outsourcing implementation (vi) Handfield and Nichols (1999) argued that managers can control management and (vi ) performance feedback. only achieve the corporate objectives after the colabo- These models are quite general and have not provided ration of satisfactory vendors or supplier. According to detailed guidelines for outsourcing decision process. Krel (2007), managing the relationship with outsourcing Later, Fil and Viser’s (2000) outsourcing framework vendors technical y begins during the provider selection presents specific guidelines for outsourcing decision process, when a request for proposal initiates process. The framework consists of three main communications with the eventual provider. components; contextual factors, strategy and structure The outsourcing decision is the most critical step within and transaction costs. The first part of the framework the whole outsourcing process (Lonsdale and Cox, 1998; develops contextual factors that consider both quantifi- Jennings, 1997). There are many important criteria when able and non-quantifiable criteria of external and internal making supplier decision. The most frequently cited factors. Quantifiable criteria are costs, increased cover of criteria are quality, delivery performance history, price fixed costs, investments and revenues (Brannemo, and location. Furthermore, a thorough cost-benefit 2006). Non-quantifiable criteria are of strategic interest, analysis should be conducted where organizations must confidentiality, linkage with operations, stability of identify al internal and external costs and benefits in employment, management and dependence on suppliers order to make an effective and resonable decision. (Fil and Viser, 2000). The second part of the framework Organization must conduct ful analysis in order to have concerns with strategy and structure. Companies should better picture and clear impact of the choice. consider the structural aspects associated with the deci- Successful companies in outsourcing work often have sion and help to focus on how integrated the company clear understanding of their core-activities, have done should be (Brennamo, 2006). The third part concerns adequate research and planning and most importantly with examining the transaction costs; production costs have developed clear objectives, goals and expectations and transaction costs (Fil and Visser, 2000). of outsourcing activities (Barthelemy, 2003). Guideline At the same time, McIvor (2000) suggested four stages introduced by Financial Services Authority (2003) of outsourcing framework: (i) identifying the core and suggested six steps to be fol owed by an organization in non-core activities of the company. The core activity is order to minimize risk exposure (i) Strategic decision to perceived by the customers as adding value and being a Table 2. Detail of interviews.
Officers
Client - Depro (h)
Vendor - BPA (h)
major determinant of competitive advantage (i ) analyzing the competencies of the company in core activities in Two companies involved in this study include a local Malaysia relation to potential external sources. This involves an firm (client) and its local outsourcing firm (vendor). Data was evaluation of the relevant value chain activities’ and the col ected using a triangulation approach that included interviews, documentation review and observations. The study spanned a total cost analysis of the core activities. A relative period of two years fol owing the various phases of accounting performance of the company is identified and this helps outsourcing projects over time. Historical reconstruction of events to understand the disparity between the sourcing com- was undertaken to observe changes over time from the inception of pany and the potential supplier (i i) attempting to measure the company (2001 to 2007) and during the field study period from al the actual and potential costs involved in sourcing 2007 to 2009. There have been a total of 14 h interviews with Accountant, Head of Corporate Service Division, Head of Finance activities. In this stage, two types of costs are identified: and Administration of the client firm and a Senior Project Manager cost estimation of carrying out the activity internal y, and of a vendor firm (Table 2). Interviews lasted between one to two cost estimations associated with potential suppliers and hours. The interviews were transcribed and subsequently (iv) analysing the relationship with the vendor if the summarized. Interview questions were tailored to each particular company wishes consider to outsourse its core activities. person and focused on their background, experience and their This paper wil use McIvor’s framework to further perception of outsourcing events they had experienced. Other questions were focused on how outsourcing decisions were made. explore outsourcing decision practice by a smal sized The data once col ected was analyzed by identifying themes company in Malaysia. McIvor’s framework provides related to outsourcing decision process. Nevertheless, the finding comprehensive as wel as practical ways in analyzing and analysis section do not provide a complete description of the outsourcing decisions. Advantage of this framework it outsourcing decision process, but merely present a broad outline of does distinguish the core and non core activities analysis the outsourcing process. The case-study data was theorised by in outsourcing decision process. Even though, the looking for evidence of mechanism and practices that can be rationalised as outsourcing decision process and associated with framework did not taken into consideration the needs and McIvor outsourcing framework. Background descriptions of the case constraints faced by smal and medium sized companies, it. is found useful for understanding the decision process especial y when identifying the core and non-core activi- ties of the company. At the same, drivers of outsourcing Case study background
are identified using classification by Ghodeswar and Depro Technology (Depro) is one of semi government agency operating under one of the ministries in Malaysia. It offers expert services to other department, private entity and public citizen. Depro uses fund that was received from the government to support RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
its operation and development and is required to submit quarterly cash flow statement to the ministry to explain how the fund is spent. In order to understand the the outsourcing decision process, case There are only four staffs in the Finance Department of Depro study method is used. Case study approach is found useful for this consisting of the Head of Finance Department, an Accountant and study as this study is mainly exploratory. According to Benbasat et two Account executives. The department is responsible for al. (1987), by using case study research, one can study the topic in preparing budget for services offered, financial planning for specific a natural setting and generate theories from practices and at the project, internal audit and tax. Since its establishment, Depro has same time answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions, that is, to understand been using accounting outsourcing services provided by Bril iant the nature and complexity of the process taking place. According to Power-Up Associates (BPA). At that time, Depro wanted to focus on Yin (2002), case study method is most appropriate when the re- search does not require central over behavioral event and when the BPA has handled the accounting function of Depro since its focus of the research is on the existing events. inception on 13 January 1997. Depro sends al its accounting work A company for this case study was selected based on purposeful to BPA including data entry, daily account transaction, preparing sampling which is useful for understanding issues related to the annual report and payrol . BPA is an outsourcing company offering research questions (Patton, 1990). One of the main criteria for business process and accounting services. BPA was chosen selecting a company is that the company must be a local company because of the relationship between the BPA senior manager with that involved in accounting outsourcing activities with local the top management at Depro. The accounting outsourcing contract outsourcing vendor. Einsenhardt (1991) suggested that selection of was from June 2006 to 31 December, 2007 and was extended cases is an important aspect of theory building in case studies. The another one year until 31 December, 2008. BPA al ocates a team of companies were not selected in random, but reflected the selection three to four people to handle accounting work for Depro. FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
is motivated primarily by the search for short-term cost reduction. According to Yoon and Naadimuthy (1994), the The evidence reveals that Depro has no firm basis for outsourcing decision can often be a major determinant of evaluating the outsourcing decision. The choice of the profitability making a significant health of the company. accounting activity to outsource is made because Depro Furthermore, as highlighted by Ptak and Noel (1998), su- is new and has no sufficient staff to conduct the ccessful outsourcing depends on planning and process. accounting activities. As noted by its accountant “.we The results from the study showed that Depro has lack are new and do not have people to carry out the support when dealing with outsourcing questions. The accounting jobs”. Therefore, it could be said that Depro outsourcing decision has earlier been made by its CEO. make outsourcing decision primarily on the basis of Furthermore, there is no proper documentation on its reducing its headcount and costs. The driver for its outsourcing decision. This made it difficult for Depro to go outsourcing is improvement driver, which the company back and review if the outsourcing decision is stil would like to eliminate the fixed cost of internal staff by strategical y right for the company. As highlighted by the moving the accounting function to a vendor. The choice company’s accountant ‘.realizing the difficulties doing to outsource is made by ascertaining what wil save most the accounting works in house and the risks of on overhead costs, rather than on what makes the most outsourcing the work, I need to recommend to the CEO whether or not to renew the contract with BPA.’. The decision to outsource a function should start with a The sourcing decision should be fol owed up after sound business plan. This plan should adequately some time. In the case of Depro, there is no basic struc- identify al costs associated with the current method of ture used on the evaluation of the outsourcing decision. conducting business and al costs that are anticipated After five years of operation, Depro’s profit decreased for once is deployed. When determining current cost Depro about 35%. Therefore, Depro’s financial evaluation ought should understand of al aspects of costs and how costs to be made after its sourcing decision. Furthermore, cost are accounted. Since Depro has direct relation with the is an important aspect that ought to be analyzed before government agency, it also should consider the potential taking sourcing decision. But, Depro did not calculate and political consequences. The outsourcing decision analyzed cost before taking an outsourcing decision. frameworks proposed by McIvor assume that in general al non-core activities wil be outsource. However, it must be pointed out that certain factors such as industrial Conclusion
relations, may impact on the freedom a company has to outsource activities. In the case of Depro, it uses fund In short, this article has answered the research questions that was received from the government to support its of this study: (1) how does firm perform outsourcing operation. Therefore, this wil involves issues of decision process and (2) why does the firm decide to outsource some of their accounting activities. Findings Depro also did not produce a clear marginal decision in from this case study reveals that outsourcing decision cost analysis of the outsourcing decision and did not process made by Depro did not fol ow formal and evaluate the relevant value chain activities. BPA was structured framework. While this contradicts McIvor’s selected based on the good relationship between BPA framework, the findings is consistent with King et al. Senior Manager with the top management of Depro. As (2009) who found that firm’s size influence the decision to highlighted by Depro’s accountant “.the CEO has a adopt formal budgeting practice. It was argued that smal good relationship with BPA Senior Manager. So he businesses have low levels of formal planning and control insists to outsource the accounting activities to BPA”. (Chenhal and Langfield-Smith, 1998). For Depro, it Depro also did not conduct total cost analysis of core chose to outsource its accounting activity because of activities. This analysis is important in identifying al the limited resources such as cost and accounting staffs to activities and costs associated with the outsourcing perform accounting work at its start of operation. Depro decision (McIvor, 2000). This involves attempting to did not perform cost and benefits analysis before measure al the actual and potential costs involved in deciding whether or not to outsource its accounting work. sourcing the activity; internal y or external y. The decision to outsource mainly came from its close Depro also failed to consider issues such relationship with one of the local outsourcing vendor. Depro’s top management was convinced on the general benefits of outsourcing that he could gain by outsourcing (1) Should the company strive to maintain and build its its accounting work to BPA. Reasons for outsourcing are capability in a particular activity or turn to the best-in- because of cost savings, expertise and focus on core class source. (2) If there is a disparity between the company and supplier, how much investment is required This study makes several contributions. Theoretical y, internal y to match the capabilities of the supplier. this study presents evidence that the formal framework of The evidence reveals that Depro is not achieving the outsourcing decision process suggested by McIvor and desired benefits from outsourcing. Its outsourcing decision others did not apply to smal size firm such as Depro because of limited resources. Thus, this study extends Everaert P, Sarens G, Rommel J (2007). Sourcing strategic of Belgian the outsourcing decision framework to a smal size firm SMEs: Empirical evidence for the accounting service. Prod. Planning. where most of decision made is adhoc and bounded to Financial services Authority (2003). The firm risk assessment framework, FSA, London, United Kingdom, February, p. 75. Practical y, this paper provides insights of the Ghodeswar B, Vaidyanathan J (2008). Business process outsourcing: outsourcing decision process in a Malaysian company. an approach to gain access to world-class capabilities. Bus. Process. There are a few points discussed in this paper that can Handfield R, Nichols EL (1999). 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