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In-House Outsourcing strategy in business: a bibliometric analysis

Jose Angel Garzón Fernández

Universidad Rey Juan Carlos

ja.garzon.2019@alumnos.urjc.es

https://orcid.org/0009-0009-2410-2822

Montserrat Jiménez Partearroyo

Universidad Rey Juan Carlos

montserrat.jimenez@urjc.es

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2070-258X

Diana Benito Osorio

Universidad Rey Juan Carlos

diana.benito@urjc.es

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0870-286X

Received: 26-10-2023; Acepted: 22-12-2023; Published: 29-12-2023

Abstract

Objetive: This article carries out a bibliometric analysis and a literature review on Outsourcing/In-House which includes co-word analysis of the publications available in the Web of Science (WoS) and SCOPUS databases and its impact on other associated fields of knowledge since 1990. The key themes conceptualising it, emerging trends, and the future direction that Outsourcing/In-House will take are discussed.

Methodology: The SciMAT software tool has been used which allows for the compiling of a science map in conjunction with performance analysis to identify concept subdomains in the field of research and the thematic evolution of Outsourcing/In-House.

Results: Structural analysis of the scientific production under study demonstrated strong thematic cohesion concentrated in 18 specific themes. It also identified that the greatest scientific interest in and research on Outsourcing/In-House occurred between 2007 and 2015. Furthermore, it revealed evolution in the goals of this strategy, ranging from merely operational engagement to strategic realms, which has reached a striking level of maturity that persists to the present day.

Limitations: The bibliographic search is limited to the two most important databases of publications which are WOS and SCOPUS.

Practical implications: Highlighting the importance of this model in solving many current problems linked to efficiency and rising costs. This model underlines the evolution of the relationship framework between clients and subcontracting business.

Keywords: Outsourcing In-House; Bibliometric analysis; SciMAT; productive efficiency, strategy and bussiness

JEL Codes: L24; M10

La estrategia de negocio de Outsourcing In-House: un análisis bibliométrico

Resumen

Objetivo: Este estudio realiza una revisión bibliográfica mediante análisis bibliométrico y una revisión bibliográfica sobre Outsourcing/In-House, que incluye el análisis co-ocurrences de las publicaciones disponibles en las bases de datos Web of Science (WoS) y SCOPUS y su impacto en otros campos del conocimiento asociados desde 1990. Se discuten los temas clave que lo conceptualizan, las tendencias emergentes y la dirección futura que tomará el Outsourcing/In-House.

Metodología: Se ha utilizado la herramienta informática SciMAT que permite la elaboración de un mapa científico en conjunto con el análisis de rendimiento para identificar subdominios conceptuales en el campo de la investigación y la evolución temática de Outsourcing/In-House.

Resultados: El análisis estructural de la producción científica estudiada demostró una fuerte cohesión temática concentrada en 18 temas específicos. También identificó que el mayor interés científico e investigación sobre Outsourcing/In-House ocurrió entre 2007 y 2015. Además, reveló una evolución en los objetivos de esta estrategia, que van desde el compromiso meramente operativo hasta los ámbitos estratégicos, que ha alcanzado un sorprendente nivel de madurez que persiste hasta nuestros días.

Limitaciones: La búsqueda bibliográfica se limita a las dos bases de datos de publicaciones más importantes que son WoS y SCOPUS.

Implicaciones prácticas: Destacar la importancia de este modelo en la solución de muchos problemas actuales relacionados con la eficiencia y el aumento de los costes. Este modelo subraya la evolución del marco de relación entre los clientes y las empresas subcontratistas.

Palabras clave: Outsourcing In-House; Análisis bibliométrico; SciMAT; eficiencia productiva, estrategia y negocio

Códigos JEL: L24; M10

企业内部外包战略: 文献计量分析

文章摘要

研究目标: 本文对同时包含 “外包/内部”进行了文献计量分析和文献回顾,其中包括对科学网(WoS)和SCOPUS数据库及其自1990年以来对其他相关知识领域的影响。讨论了念化的关键主题、趋势以及外包/内部的未来方向。

分析方法: 使用了SCIMAT软件,该软件可以绘制科学地图,同时进行性能分析,以确定研究领域的概念子域以及外包和内部主题的变化。

调查结果: 本研究分析表明,研究主题凝聚力很强,集中在18个具体主题上。本研究还确定,最大科学兴趣和研究 外包/内部 发生在2007年至2015年期间。此外,本文回顾还揭示了本题战略目标的演变,从纯粹的业务承诺到战略领域,本科目已经达到了令人惊讶的成熟程度,至今仍在继续。

研究局限: 文献回顾仅限于WOS和SCOPUS这两个最重要的数据库。

实际应用: 本文强调了这种模式对效率和成本增加有关的许多问题的重要性。该模型强调了客户与分包公司框架关系的演变。

关键词: 外包,内部; 文献计量分析; SciMAT; 生产效率、策略与商业

JEL 代码: L24; M10

1. Introduction

The Outsourcing/In-house model lies within a multidimensional concept and refers to the outsourcing of goods or services to an external organisation by a business, which are then performed in the workplace of the contracting party or end client (Kaya, 2011; Haugen & Klungseth, 2017). This concept includes as actors the suppliers, clients and/or partners in strategic alliances who take part in outsourcing activities in various locations and sites. This model has been adopted gradually all over the world in the last three decades, largely due to the technical pressures stemming from greater competition, the improvements in information and communications technology, and changes in the labour model, which have likely led to an increase in outsourcing as it is expected to provide optimised benefits as well as creating greater flexibility for both parties (business and subcontracting business).

In a survey conducted in 2014 of 3300 business leaders in 45 economies, 45% stated they were outsourcing (or were planning to outsource) business processes (Dekker & Koster, 2018) . As a result, production processes have grown increasingly decentralised.

A well-known example of this is the production of the Boeing Dreamliner, in which the manufacturing of these aircraft was carried out by approximately 900 suppliers and manufacturers using this practice. Consequently, it can be concluded that the Outsourcing/In-House model is a central component of the economy today, and this seems to be valid for both the public and private sector (Flecker & Hermann, 2011).

Considering the growing importance of this theme, it is possible to pose the following research question: “what have been the changes or themes that have marked the evolution of academic publications on the Outsourcing / In-House model over time? Therefore, to answer this question, this study conducts bibliometric analysis of the Outsourcing/In-House concept which provides a broad range of information on this model and also discusses the key themes that conceptualise it, emerging trends, the future direction that Outsourcing/In-House will take, and finally concludes by synthesising the information analysed in the review.

This research helps understand and assess the importance of business conducted in a dynamic international setting and work with intercultural teams as a result of outsourcing agreements, either in a domestic or international context. Furthermore, this analysis seeks to include the three core points of view of the outsourcing model: transaction costs, competition, and the relationship framework between clients and businesses.

Lastly, this study also focuses on analysing and discussing trends in the Outsourcing/In-House model and the long-term strategic implications for businesses. Consequently, a conclusion is developed that follows a complete and meaningful logical outline which allows the reader to gain an understanding of the outsourcing industry, its importance, and some challenges it must address.

2. Theorical framework

We define Outsourcing/In-House as the “transfer to external suppliers in different national and international locations of activities and processes which are delivered within the company contracting them”, one of the most common definitions in current literature. As a working practice, Outsourcing/In-House has become an important feature of the global economy (Grossman & Helpman, 2005, p. 22) and includes the outsourcing of manufacturing activities, product development, marketing campaigns, sales strategies, Information Technology (IT), and other more specific and varied business activities (Freytag et al., 2012).

Currently, most studies on outsourcing decisions at the company level focus on resource-based or cost-driven promoters of the transformation as highlighted by transaction costs theory, the approach based on resources and organisation theories (Hätönen & Eriksson, 2009). The transaction costs perspective and resources and capabilities-based view are rooted in the theoretical premise that organisations follow outsourcing strategies if they have limited internal resources and/or capabilities or if outsourcing generates economic benefits by using market transactions rather than carrying them out internally.

Another process that motivates companies to use the Outsourcing/In-House model is linked to the idea of creating new organisational forms (Linder, 2004), as is the case in business networks (Miles & Snow, 1986), whilst others state that this line of organisational thinking is still tightly linked to a costs reduction approach and attaining competitive advantages (cf. Buckley & Lessard, 2005). These two motives (costs reduction and attaining competitive advantages) are considered the most significant driving forces (Lonsdale & Cox, 2000; Freytag et al., 2012; Iqbal & Dad, 2013; Weil, 2014) and this search for reduced costs has been strengthened by globalisation processes, which place greater emphasis on business competition (Kalleberg, 2011). In general, the adoption of the outsourcing strategy has risks. The most significant risks lie in the need to develop new management competencies, capabilities and decision-making processes. These include decisions on which activities should remain within the organisation and which outsourced, whether all or part of the activity should be outsourced, and how to manage relationships rather than internal functions and processes (Harland et al., 2005).

As shown in Figure 1, the Outsourcing/ In-House model has matured significantly from 1990 to the present day

Figure 1. Sequence of events in the development of Outsourcing/In-House over time

Source: Compiled by authors.

This growth is made evident by the fact that in that year empirical analysis started to be published in case studies of businesses that used the approach, which listed benefits such as potential reduced operating costs, flexibility, improved service efficiency, and, to a lesser extent, improved corporate image for companies turning to outsourcing (Whitley & Willcocks, 2011).

Therefore, in the early 1990s (see Figure 1), robust knowledge on the Outsourcing/In-House model was mainly focused on contract administration; that is to say, on the outsourcing of someone in charge solely of designing the process prior to the signing of a contract (Lacity & Willcocks, 2014). Over time, outsourcing became more commonplace in contract management, which was understood as the performance of a systematic process that essentially consists in planning, implementing, pre-contracting, contracting, and managing activities linked to renewals and the post contract phase (Whitley &Willcocks, 2011). By the mid-2000s, the Outsourcing/In-House market was focusing more on efficient client management, which led to the development of software applications (CRMs and ERPs), concentrating on quick access to client information, quote management and invoicing, accounting and scheduling processes, and building client portfolios.

The 2010s witnessed a slight paradigm shift in the Outsourcing/In-House model focused on collaborative innovation. That is to say, on the consolidation of fruitful business relations where both the contracting firm and the subcontracted service firm maintain a relationship based on technological and scientific collaboration that brings about full end client satisfaction (Bui et al., 2019), with goal-based collaboration as the most important element. As a consequence, and in order to identify the aforementioned paradigm shift in academic production, a bibliometric analysis such as the one proposed in this study would make it possible to demonstrate the evolution in this respect, and even more so if we take into account that bibliometric studies in this respect are practically non-existent, with some exceptions such as the work of Nedelcheva (2016), although it only focuses on outsourcing.

3. Methodology

This study conducts a literature review through a bibliometric study analysing articles linked to the theme of Outsourcing/In-House published between 1990 and 2023. The databases used in the bibliometric analysis were Web of Science and Scopus, which yielded a total of 865 articles, of which 524 were analysed as they met the inclusion criteria. Five phases or stages were established ranging from determining the line of research to applying robust software systems for co-word analysis of the publications retrieved (Herrera-Viedma et al., 2016).

Consideration was given to the use of the SciMAT science mapping analysis tool, which is based on co-word and h-index generated maps. This tool is simultaneously able to produce a science map and performance analysis to identify subdomains in the field of research and the thematic evolution of Outsourcing/In-House.

3.1 Bibliometric analysis phases

A description is given below of each of the phases in the bibliometric analysis, with reference to those which are based on the procedures described by Keathley-Herring et al. (2016), Montalván-Burbano et al. (2020), and Márquez-Tejón et al. (2022). In this way, a five-phase methodology was used, as shown in the figure below (Figure 2):

Figure 2. Phases of the study

Source: Compiled by author.

a) Phase 1. Determining the line of research

This study is defined as a literature review on the thematic evolution of Outsourcing/In-House and its connection to other disciplines and fields of application over the last 33 years (1990-2023). This phase seeks to identify the most important indicators concerning this activity, as well as determine related themes and the equivalence indexes between keywords and the number of citations between authors (Gutiérrez-Salcedo et al., 2018). In this regard, we can state that there are two bibliometric review procedures specifically developed for the examination of an area of research, one being performance analysis and the other being science mapping (Cobo et al., 2012).

For the purposes of this study, we focus on the analysis of a specific field of research. As a result, the bibliometric procedure to be used is science mapping analysis utilising the SciMAT software tool. This tool is distinguished by allowing the analyst to conduct robust scientific bibliometric analysis in a longitudinal framework to assess and visualise the conceptual or thematic evolution of a field of research over consecutive periods.

More specifically, the field of research of this study is centred on Outsourcing/In-House and its impact on other fields of knowledge, such as supply chains, computer science, industrial engineering, and others.

As a consequence, and following the division that has been contemplated in other bibliometric analysis publications (Delgado et al., 2006; Falagas et al., 2006; Ahmad & Slots, 2021), three periods have been defined: 1990-2007, 2008-2015, 2016-2023.

1990-2007: The start of this period was marked by European Union legislation on the legalisation of temporary agency work, which had a mandatory application deadline of 1994 and was introduced in Spanish Royal Decree Law 14/1994 of 28 December on the Normalisation of temporary agency work. This period is characterised by a somewhat cautious approach towards Outsourcing/In-House, especially as it was a new system and businesses were not initially very open to making it part of their workforce. This stage corresponds to the stages of contract administration and management in Figure 1.

2008-2015: There is a boom in the application Outsourcing/In-House in this period as Outsourcing/In-House grows more mature in its application. It reached a certain level of approval among large business chains and was driven by the application and development of business IT that eased implementation. European legislation, in Directive 2008/104/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on temporary agency work, was aware of the need to regulate certain new aspects that arose as a consequence of the engagement of businesses with this method. This period features the greatest evidence and analysis of this way of working. This phase corresponds to the “Client relationship management” in Figure 1 and is driven by the Labour Reform of the Spanish government in 2012 as demonstrated by Royal Decree Law 3/2012 of 10 February on urgent measures to reform the labour market.

2016-2023: this period undergoes a paradigm shift driven by the collaborative innovation trend, in which Outsourcing/In-House was consolidated as a model which upon adoption by companies led not only to efficient resource management but also contracts including the meeting of targets, which ensured client satisfaction. This stage corresponds to the final stage of collaboration innovation shown in Figure 1.

b) Phase 2. Search criteria

The keywords “outsourcing” and “in-house” were used as search and selection criteria for articles. As a result, information filters were applied to exclude results whose field of application was linked to the pharmaceutical industry, nursing, health, chemical processes, and the development of mathematical optimisation models as these are not relevant for this study. The exclusion of articles pertaining to subjects above was a strategic decision aimed at maintaining a focused and specialized scope for our study. These fields, while relevant in their own domains, exhibit unique outsourcing dynamics that significantly diverge from the business and strategic perspectives central to our analysis. By narrowing the scope, our study sought to ensure greater depth and precision in exploring Outsourcing/In-House strategies in business environments. After obtaining suitable results, articles which contained at least one of the two keywords in the title or abstract were selected.

c) Phase 3. Database selection

In the selection of the databases most suited to the nature of this study, Singh et al. (2021) recommend using WoS and Scopus together. When researchers use bibliometric methods to assess research, it is important they understand what each database offers and what their limitations are. Nevertheless, using both databases for this type of task is highly recommended due to their high performance and the large quantity of results from across multiple disciplines that they can return (Harzing & Alakangas, 2016; Vera-Baceta et al., 2019).

d) Phase 4. Filtering and screening articles

Prior to analysing the articles with SciMAT, it was necessary to filter them and identify inconsistencies in the results from Scopus and WoS. Therefore, they were initially filtered by author name and references to avoid duplicates. At the same time, the journals and publications of each document were identified, avoiding all those that were far from the central theme of the research, and a detailed reading of the abstracts and summaries was carried out to determine the inclusion of these publications. That said, the categories not related to Outsourcing/In-House (see Phase 2) were then filtered out.

e) Phase 5. Bibliometric analysis (science mapping)

Cobo et al. (2012), from the University of Granada, developed the Science Mapping Analysis software tool (SciMat). This is an open-source science mapping tool that generates bibliometric maps and includes pre-processing and visualisation of results. This software programme is based on various normalisation measures and similarity analysis to build different types of networks using clustering algorithms. Accordingly, this tool can be utilised to construct strategic diagrams, cluster networks, and areas of evolution, terms which will be defined below.

3.2 Co-Word analysis

The co-word analysis workflow occurs in four phases (Kostoff, 1993; Corrales et al., 2019):

a) Phase 1: Identifying the themes to research

Based on the keywords extracted from the articles from each year, a co-occurrence network is created. The nodes in this network represent interconnected extracted keywords when two keywords co-occur in a set of articles. For each year or period under study, a network of normalised co-words is constructed and a clustering algorithm then applied to indicate the themes of research that are linked to the title of said research. Therefore, a cluster represents an interconnected group of keywords.

b) Phase 2: Research theme and thematic network visualisation

Each theme identified is represented graphically in a strategic diagram and a thematic network using two dimensions to characterise the theme: Centrality and Density. Centrality measures the relevance of each network to the wider context, whilst density measures the internal cohesion and coherence of the network and is also an indicator of the level of development of the theme (Viedma et al., 2011; Muñoz et al., 2012).

Both features are represented in a two-dimensional strategic diagram divided into four quadrants:

• Upper right: known as motor themes, these are considered highly developed and essential for the area of research.

• Upper left: themes with little relevance for the field. Peripheral themes in the area.

• Lower right: weakly developed and marginally relevant themes. These themes are emerging or disappearing.

• Lower left: relevant but underdeveloped themes, which are known as general or transversal themes.

c) Phase 3: Identifying thematic areas

This phase or stage of the science mapping identifies themes in the field and their evolution over time. These are visualised in their changes over time. Superimposing the clusters from one period over another identifies these changes. If there are more shared keywords between clusters, the theme is said to have undergone more solid evolution.

d) Phase 4: Performance

This phase relates each thematic area to the overall set of documents pertaining to a group of keywords. Performance measures the impact of the thematic area and is based on the number of published documents or h-indexes.

To compile the thematic evolution maps for Outsourcing/In-House, three periods of study have been established, 1990-2007, 2008-2015, and 2016-2023. Therefore, the h-indexes of the publications retrieved on the theme are represented and the type of connection between keywords in each period is displayed. That is to say, it demonstrates whether the links are conceptual or not and the thickness of the line is proportional to the inclusion index.

4. Results of the analysis

This section presents the results linked to the quantity of documents published per subject area and field of research. Said information is obtained using the visualisation tools included in the Scopus and WoS databases.

To validate the results, bibliometric analysis of the 524 articles linked to the theme of Outsourcing/In-House was conducted, as can be seen in the Table 1 showing the results by year of publication. (Note that once the sample results were filtered, no articles appeared during the years 1990-91-92).

Table 1. Number of published articles per year

First period

Second period

Third period

Year

Publications

Year

Publications

Year

Publications

1993

2

2008

17

2017

39

1994

4

2009

14

2018

30

1995

5

2010

22

2019

40

1996

6

2011

25

2020

21

1997

8

2012

26

2021

5

1998

4

2013

35

2022

3

1999

6

2014

32

2023

5

2000

7

2015

35

 

 

2001

5

2016

33

 

 

2002

7

 

 

 

 

2003

7

 

 

 

 

2004

17

 

 

 

 

2005

18

 

 

 

 

2006

21

 

 

 

 

2007

25

 

 

 

 

Total

142

Total

239

Total

143

Source: Compiled by authors.

These results include connected research themes in four-quadrant diagrams. Thematic evolution is subsequently shown based on scientific production and performance analysis of the h-indexes.

4.1. Determining lines of research

Using the descriptors stated in the article search materials and methods section and after applying the inclusion and exclusion criteria to filter and select the bibliographic material, lines of research have been identified using a weighted statistical analysis of the themes and disciplines in which Outsourcing/In-House systems were applied or developed from 1991 to 2023. The lines of research were identified by the frequency of publication of articles on that same theme over a set length of time in the period of study.

The Figure 3 shows the most relevant themes in terms of frequency of publication. They are grounded in areas such as: engineering, business and management, computer sciences and automation, social sciences generally, and economics.

Figure 3. Percentage of documents by subject area

Source: Compiled by authors.

Analogously, the WoS area of analysis produces similar results with the same themes but also takes into consideration the number of times an article is cited by researchers in later studies which are linked to the Outsourcing/In-House theme, which is also an indicator of the relevance of each publication and sheds light on subject and research trends in the overall period of study.

As can be seen in Figure 4, articles on Outsourcing/In-House have mainly focused on areas such as management, business, operations research, industrial engineering, and computer science. These descriptive statistical results from WoS are similar to those from Scopus in Figure 2.

Figure 4. Frequency of published articles per subject area

Source: Compiled by authors.

Specifically, Outsourcing/In-House has a potential focus on the following lines of research:

• Engineering (mainly industrial but also chemical, mechatronic, and manufacturing).

• Management and business.

• Logistics and operations research (minimising costs, maximising expenditure, simplex method, or non-liner optimisation).

• Computer science (information technology, systems, electronics).

These lines agree with those which we potentially identify in this study. Lines of research have been validated through the use of dedicated software tools designed for this purpose, in this case SciMAT, as we have stated above.

Table 2 contains the 17 most cited themes identified by SciMAT from the 524 articles under analysis. Outsourcing as a model and concept, costs and contract management are the most developed themes between 1990 and 2023 with 306, 35, and 22 articles, respectively. Themes concerning In-House and In-House Production were less impactful over this period, with only 16 and 12 articles, respectively. Furthermore, the relevance is highlighted of themes such as case studies, investment, and technology development in the Outsourcing/In-House field, with nine articles for the first theme, and ten for investment, and eight for the latter.

Table 2. Number of published articles per theme 1990-2023

No.

Theme

Items

Documents

1

Outsourcing

6

306

2

Cost

2

35

3

Contracts

2

22

4

Supply Chains

2

25

5

Offshore

2

18

6

In-House

4

16

7

In-House Production

2

12

8

Information Systems

2

12

9

Case Study

2

9

10

Investments

2

10

11

IT

8

8

12

Surveys

2

7

13

Vertical Integration

2

7

14

Make or Buy Decisions

2

7

15

Outsourcing Decisions

2

7

16

Transaction Costs

2

6

17

Insourcing

2

6

Source: Compiled by authors.

4.2. Frequency of publication

With regard to the frequency of publication of articles linked to the Outsourcing/In-House theme and its distribution, SciMAT returns two graphs which are shown in Figures 5 and 6.

Figure 5. Number of documents published per year

Source: Compiled by author.

Figure 6. Frequency distribution of publication

Source: Compiled by author.

Both graphs show that the period with the greatest number of publications on the theme retrieved was 2008-2015 when the number of studies was almost double that of the others periods. The line for the first period shows a gradual increase in the number of publications over time, starting with a few articles published in the early years and rising to a higher frequency towards the end of the period. This could indicate a growing interest and development in the field during these years. In the second period there is a notable initial peak in 2008, followed by a slight decline and then a steady rise in publications until 2013. After 2013, the frequency maintains a plateau with slight fluctuations, suggesting a period of sustained research interest and publication activity. In the last period, there is a sharp peak in 2019, indicating a significant number of publications. This is the highest point across all periods, which could signify a peak in research interest or output. Following this peak, there is a steep decline, with a particularly sharp drop between 2020 and 2021, which might be correlated with external factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic affecting research output or publication rates.

The Excluding the studies by Currie and Willcocks (1998), Harrison and Kelley (1993), and Huber (1993), seven of the ten most cited articles according to SciMAT are listed in Table 3 were first published in the decade from 2000 to 2010.

Table 3. The ten most cited articles found in SciMAT

No.

Title

Author(s)

Year

No. of citations

Keywords

1

From the vendor's perspective: Exploring the value proposition in information technology outsourcing

Levina, N., Ross, J. W.

2003

517

22

2

Reconceptualizing the firm in a world of outsourcing and offshoring: The organizational and geographical relocation of high-value company functions

Contractor, F. J., Kumar, V., Kundu, S. K., Pedersen, T.

2010

314

0

3

Global sourcing strategy and sustainable competitive advantage

Kotabe, M., Murray, J. Y.

2004

219

5

4

R&D, firm size and innovation: An empirical analysis

Shefer, D., Frenkel, A.

2005

202

15

5

Analysing four types of IT sourcing decisions in the context of scale, client/supplier interdependency and risk mitigation

Currie, W. L., Willcocks, L. P.

1998

127

5

6

Governance choices for corporate social responsibility: To contribute, collaborate or internalize?

Husted, B. W.

2003

124

8

7

Strategic logistics outsourcing: An integrated QFD and fuzzy AHP approach

Ho, W., He, T., Lee, C. K. M., Emrouznejad, A.

2012

123

22

8

Choosing between internal and non-internal R&D activities: Some technological and economic factors

Narula, R.

2001

123

3

9

Outsourcing and the search for flexibility

Harrison, B., Kelley, M. R.

1993

121

0

10

How Continental Bank outsourced its "crown jewels."

Huber, R. L.

1993

118

18

Source: Compiled by authors.

Themes such as technology consolidation, specific case studies, the development of business contingency plans, and competitive advantage are also to be found in the results shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Performance of index of keywords and theme in each period of study

 

1990-2007

2008-2016

2017-2023

No.

Theme

Doc

h-index

Doc

h-index

Doc

h-index

1

Information Systems

2

2

2

2

2

2

2

Case Study

2

2

1

1

0

0

3

Corporate Strategy

2

1

0

0

0

0

4

Construction management

1

1

1

1

0

0

5

Managers

1

1

0

0

0

0

6

Firm Size

1

1

1

1

0

0

7

Transaction Costs

1

1

0

0

0

0

8

Organizational Structure

0

0

2

2

0

0

9

Performance Measure

0

0

1

1

0

0

10

Event Studies

0

0

1

1

0

0

11

Make or Buy Decisions

0

0

1

1

0

0

12

Algorithms

0

0

2

2

0

0

13

Decision Support Systems

0

0

3

3

2

1

14

Supply Chains

0

0

2

2

0

0

15

Contracts

0

0

3

3

0

0

16

In-House Productions

0

0

2

2

2

2

17

Costs

0

0

3

3

2

1

18

Bayesian Network

0

0

1

1

0

0

19

Relevance Assessment

0

0

1

1

0

0

20

Two Part Tariff

0

0

2

2

0

0

21

Call Center

0

0

1

1

0

0

22

Core Competence

0

0

1

1

0

0

23

Design Science Research

0

0

0

0

1

1

24

Is Outsourcing

0

0

0

0

1

1

25

Open Sources

0

0

0

0

1

1

26

Literature Review

0

0

0

0

2

1

27

Stackelberg games

0

0

0

0

1

1

28

Firm Boundaries

0

0

0

0

1

0

29

Investments

0

0

0

0

1

0

30

Computational Experiment

0

0

0

0

2

2

31

Hotel

0

0

0

0

2

2

32

IP Piracies

0

0

0

0

1

1

Source: Compiled by authors.

As described the Methodology section, the performance of the Outsourcing/In-House field of research is determined by assessing the equivalence between periods and the co-word index between articles. Table 3 shows the performance index for the 524 articles based on each theme.

Themes related to case studies and corporate strategy were more impactful in period 1 (1990-2006). The specific case of information systems retains a position of great importance in the Outsourcing/In-House field until 2023. Period 2 displays greater importance for articles linked to contracts, costs management, outsourcing in supply chains, business structure, decision-making systems, and algorithm development. Less relevant case studies are still found which include new themes such as “Call Center” and performance measures.

In turn, period 3 contains a slight change in trend with researchers interested in two new sectors of the economy: hospitality and investments. The development of robust software tools and dynamization in Big Data and data engineering techniques has allowed for a focusing of interest in Outsourcing/In-House research in the area of computational experimentation, a theme focused mainly on automation, occupational risk assessment, and improving production processes.

4.3. Research themes

This section presents analysis of the most impactful themes in each period in a four quadrant strategic diagram. In each figure the size of the sphere is proportional to the number of documents relating to Outsourcing/In-House. The strategic diagram for period 1 (Figure 7) shows that themes related to organisational management based on outsourcing fundamentally in the design phase and not the execution phase of projects (“Managers” and “Construction-manager”) appear as motor or main themes which focus on the application of outsourcing

Figure 7. 1990 -2007 strategic diagram

Source: Compiled by author from Scimat.

At that time, themes linked to the development of outsourcing information systems were shown to be an emerging theme, whilst case studies and firm size were not directly linked to outsourcing.

The inclusion of information systems as a form of outsourcing was unquestionably an innovative theme for the period, which is why it is placed as an emerging theme (Figure 7). The outsourcing of information systems would receive less interest and grow less relevant over time and research on information systems in the realm of outsourcing would be addressed in relatively simple cases or in business activities not involving important processes in said organisation. This is seen in later studies.

Themes related to costs management would be conceptualised in a basic and generalised manner in this period of study. In period 2, we find a considerable and heterogeneous number of themes of study in comparison with period 1 (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. 2008 -2015 strategic diagram

Source: Compiled by author from Scimat.

As general and underdeveloped themes we find supply chains, “Call Center”, and information systems; a trend that was earlier noted in the previous period possibly as a result of the lack of maturity in the sector. In this period research focused directly on In-House production emerges as a distinct area and remains present in the following period. The results in Table 3 are supported by the strategic diagram in Figure 8, which corroborates that themes such as costs and contract management appear as underdeveloped branches of the Outsourcing/In-House field. Themes concerning algorithms, business structure, and performance measures strengthen their position as motor themes in the outsourcing model in this period.

The “Open Source” theme appears as a motor theme in the final period under study (Figure 9), showing that the experience in computer development gained in the previous Outsourcing/In-House periods is offered as an open source solution for every type of company. Articles discuss the end-to-end management of projects as open resources with the view of outsourcing companies as simply one more partner in the group.

Figure 9. 2016 -2023 strategic diagram

Source: Compiled by author from Scimat.

4.4. Thematic evolution

Thematic evolution is linked to two types of maps: the overlap map and evolution map. Figure 10 shows the stability between the three periods of study

Figure 10. Overlap map of the analysed themes

Source: Compiled by author from Scimat.

The circles represent each of the periods and the number contained inside pertains to the corresponding total of keywords. The horizontal arrows show the number of overlapping keywords between the periods and the stability index is shown in parenthesis. The ascending arrows indicate the number of new keywords compared to the following period, whilst the descending arrows indicate the items that are discarded or disappear in the following period.

The stability index remains constant over the three periods (0.26).

A longitudinal theme map can be constructed (Figure 11) by grouping the three periods. Continuous lines in the map represent a conceptual link whilst broken lines represent linked themes that share keywords that differ from their respective names. Finally, the diameter of the sphere represents the number of documents retrieved in each theme.

Figure 11. Longitudinal theme map

Source: Compiled by author from Scimat.

Figure 11 shows that the structural analysis of the scientific production under analysis is characterised by diverse thematic cohesion, which is focused on 18 specific themes, especially those linked to the area of business and productivity. Furthermore, a significant number of themes are included in the same thematic area and are supplemented later by themes that appear in later periods (period 3).

Co-word analysis also makes clear the strong conceptual link between the “Managers” and “Construction-Management” thematic lines in the 1990-2007 period with “Contracts” in the 2008-2015 period. In fact, at least 17 separate publications are recorded that are linked to the theme of drawing up and managing outsourcing contracts. It also highlights a conceptual link between the size of the company and its internal organizational structure, especially regarding to the delegation of responsibilities and activities to companies that offer outsourcing services.

5. Dicussion

According to Ghimire and Tomasik (2019), given the consequences of the globalization of the economy and the consistent irruption of new and increasingly advanced technologies in business activities, the production processes of companies are increasingly coordinated by third parties, as they offer greater advantages and benefits over the available resources.

At the same time, Lewicki (2019) argues that organizational changes relate to the phenomenon of outsourcing, for example the means by which an increasing number of companies are now resorting to outsourcing production steps, functions and even workers that are not available internally. As was to be expected, this situation has attracted the attention of the scientific community, which has followed and studied each of the events that have marked the evolution of this subject. Thus, we have found that the greatest scientific interest in and research on Outsourcing/In-House occurred between 2007 and 2015. López Ramírez et al. (2022) affirm that this may be due in part to the number of American businesses outsourcing their business processes doubling in comparison with the 1990s.

Studies conducted in period 1 (1990 to 2007) were mainly focused on fields such as computer process automation and on all those linked to managing and setting more flexible business strategies (Loh & Venkatraman, 1992; Feenstra & Hanson, 1999; Ernst, 2000; Yang et al., 2007). In a similar vein, case studies on specific businesses that had implemented Outsourcing/In-House also grew in importance, like Secker and Plewes (2002), Thompson and Whittaker (2004), and Pan et al. (2006), among others.

In period 2 (2007 to 2015) we find open-source software development (De Vries, 2007), business strategies (Bullen et al., 2007; Pascucci et al., 2012), costs management (Varbella et al., 2014), automation improvement and large supply chain management (Joo et al., 2010), employment contract management (Escobar, 2008), and organisational performance evaluation (Kafuku et al., 2016) in the most representative fields of application.

From 2016 onwards, fields such as hospitality were included in Outsourcing/In-House (Cortinhal et al., 2019; Patel et al., 2019; Doran et al., 2020; Xu et al., 2020) and the rise in new technology led to information systems growing and remaining very relevant in this production model (Yang et al., 2022; Chen et al., 2023). Furthermore, the scientific evolution highlights the existence of a strategic stance in the outsourcing concept that evolves from outsourcing activities in the first period to the integrated collaboration on a joint project between client and supplier found today.

The results obtained in the different periods of the bibliometric analysis carried out corroborate the sequence of events in the development of Outsourcing/In-House over time proposed in the theoretical framework section. Many of the studies found in the last period show the planning of joint policies between the contractor/s and the contracted companies that are manifested in the formulation of programs, plans that are optimized using programming models. This confirms the line of “collaborative innovation” shown in Figure 1.

6. Conclusions

This article has reached an extensive bibliographic conclusion that will enable future researchers in this field to determine the mid and long-term strategic impacts on the future of Outsourcing/In-House and the way in which it adapts to new market needs arising from new computing technology, aspects that have influenced the available academic literature, and which respond to the research question posed at the beginning of this paper: “what have been the changes or themes that have marked the evolution of academic publications on the Outsourcing / In-House model over time?”. Responding this question, this study underscores the dynamic interplay between technological advancements and outsourcing practices. It reveals a significant alignment of outsourcing strategies with technological innovations, suggesting a symbiotic relationship that shapes future business models. Acknowledging the role of digital transformation in refining in-house outsourcing approaches provides a holistic view of its evolution and trajectory. This comprehensive synthesis not only addresses the initial research query but also sets the stage for ongoing scholarly inquiry in this rapidly evolving field.

Bibliometric analysis of the available scientific evidence in the Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus databases has allowed for a discussion of the key points that substantiate the definition of Outsourcing/In-House in conjunction with the emerging trends that have appeared alongside it since the creation of the concept in the early 1990s. It is evident that in-house outsourcing has undergone significant evolution and will continue to adapt to new market needs influenced by advancements in computing technology. This study has traced the journey from basic contract administration to collaborative innovation, showing that in-house outsourcing is not static but a dynamically evolving strategy. Future directions will likely involve further integration of technology, reflecting shifting market demands and evolving business models. This suggests a continual need for adaptive strategies in in-house outsourcing to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing business environment.

In summarizing, this study illuminates the critical role that Outsourcing/In-House strategies play in the international business landscape, particularly in contexts where cross-cultural dynamics are integral due to offshore outsourcing agreements.

6.1. Theorical implications

This bibliometric study enriches the theoretical understanding of in-house outsourcing by unveiling its multidimensional facets. It underscores the evolution of outsourcing from a mere operational tactic to a strategic imperative in diverse business domains. The thematic progression from contract administration to collaborative innovation mirrors the dynamic nature of outsourcing strategies and reflects a paradigm shift in organizational structures. This study contributes to the academic discourse by offering a comprehensive timeline of in-house outsourcing's conceptual maturation, thereby fostering a deeper theoretical comprehension of its various aspects.

6.2. Practical implications

From a practical standpoint, the findings highlight the growing significance of in-house outsourcing in tackling modern business challenges such as cost optimization, operational efficiency, and strategic flexibility. The evolution of outsourcing practices, particularly the shift towards collaborative innovation, indicates a crucial trend for businesses to adapt to remain competitive. This study serves as a guide for practitioners to understand historical trends, identify current best practices, and anticipate future shifts in outsourcing strategies. It offers valuable insights for businesses to optimize their outsourcing decisions and align them with overarching corporate objectives.

6.3. Limitations and Future Research

The limitations of this study are twofold. Firstly, the bibliographic search is confined to the two most significant databases of publications, namely WOS (Web of Science) and SCOPUS. Secondly, during the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, academic and scientific output predominantly concentrated on health and the impact of the health crisis. This focus led to a decrease in publications related to the subject matter of this research. Consequently, in recent years, the volume of articles produced has been smaller, and the coverage of the latest developments within the realm of in-house outsourcing may not be comprehensive.

As a future line of research, we propose the definition of a valid business model for use in assessing the efficiency of implementing an Outsourcing/In-House system. This study should also delve into the contextual factors influencing this efficiency. This includes industry-specific dynamics, organizational culture, and technological advancements. Quantitative studies could be employed to evaluate the financial and operational impacts of different models, while qualitative research might offer insights into the strategic and human resource implications. Such a multifaceted approach would provide a holistic understanding of the effectiveness of outsourcing/in-house strategies across various business contexts.

Declaration of Conflicts of Interest

Authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest in relation to the research, authorship or publication of this work.

Financing

The authors have received financial support for the research from Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación. Project number: PID2021-124641NB-I00.

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E-mail: montserrat.jimenez@urjc.es