A request for transparency is met with opacity.
By Elliot Clark
Sometimes you need to let your readers draw their own conclusions. You just tell the story. That is exactly what I am going to do with this particular story.
In September of 2009, I ran an article decrying what we, at HRO Today, feel is a specious ranking system provided by the Brown Wilson Group’s so-called Black Book of Outsourcing. We echoed concerns raised by Business Week in July 2008 and a host of providers. In fact, according to two major providers whom we’ve spoken with directly, participants must pay a fee to Brown Wilson to be included in the survey.
In our HRO Today “Baker’s Dozen” Customer Satisfaction Surveys, providers get rated whether they like it or not—and we do not allow participants to pay or to play, so there is no hint of any possible influence on the outcome. Many providers and buyers contacted us since the September article to say that the Brown Wilson’s reported requirement of payment to be part of the Black Book survey makes them uncomfortable.
I offered the Brown Wilson Group or their new owner, Datamonitor, the opportunity to respond to our assertions. A few weeks went by before we heard anything. The next communication came to Jay Whitehead, our President and Publisher, rather than to Dirk Olin, our Vice President and Editorial Director—or to me. Jay was contacted by Meesham Negram, Partnership and Alliances Manager, who sent an e-mail offering:
“I’d like to schedule a call with you discuss ways of bringing both our successful brands together on a partnership level. As a key organization providing media, summits and forums, we want to help you service your readers and visitors to events better by providing insight and discussing in greater detail how to generate a new revenue stream for SharedXpertise Media through our reseller program by hosting relevant The Black Book of Outsourcing reports and selling them directly to your audiences, and SharedXpertise Media receiving a generous royalty payment. (Highlight added.)
The above quote is verbatim. Jay is never one to mince words. He responded that we found the Black Book’s ratings methodology “spurious, opaque and misleading.” He added that he would accede to the meeting request only as a courtesy between media outlets. I was traveling, and Jay and I would not be able to talk for a day or two. When I spoke to Jay, I was troubled. I responded to Meesham that given our very public disavowal of their methodology and our puzzlement at its odd outcomes (for example, listing bankrupted companies as top providers), we would only agree to a dialogue that was as public as our products, and I would not agree to speak confidentially.
A portion of my response, again verbatim:
“Given our public position and, in the spirit of transparency, I have to insist that any discussion be done so publicly and openly. We need to disclose to the market if we would choose to be a reseller obviously and to do so we would need a strong defense of your methodology which I would expect on the call.”
I received an immediate response from Meesham Negram which is, once again, verbatim:
“Many thanks for getting back to me. I am trying to get some feedback on this from my end. I’m sure that you’ll appreciate that I’m charged with setting up commercial avenues with all syndicated offerings within theDatamonitor portfolio. Hence, I was not aware of the public statement issued in the past. I am speaking to folks on this end but I can assure you that all new brands on board go through a rigid methodology analysis and I’m sure that within the next few weeks we’ll have a solid methodology to relay back to you especially if we are to work together on a collaborative basis. I would like to hold off on the call in the meantime, before we initiate and fully implement this new structure internally.”
This was received on October 26. As of December 18, we had received no other response. In the seven year history of HRO Today, we had never heard from the Black Book of Outsourcing about a reseller agreement until a few weeks after the September issue hit the streets containing the article critical of their ranking system. We would be interested in any “generous revenue stream”—if we believed in what we were doing. All we asked for was the defense of their methodology. I want to stop short of drawing a conclusion, but I encourage you let us know how you would feel about relying on the Black Book of Outsourcing for decisions as important as the selection of your key HRO partners.
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