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A Brief History of Outsourcing
Published on: Jun, 01, 2006

by: Robert Handfield, Ph.D.
Director of SCRC, Bank of America University Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management
The following report is introductory to Dr Handfield’s research on Current Trends in Production Labor Sourcing.
Since the Industrial Revolution, companies have grappled with how they can exploit their competitive advantage to increase their markets and their profits. The model for most of the 20th century was a large integrated company that can “own, manage, and directly control” its assets. In the 1950s and 1960s, the rallying cry was diversification to broaden corporate bases and take advantage of economies of scale. By diversifying, companies expected to protect profits, even though expansion required multiple layers of management. Subsequently, organizations attempting to compete globally in the 1970s and 1980s were handicapped by a lack of agility that resulted from bloated management structures. To increase their flexibility and creativity, many large companies developed a new strategy of focusing on their core business, which required identifying critical processes and deciding which could be outsourced.
Initial stages of evolution
Outsourcing was not formally identified as a business strategy until 1989 (Mullin, 1996). However, most organizations were not totally self-sufficient; they outsourced those functions for which they had no competency internally. Publishers, for example, have often purchased composition, printing, and fulfillment services. The use of external suppliers for these essential but ancillary services might be termed the baseline stage in the evolution of outsourcing. Outsourcing support services is the next stage. In the 1990s, as organizations began to focus more on cost-saving measures, they started to outsource those functions necessary to run a company but not related specifically to the core business. Managers contracted with emerging...

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