Smoke & Mirrors: Outsourcery

The comms chief discovers that the chill wind of outsourcing has blown through Smokehouse. But is there an upside?

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 19 Jun 2016


Outsourcing. I don't like it because it reminds me too much of my divorce. What happens is that what you were doing quite happily in-house, you now have to pay through the nose for someone else to do it for you in their house. I had a chat with a bloke at a conference the other week who says everyone outsources these days and even the maintenance of our nuclear warheads is outsourced. I hope the government gets more value than I get from my maintenance payments. Anyway I'm glad Smokehouse has kept well clear of this whole outsourcing malarkey.


Sat next to our CIO Mike Lamb at lunch. Normally I try to avoid dining with IT people because they struggle with knives and forks as it's a different action to handling a mouse. Mike's also divorced (mental cruelty apparently, which doesn't surprise me as that describes any meeting with IT) so we also happily chatted about the costs of maintenance/outsourcing. He promised to send me a presentation of how it's always cheaper to keep things in-house. Back in the office a little later, I read through his very closely argued PowerPoint, but I couldn't help noticing that the document was authored by someone called Zlatko Boyanov who I don't remember being on the payroll. I had a chat with Siri and she informed me that Zlatko runs an interesting little business in Bulgaria.


I had a good talk with our Bulgarian friend in Pernik just outside Sofia and he said that he did the job of about 30 IT directors in the UK. I asked him how big his team was and he said his wife helped him with the invoicing. I went down to HR to ask about how we monitored staff internet usage just in case of anything irregular. She didn't know exactly, but she gave me a number to call. I went through Mike Lamb's internet usage, and apart from a burst of activity at the end of the month from Bulgaria, most of it was StarCraft (to give him credit he seems to win most of his games). I was just about to say goodbye when the guy asked me what company I was calling from. Turns out he was a contractor too and we outsource most of our HR.


Quite worried about all this outsourcing but fortunately I had a lunch to look forward to. Our sales director Nigel Beamish understands the therapeutic power of a couple of bottles of red. I joked that he must spend most of the time lunching clients. He then told me that our CRM was cloud-based software-as-a-service because it allowed seamless scalability. It was then that I began to suspect that he too was a replicant. He then said that outsourcing was quite often the reality behind omnichannel. That confirmed it. I jogged back to HR and Brenda admitted under duress that our CRM and our Field Sales were outsourced. I looked at her closely. 'Are you also outsourced, Brenda?' I asked her. She was. As are our legal services, our marketing services, our product development, our operations, our catering and our site services. I backed out of the office and suddenly felt very alone.


I sat at my desk and watched the replicants move around the office. At about 11 o'clock, I saw our bewigged CEO Lynton Spivey slouch past. The question I've been asking myself for many years resurfaced; how can a man with the management skills of a hot water bottle be running the company? I walked back into HR. Brenda tried to defend herself with data protection but I counter-attacked with supplier re-tendering. I sat down with the files and there it was. Spivey and his hairpiece were interim managers. Outsourced. Why hadn't the board removed him? Because all the lovely non-execs were supplied en masse from a specialist recruitment consultancy. And then suddenly a great sense of peace spread over me. No-one could sack me or boss me about or pass judgement on anything I did because I was the only person on the payroll. It's what makes divorce so wonderful.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99. He can be contacted at

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