Sunday, 25 March 2012

Outsourcing Back Breaking

Welcome back to Funding the Kryptonite, a blog that will take a look at the plans of comic book super villains and discuss them from a business perspective.

Today’s blog will examine the plan of one of DC Comic’s most notable creations from the 90’s: Bane. Known colloquially as “The Man Who Broke The Bat”, Bane created and executed a successful long-term plan to escape from jail, travel to Gotham City, gather intelligence about his target, weaken him, and ultimately defeat him. The focus here will be on the element of weakening Batman.

The summary:

Batman is no slouch. Highly intelligent, trained in numerous martial arts, master detective, and incredibly rich, it takes effort to grind down such a man. To do so would require significant effort, and incur the risk of being bested by Batman while he was still in peak performance. How best then to accomplish this goal? Bane outsources the task to the rest of Batman’s rogue gallery by launching an attack on Arkham Asylum (the psychiatric hospital where many of Batman’s most notorious villains are kept after capture) and letting them loose in Gotham City. The effort involved in recapturing such a mass of foes as quickly as possible would grind down Batman and leave him vulnerable.

Is this really outsourcing?:

Outsourcing, in simplest terms, is the process of having someone outside of your organization perform a business function for you. While commonly used in manufacturing or customer service industries (product assembly in China or call centers in India), most businesses outsource some element of their operations. Let’s take a look at some of the most comment reasons why:
-Business Focus: Companies would rather only do what they do best and hire other companies to do what they do best for them.
-Cost: Outsourcing is often cheaper, from a purely monetary standpoint, than doing it in-house.
-Risk Management: This concept was discussed in the last blog. In this context, having someone else do it can reduce or spread risks for the outsourcer.
-Access to Talent: Other companies have employees with the desired skills already under contract, allowing you to access them without having to find and recruit them yourself.

Outsourcing is not just limited to businesses dealing with other businesses. Some companies offer value in terms of cost savings or convenience to the customer by outsourcing functions to them. Grocery stores offering self-checkout and bagging have outsourced their cashier and bagger functions to the client in exchange for the customer ostensibly getting through faster. Airlines have also outsourced a portion of their staff to clients doing the work through electronic check-in. Another extremely well known example is that of Swedish furniture firm IKEA and how they have outsourced the assembly function to the customer in exchange for keeping the cost of their goods low.

So why is Bane outsourcing this?:

Let’s break down all the reasons why Bane is going this route:
-Business Focus: Bane is not in the business of wearing down the Batman by committing general robbery and mayhem, he has a very specific goal of destroying Batman. By loosing the Arkham inmates, Bane can focus on that task and gain valuable information on Batman and his activities leading up to their confrontation instead of being distracted by side events.
-Cost: Bane has three close associates with him, but to accomplish the same level of criminal activity as the escapees would require a significant investment in hiring more goons, planning out the crimes, and taking the time to commit them. Instead, by spending the money on a single escape plan, he minimizes his personal costs.
-Risk Management: Bane is managing his risk in several ways by freeing the Arkham criminals. He forces Batman to re-prioritize his own risks, placing Bane beneath the recapture of the escapees. He gets a chance to observe Batman and wear him down, lessening his impact once they do face off. And by ensuring Batman is otherwise engaged, he also gets to avoid the risk of a premature encounter with Batman.
-Access to Talent: Arkham Asylum usually contains a Who’s Who of top-tier criminals. These unique specimens, such as the Joker and Scarecrow, are simply not people you can easily replace or hire good knockoffs of. By outsourcing the job to them, Bane is assured of getting the best talent for the job.

Sounds too easy…:

Outsourcing isn’t always the best choice. There are important reasons why one might not do so, so let’s take a look at some:
-You lose control: If you are paying for your outsourcing, you become bound by the terms of the contract you sign and have limitations in how you can respond to changes in your business. If you’re just outsourcing elements to your customers, you can create ill will that pushes them away from you. You also risk them not being competent enough to perform the function and your company has to fix it. In Bane’s case, crazed super villains may object to being used as his pawns and come back for their revenge against him. As well, some of the escapees might be absolutely horrible at the task of wearing down Batman.
-Outsourcing can hurt your image: Perception is important in business, both from competitors and from customers. If a firm outsources incorrectly, by giving up vital business functions, it makes them look foolish and at the mercy of their outsourcing partner. Bane runs the chance of other villains noting that there is no credibility to be gained in a victory over an already significantly weakened Batman.

Closing comments:

Bane is a pretty smart guy, even if he’s been portrayed in not the best way since his debut. Taking into account the pros and cons of this decision, making the call to outsource was the way to go. And, despite his poor showings over the years, he is still the super villain who broke the Bat. That’s a legacy to be proud of!

You can see Bane on the big screen in the movie Batman and Robin (which I do not suggest watching) and this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises (which I strongly recommend!)

A legion of crazed killers loosed on Gotham… leaving me drained and depleted” –Batman (Knightfall: Part 1, p.257)

Final Rating: Good business!

Thank you for reading and please hit me up with your comments.


  1. Ultimately the plan wasn't successful though, was it? I mean it's a good idea and all, and definitely outsourcing, but didn't Batman win? He's the good guy. Batman has to win!

    1. Actually, he did succeed in breaking Batman's back and putting him out of commission. He was replaced by Jean-Paul Valley (AKA Azrael) for a time until he recovered.

  2. I would have liked to have seen you use Porter's value chain to see whether breaking the Bat falls under Inbound Logistics, Outbound Logistics, Operations (I'd put under Operations), Sales and Marketing or After Sales Support. These are the core functions.

    If Breaking the Bat is part of the Firm Infrastructure, Human Resources, Technology Development or Procurement, Outsourcing makes sense.

    1. I'm not sure I agree Porter's makes sense here, as Bane is not an ongoing business whose goal is to continuously destroy Batman. It's more a specific business project which includes weakening him as part of the activities contained within.

      That doesn't preclude it from being outsourced, especially given other activities that need to occur concurrently with that operation (intelligence gathering and observation).