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Outsourcing has never been more popular and has become a hot topic across Africa as much as anywhere else in recent years. Businesses large and small choose to shed those non-revenue-generating core functions and hand them over to people who do these things for a living, allowing them to focus on mission-critical aspects of the business.

It makes sense for a whole host of reasons, including improving management focus, increasing efficiency and cutting costs. Little surprise, then, that what started out as outsourcing tasks like facilities maintenance and catering has now moved ever closer to the heart of the business. HR, payroll and IT support are all fair game for outsourcing today, and for exactly the same reasons.

However, for functions like these, it is dangerous to think a business can simply offload them and forget about them as they might when it comes to managing the staff canteen or the building security. Any business that takes its eye off the finances, for example, is destined for trouble, and the same applies to other mission-critical support functions like IT. Outsourcing, in this respect, needs to be more of a partnership, and that means a business needs to choose its partner with care.

Cultural fit

It’s the most important thing, yet the hardest to define. Other shortcomings can be corrected, but if you don’t get along with your outsourcing partner and share a similar ethos, there will always be friction. If you take a look at Probrand, for example, you will see a provider that is in tune with the businesses in its area, in this case, a vibrant community full of relatively new businesses in an area that is going through a period of significant regeneration.

Scalability

This is a vital consideration for a startup, in particular, where the business might have ambitious growth plans. Suppose you know a similar business, that is also new, is based right around the corner, and is providing outsourced IT support. It sounds great, in that you can grow together, and the cultural fit looks to be assured. But will that really happen? If your business goes from strength to strength but the partner struggles, you might soon outgrow him. Better to put sentiment aside and choose an established partner that is already working with large and small businesses in your sector.

Flexibility

Nothing stands still in today’s business world, and what you need today might change tomorrow. Suppose you start by outsourcing IT support and nothing else. Next year, you might decide things are working so well with the partner that you want them to take over all your hosting and software needs, or to work with you on a consultancy basis to develop a new enterprise management solution. Choose a partner that can offer these different levels of support to cater to your evolving needs.

Today, outsourcing is about far more than simply dumping those non-core activities on someone else’s desk. It can bring real benefits to a business. But only if you choose your partner with the utmost care.