The buyer’s guide for onsite vs. offsite professional services

The buyer’s guide for onsite vs. offsite professional services

In today’s connected society it is possible for professional services engagements to be delivered exclusively through web conferencing. Web conferencing is not new; web conferencing technologies have existed in one form or another for nearly twenty years. Attitudes towards remote professional services engagements have changed as technologies have improved to encompass screen sharing, audio, and video. However, there is a persistent myth from the Marissa Mayer school of management theory that work can only happen when people are physically together. This article explores where many common types of professional services can be delivered. 

Buyers can expect seasonally-adjusted weekly travel estimates as $2,000 to $3,000 a week in the United States and Canada if the professional services firm needs to fly in personnel from remote locations. Travel is thus an effective rate premium of $40 - $50 an hour if a client chooses to have services delivered onsite. For purchase negotiating purposes, a buyer can lower their final price by $40 - $50 an hour simply by agreeing to have work performed remotely rather than insisting on a physical presence. For example, this is a potential savings of $10,000 over a five-week project – enough to fund a full week of most professional services projects. This is different from demanding a $50 rate decrease, thereby unreasonably expecting the professional services firm to bear the full cost of travel. This is particularly true if the customer is mandating an unnecessary physical presence.

Buyers working with professional services firms with local offices or personnel can choose to exclude a travel budget during contract negotiations but still mandate the work must be performed onsite. This self-imposed limitation affects the project schedule as local professional services personnel may be scheduled on projects with other clients, while remote personnel may be available sooner. 

Design services
Where: Optionally onsite at first and then offsite
Why: Successful design is primarily based on trust, whether designing a software solution, a marketing campaign, or a new corporate campus. There’s some inherent human value of conducting the first week of design workshops together before performing much of the work remotely. Customers with telepresence systems can instead host the first face-to-face week via telepresence. Customers should also demand in advance that professional services personnel produce a high-level schedule of when customer personnel will be required to participate in meetings, when deliverables will be sent in a draft form, and when deliverables will be completed.

Financial/regulatory auditing
Where: Primarily onsite
Why: Audits require that the professional services firm conducting the audit have access to sensitive data stored electronically or on paper. Consequently, audits should mostly be performed onsite as it is easier to establish local electronic security controls and cheaper than shipping legal boxes of paper to a remote firm.

Hardware installation
Where: Onsite
Why: Physically installing a piece of hardware – a printer, a server, a security system, some other physical object – does require onsite presence. However, that is just putting it in place, connecting it to power, and powering it on. The configuration of hardware should be considered separately.

Hardware configuration
Where: Offsite
Why: The advantage of the remote setup of hardware is that most web conferencing systems allow session recording. Session recording allows customers to quickly capture how the hardware was configured at the time of installation. Note that this assumes that the hardware is connected to some an internal network, not a VPN or the public Internet. Instead, the customer can connect to the web interface or another interface of the hardware and then join the web conferencing bridge, effectively allowing remote professional services personnel to see and configure the hardware.

Marketing content production
Where: Offsite
Why: Web conferencing can be used for brainstorming or pitch sessions. Writing compelling content does not require an office at a customer location, and impedes the creative process for some marketing professionals. Editorial professional services staff similarly see no material benefit from being onsite at a customer location.

Media capture
Where: Onsite
Why: This includes photos, video, and audio. The recording process needs to be performed with the performers, particularly if working with photos or video, as it is easier to get the shot right in person than attempting to fix it in post-production. However, unless the customer is live-streaming an event, media production can be handled offsite.

Media production
Where: Offsite
Why: Handling media production in a remote studio means that less specialized equipment and specialized personnel need to travel to the media capture location. The exception is live streaming of events, which require the production crew to travel to the event location.

Onsite software installation or configuration
Where: Offsite
Why: A web conference can be used to record installation and configuration of onsite software solutions. This does not require remote professional services personnel to have access to customer networks. Instead, the customer would connect to the system being installed or configured and then connect to a web conference. The remote professional services personnel can then handle the installation or configuration while the customer watches. If the customer needs a privileged account for installation, they can keep that account instead of providing a privileged account to professional services personnel, which is considerably easier from a regulatory compliance perspective.

SaaS software configuration
Where: Offsite
Why: Software as a Service (SaaS) is inherently hosted off-premises, with typically only a web browser or Android/iPhone app required to access the service. Thus, there is no software onsite to configure and rarely any firewall rules to deploy. Remote professional services personnel do not require a physical presence to effectively configure the SaaS package, including integration with external systems. A web conference can be used to record configuration details; however, there’s minimal value in recording many one-time configurations assuming the SaaS vendor handles backups in a reasonable manner.

Security auditing
Where: Onsite and Offsite
Why: An onsite security auditor can probe for an entirely different set of security concerns than a remote auditor. Onsite audits have the advantage of probing physical security – doors, access badges, guards, network ports, windows, and what access exists when a bad actor is on an internal network behind a firewall. An offsite security auditor can probe for remote vulnerabilities in the customer’s threat surface. Note that some firms can also ship specialized phones to customer mail rooms to test some elements of physical security, such as unshielded wi-fi network access.

Training
Where: Onsite or offsite
Why: Training should be performed onsite if the customer’s staff are all located in the same location and are easily distracted by competing priorities. The intent of having a professional services person onsite to conduct any training class is to capture and hold the attention of the attendees despite outside influences. Training can be performed offsite via web conferencing if the customer’s staff are geographically disparate. Certain types of mandatory training (such as harassment training) should be delivered as recordings as they do not require the cost of a trainer, provided the class meets the defined legal or regulatory requirements.

As shown in this article, most common professional services projects can be effectively conducted by web conferencing. This lowers the cost for customers and improves the work-life balance for professional services personnel by not requiring them to travel to customer facilities regularly. Location and the perceived value of travel should be a consideration when negotiating new professional services engagements

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