Outsourcing SEO – When to Do It, When to Stay Away

pros-consSEO, online marketing, social media exposure, PPC management, brand journalism … all are buzzwords used today to include everything someone interested in doing marketing on the Internet must know about. It looks like a lot of work and it is definitely not easy. SEO alone will have you think that you have your work cut out for you. The main question that comes to mind when evaluating how much work SEO entails is whether you should outsource, do it in house or do it on your own. Each of these options has its pros and cons and to make the right decision we need to take a few criteria into consideration.

When to outsource SEO

The first question

Outsourcing, as a field, is a great alternative to many boring things you do not want to do in house, or you do not want to waste precious resources – human, as well as material – on. SEO is a very particular area of interest, and getting someone in your company to become a SEO expert overnight, even if they are some kind of whizz-kid, is hardly doable. Continue reading

Traveling to China? Check this post first!

shanghai-chinaChina attracts visitors in swarms every year. With a monumental 26.29 million visitors in 2013, China is gradually becoming the hub of tourism for the rest of the world despite the language barrier. Estimates suggest that in less than a decade, China will eventually become the world’s top tourist destination attracting the largest number of tourists every year.

Are you planning on visiting your provider or looking for a new vendor and thus travelling to China any time soon? Then this is the right blog for you. Read on to find out a few tips on the customs, traditions and the routine of the Chinese people and what you should avoid doing whilst on your sojourn to this exciting outsourcing destination.

The Do’s and the Don’ts to Be Mindful of When Traveling to China

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2015 KPMG study on outsourcing for technology-related services

Articles covering outsourcing topics by analysts such as Gartner and consulting firms like Accenture often stay at such high level that their practical application requires engaging these firms. Once in a while these articles could be very informative and helpful The latest KPMG study is worth taking look at. That study covering outsourcing for technology-related services shows some radical changes and interesting trends in the marketplace, to which both companies and service providers will need to adapt.

2015 study by KPMG covers over 2,100 contracts across 23 countries with an annual contract value of US$12 billion+. It provides insights into service provider performance as well as extensive insight on IT services market trends, and provides predictions on the future state of the IT services market and projected buying patterns.   The study highlights the following key findings:

  • A shift from cost reduction being the biggest challenge for IT functions to one in which IT services are increasingly viewed as an enabler for improved business service delivery and transformation.
  • Greater focus on enabling innovation via IT outsourcing, especially via enabling greater organizational agility and accelerating the pace of investment into technologies such as cloud
  • The above being said, cloud adoption remains sluggish, with the majority of clients spending less than 10 percent of their IT spend on cloud. Data location, security or privacy are the biggest barriers to cloud adoption.
  • Governance and management of IT services and outsourcing efforts remain a major problem with mixed satisfaction from service integration and management

To access the study materials click here to download the management summary. (The full report is only available to those organizations that have participated in the survey). You can also find an infographic summarizing the key findings from the report by clicking here.

Why Successful Businesses Outsource Content Creation

tax preparation serviceTwenty years ago I don’t think anyone could have really imagined everything that would be required today in order to have success in business. It is no longer just about providing great service or product and a solid sales team supported by traditional marketing. Any business today needs an online presence that goes far beyond a simple website.

You now need social media accounts, a blog, a broad range of SEO and SMO activities and artifacts, and so much more. Just learning it all can take up a tremendous amount of time, let alone, trying to actually find the time to put it all into practice. Blogging alone can easily keep a writer busy full time. And content that you need to produce is not just limited to blog posts.

Articles and various content elements used in SEO, website content, e-books, whitepapers, sales letters, auto-responders, …really just about anything your marketing team needs requires a lot of content. And not just a lot of content, but a lot of different types of content, that might require a diverse set of skills, tons of attention, and can cost you a lot of money…

That is where content outsourcing comes in: Continue reading

Offshore Developer Rates, a Few More Words

If there is one question in the outsourcing industry that never goes away it would be the question of rates.  So I thought i should share with you a cute infographic from Staff.com – Salaries of Web Developers in India, the Philippines, USA and Around the World that I run across when doing a research for one of my clients.

Continue reading

What to Expect in 2015 – Revealing Trends in Outsourcing

Business Man with Crystal BallHow is outsourcing going to change in 2015? Outsourcing industry is a large ship that won’t turn on a dime, yet various forces have been reshaping the industry for quite some time and results are becoming more obvious every day. Certain trends ought to be followed as the landscape changes to accommodate new demands from individual consumers and businesses alike.

The strongest forces that shape the outsourcing industry include technology advancements such as raise of AI, cloud technologies and advanced robotics and automation. Another group of trend setters is related to political changes in the world, increasing standards of living among IT population of common supplies of labor in that sector – India, China and Eastern Europe.

Re-shoring, rural sourcing and near-shoring will grow

Regional providers are taking the stage, as the re-shoring trend is emerging strongly. While global outsourcing still maintains its position, local and nascent players will increase their reputation and take larger chunk of the market utilizing near-shore advantage in addition to cost effectiveness and productivity.

More tools, processes and systems will move to the cloud

More intelligent apps, software and agents will be implemented in the cloud, to make everyone’s job easier. Clients and providers will meet on this common ground in 2015. Labor will be seen more and more as a service, following in the footsteps of this trend. Cloud offering of services akin to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is going to pick up pace as well. Continue reading

Traveling to Ukraine? It Could be a Mixed Bag Experience, So Check Out This Post First

kievEven though I have been to Ukraine over a dozen times the country never fails to amaze me with its beauty and hospitality. I always wonder if that’s just me, but all my friends who live in Ukraine or moved from claim that friendliness and hospitality are the common character traits  and beauty is genetic.  Whether it’s true or not, chances are you will love the country, and yet, traveling to Ukraine is an experience a foreigner should be well-prepared for.  So before you jump on a plane, please consider a few tips from a road warrior:

Before You Decide to Go

I would not be surprised if you are considering Ukraine as an outsourcing destination: Ukrainian IT and R&D specialists have gained plenty of recognition over the recent years. In 2011 Ukraine became the “Outsourcing destination of the Year” and since then consistently have taken the leading spot in the Eastern Europe IT outsourcing market.

Of course the recent political crisis and military activity currently taking place in Ukraine made many businessmen have doubts about outsourcing to this country. Fortunately, these doubts are not well justified, as political turmoil in the country did not affect the IT outsourcing industry to any degree of significance.

While this crisis indeed affected the local population, it it also provided many foreign companies with an opportunity to negotiate better terms, reduced employee turnover, and put offshore providers on their toes.

The opportunity as usual comes with risks though.  Nobody knows how the situation in Ukraine develops over the next few months.   Understanding your own risk tolerance and risk tolerance of your company is critical.  And if you believe that outsourcing to Ukraine remains a great option to consider but you never been there you may want to check it out, as a matter of fact you should. Continue reading

Offshore Destinations: Ukraine

ukrainiansIt’s no surprise that I have a strong predilection towards outsourcing to Ukraine – both my parents were born in Ukraine, my wife grew up in a Ukrainian city, and many of my friends have Ukrainian roots.

My own experience in working with development teams in Ukraine along with what I learned from my friends and family proved to me that Ukraine is an attractive IT outsourcing destination. I am not the only one to think this way as according to the analytics data recently released by top$dev, Ukraine takes the leading position on the IT outsourcing market of the Eastern Europe. At the moment, Ukraine takes 33% of the market, Russia is on the second place with 21.8% and the last of the top three East European outsourcing countries is Romania with 9%. Just a few years ago Ukraine was named the “Outsourcing Destination of the Year” by the European Outsourcing Excellence Awards.

Of course the recent political crisis and ongoing military operations in the eastern part of Ukraine raised a lot of concerns across business community.   But even a cursory look at the situation in the country shows that the crisis did not negatively impacted the outsourcing industry. On the contrary, this situation presents you with a lot of opportunities, for example a chance to employ qualified professionals for a lesser cost. The difficulties that Ukrainians face at the moment make them more eager to work for stable foreign companies and ready to accept lower salaries.

Personally, I am convinced that Ukraine remains a great outsourcing destination and with that let me share with you some of my personal knowledge and the information I’ve gathered through my network. Continue reading

“Outsource it!” is now in beta

A couple days ago my first full size book went into beta and is now available at the publisher website – http://pragprog.com/book/nkout/outsource-it. I feel very happy and relieved that the book is finally out, writing it was far more challenging than I’ve ever anticipated. At the same time I feel happy and proud, proud to be one of the authors of the pragmatic bookshelf, the group of technology writers that earned respect across very broad and demanding technical audience.

It will take a little while before the book hits the shelves of Amazon and other bookstores, but you don’t have to wait and get your e-copy of it today. While the book is in beta your comments and suggestions would be taken quite seriously and could result in changes and additions to the content, hopefully making the book even better. I am not sure how long the beta would take but hopefully much less than it took me to get here –

Roughly two and a half years ago I came up what seemed a great idea at the time – compile my blog material into an easy to read eBook. In a couple months I produced the first volume that was dedicated to making decisions on whether and how to outsource. In a short order I received substantial feedback that made it apparent that just recompiling the blog and doing surface level clean up won’t add too much value, and probably was not worth the effort. Continue reading

List of Outsourcing Advisors

After my post on outsourcing governance I received a few emails raising the topic of outsourcing advisory. And that prompted me to do a bit of a deeper dive into the world of corporate matchmaking / marriage counseling – helping companies to find offshore vendors and later on help them with governance and management of the engagement.

This field remains huge and profitable and more so, seems to be growing in leaps and bounds. According to one of the leaders in outsourcing governance, KPMG, 70% of outsourcing users want better governance.  That’s not surprising since there many compelling reasons to engage advisors throughout the full lifecycle of outsourcing. The main being obvious – as I often say, outsourcing is a powerful tool but it a complex one and without proper knowledge using of it could be self- destructive; having someone with in-depth knowledge of the tool will spare you some injuries. If you are looking for me reasons consider taking a look at this article.

While doing my micro research I stumbled upon somewhat unexpected problem – I could not find a comprehensive source of companies that provide outsourcing advisory services. After googeling for a couple hours I figured out that a better tool here would be oDesk :) I pinged one of my VAs and she put together a list for me in just a couple days.

Please see below the top ten Outsourcing Advisors from the list based on Alexa rating (probably not the best way to rate them though), in addition you can find more comprehensive list sorted by Name, Alexa Global, and Alexa US.

Hopefully you find it helpful, as usual feel free to suggest new entries, or comment on existing ones.

Name PR Alexa Global Alexa US Description
IBM Global Services
8 446 608 IBM Global Services claims to be the world’s largest business and technology services provider. It has over 190,000 workers across more than 160 countries. IBM Global Services started in the spring of 1991, with the aim towards helping companies manage their IT operations and resources. Global Services has two major divisions: Global Business Services (GBS) and Global Technology Services (GTS). IBM Global Business Services (GBS) is the professional services arm of Global Services, including management consulting, systems integration, and application management services while IBM Global Technology Services (GTS) primarily reflects infrastructure services. It includes outsourcing services, Integrated Technology Services, and Maintenance.
Deloitte
8 6,851 4,965 “Deloitte” is the brand under which tens of thousands of dedicated professionals in independent firms throughout the world collaborate to provide audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk management and tax services to selected clients.
Gartner
7 8,659 5,056 Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) claims to tbe world’s leading information technology research and advisory company. They deliver the technology-related insight necessary for their clients to make the right decisions, every day -from CIOs and senior IT leaders in corporations and government agencies, to business leaders in high-tech and telecom enterprises and professional services firms, to technology investors.
PwC
8 10,816 8,629 PwC firms help organisations and individuals create the value they’re looking for. We’re a network of firms in 158 countries with close to 169,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax and advisory services. “PwC” is the brand under which member firms of PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited (PwCIL) operate and provide services. Together, these firms form the PwC network. Each firm in the network is a separate legal entity and does not act as agent of PwCIL or any other member firm. PwCIL does not provide any services to clients. PwCIL is not responsible or liable for the acts or omissions of any of its member firms nor can it control the exercise of their professional judgment or bind them in any way.
Ernst & Young
8 13,374 8,634 Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. Worldwide, their 152,000 people are united by their shared values and an unwavering commitment to quality. They make a difference by helping their people, their clients and their wider communities achieve their potential.
Capgemini
7 16,622 4,942 A global leader in consulting, technology, outsourcing, and local professional services.
McKinsey & Company
7 17,418 15,185 McKinsey & Company, Inc. is a global management consulting firm that focuses on solving issues of concern to senior management. McKinsey serves as an adviser to many businesses, governments, and institutions.
KPMG
7 18,567 13,291 KPMG operates as an international network of member firms offering audit, tax and advisory services. We work closely with our clients, helping them to mitigate risks and grasp opportunities.
Boston Consultant Group (BCG)
7 37,830 23,291 BCG is a global management consulting firm and claims to be the world’s leading advisor on business strategy. They partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises.
Bain & Company
7 40,359 28,581 Bain & Company is a global management consulting firm headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Bain is considered one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the world, with 47 offices in 30 countries and over 5,500 professionals on staff globally.

PO Trip Adviser: India

Continuing with a line of travel guides I turn to the most common outsourcing destination – India. There are a plenty of outstanding travel guides for India, so if you are planning to combine business and pleasure, and see places such as the Agra, Rajasthan, and Kerala make sure you study them before you depart.  Keep in mind though that most of the most interesting places will take dedicated and possibly considerable time, for example while Taj Mahal is fairly close to Delhi / Noida the trip there is going to take you at least a day.

For those of us who are limited to strictly business, here are a few tips to consider:

  • A Visa is easy to get, but it may take a few weeks so allocate sufficient time.
  • Safety of travel in India is not what it used to be just a few years ago, yet large outsourcing cities remain quite safe for majority of business travelers.
  • Shop around for tickets and ask frequent India travelers for advice. Chances are you can find something 30% less than standard internet rates using Indian travel consolidators.
  • Chances are you will arrive in India around midnight. I typically go straight to a hotel right near the airport and start my business day the next morning.
  • Stay in nice hotels, 4-5 stars. They are relatively affordable and the high quality service will help you to retain the energy you most certainly need.
  • Ask the vendor to arrange all your travel and have a car with a chauffer. Don’t even think about driving in India. The traffic and road system is not for the faint of heart plus they drive on the wrong side of the road!
  • Petty corruption is widespread in India, from expediting you through airport customs to dealing with government agencies and employees can involve bribing or “tipping” as it is often referred to. My advice it to stay away from it.
  • Make sure you have your personal belongings partitioned among suite cases and carry on. Lost luggage is a fairly common event. Use solid suitcases as mishandling is also common at airports.
  • Don’t wander off the beaten track, don’t encourage beggars, don’t visit shady places, don’t leave your valuables unattended, don’t put your wallet in your back pocket, use licensed guides in sightseeing – basically use common sense!
  • Eat only in good restaurants or at your hotel. Avoid eating buffet meals, even in high-end places. Not only drink bottled water, but also brush your teeth with it.

Pragmatic Outsourcer, v. 1.0

The first volume of Pragmatic Outsourcer – the book primarily based on the materials of this blog is almost ready. There still a few things to clean up, pictures to pick, codes to request but I can see the light in the end of tunnel. The volume is going to be published as e-book and available as free download from this site.

The first volume is dedicated to the first step in outsourcing – making the decision – and that’s probably the most important step. The word “decision” comes from Latin “” meaning to cut. To make the decision means to cut other options. Many people do not look at decisions in such dramatic manner, in a way “let’s get married and if it doesn’t work out we’ll divorce”. Well, that’s a valid perspective, at least for some people. Of course any decision, even easily reversible has its consequences in many cases making reversibility quite expensive. Offshore decision is one of those thus one should chose wisely…

Choose well, your choice is brief, and yet endless. [Goethe]

I believe book format works better for delivery and consumption of material that is covered in this blog, yet it has its issues as well. In some way e-book is a static snapshot of one’s thought process while blog is a near real time stream. So both forms are important and would bring a better set of tools to the reader. That’s why I decided to take the effort to create the book.

Creating the book turned out to be harder than I thought even though a large portion of content was readily available. When you deliver material one random chapter you do not need to worry about blind spots (important material not covered), structure, consistency, etc. All that becomes a serious concern and takes substantial time to address.

With my ESL handicap I also have to deal with challenges of style, grammar, etc. that for some reason I decided to take much more serious than in this blog. I guess having ISBN number assigned to the written word raises the bar, at least in my mind. In that arena I had to seek professional help which naturally came from offshore. Eat your own dog food so to say.

Anyway, I am pretty excited and hope to put the first volume in front of you shortly and then immediately proceed to the second one – vendor selection. Hopefully in not so distant future the full scope of offshore outsourcing from decision to termination will be covered in the series of e-books I have in mind. And then… if the traffic to e-book justifies it I would love to put all my Tips, Tricks and Traps of IT Outsourcing in a hard or even better paper cover… for dummies or unleashed series… ha.. judging by what it takes to create e-book publishing in-print must be a very tough journey, so the traffic must be really good to justify it.

Bidding Sites and Building Frustration

A couple weeks ago I put an RFP out for a very specific set of SEO activities on one of bidding sites. This SEO project was for my darling app – WWHOW!.  Since WWHOW! is based on user generated content it offers serious SEO challenges. Having spent a few months fighting those I knew fairly well what I was looking for and did not make a secret out of my expectations. To no surprise my straightforward SEO request generated a lot of responses primarily from India-based providers. I just finished going through all responses I received to date and it looks like I will have to go through bid-response process again, maybe I have to try a new bidding site, maybe change my request format, content, layout… Frankly, I doubt that changing much on my side will affect the dynamics of the campaign and quality of responses. I might need to change the target development community…

The fact that I received not a single proposal that I could remotely go with was quite irritating. One of the reasons I was annoyed by it is its effect on my “buyer’s reputation”. In some way majority of established bidding sites penalize buyers for not accepting proposals. Some of them will even cut buyers off if they do not meet some criteria, e.g. certain percentage of project acceptance. It appears that they will cut you off independently from the reasons you do not accept the proposals. It happened to me on www.eLance.com a little while ago and since despite multiple attempts I could not reach the customer service I ended up moving to another bidding site.

Continue reading

Offshore Technical Due Diligence

A couple years ago I went through a technical due diligence (TDD) of several relatively small offshore vendors. The vendors were providing product development services for one of my clients, the vendors also supported operations of the SaaS for all of the products. The client had fully outsourced s/w product development and support to those vendors and retained practically no technology resources internally with exception of MIS / SaaS IT support.

The goal of the TDD process was to asses whether the vendors are efficient and can continue performing fairly complex projects involving working with sensitive information. There are a couple important distinctions here:

  • The vendors were in large degree focused on the product development for my client and the rest of their business was relatively small.
  • The vendors have been performing services for a number of years with very light oversight from the client’s side.
  • The quality of work to date has been on a low side yet deemed sufficient for the money.

Continue reading

Offshore, Nearshore, Right Shore, Best Shore… oh My

As we can see generating x-shore names is a popular among all kind of companies even established players such as capgemini and eds jumped on band-naming wagon.

It won’t take long till someone trademarks smartshore or ezshore or put a copyright on the word shore – too bad all nautical charts would have to be reprnted… Other companies find using shore words too mundane and invent their own words and phrases such as Chindus Strategy (China-India-US) or BRIC-sourcing. And Me2 – with my term of Disposable Outsourcing.

Hey, why not? That’s somewhat akin to starting companies in the dot-com era – the more confusing it was the high the chances VCs would be all over it … Well, let me tell you, there is no best shore when it comes to IT, there is no best of all shores, and there is no silver bullet. By all means why would anyone outsource if they could deliver on their obligations without headache of dealing with geographically distributed culturally remote third parties?

During those good old days when a Ph.D. from a 3rd world country was only $8K a year cost advantage was so profound that that it was practically impossible to resist the temptation of outsourcing. Today if Ph.D. is asking for $40K the chances are s/he bought the diploma on some black market. With average saving of mare 20-30% it’s not about cost advantage anymore, we go offshore for variety of reasons, goals and objectives. Defining those should be your first step before you even consider vendor search and daunting task of picking perfect destination. “If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind.” [Seneca] It should be set of your own objectives, reasons and goals specific to you organization, not taken verbatim form some book or my blog (even though I think you can find a lot of helpful ideas in Top Reasons for Outsourcing or My Reasons to Outsource).

When the reason are clear in your mind it’s time to start picking the “shore” and like with grocery shopping you may want to start with the nearest supermarket and only if what you need is not there you would consider taking a longer drive. Thinking of that metaphor it could be actually not that far off. I live in one of those cul-de-sac communities, the nearest supermarket to my place is expensive and offers limited selection, I do not often shop there, but it’s great when you just want to hop in a car and bring a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. My main shopping place is about 15 min further driving, but it still doesn’t cover all what I need, for example Whole Foods is about 30- min drive from my place and I still go there once in a while, and add to it occasional trips to farmers market, wineries of Napa, or my friend’s organic farm…

I can’t tell what shore is going to be the best for you, chances are it is different from what is best for some of the vendors knocking on your door, but one thing I am sure of – chose it wisely. We are free to a point of choice, after that the choice controls the chooser.

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10 Myths of Offshore IT Outsourcing Revised

Google search on 10 myths in offshore outsourcing brings a few good articles written 3 – 7 years ago, some of them are still worth looking at even though some of the top myths lost their mystical nature, some debunked myths turned out to be facts, so it is worth taking a new look at what the myths are and whether they are worth debunking…

Let me start with a few Facts that are often called Myths:

Fact # 1. Offshore outsourcing is costing U.S. jobs. This myth has been debunked so often that by now we should strongly believe in its opposite. Supposedly someone very trustworthy institution calculated that for every dollar spent on a business process that is outsourced to India, the U.S. economy gains at least $1.12. An easy way to fix the economy, isn’t it? Should we pass the idea to the new administration? Well, I am not planning on questioning this global statement. What I can say with certainty is that every outsourced IT job is a local IT opportunity lost.

Fact # 2. The cost benefits of outsourcing are overstated. I touched on this subject in several earlier posts (e.g. Outsourcing Myths: cost advantage). The reason I wrote on the topic is exactly that “the cost benefits of outsourcing are overstated”. I would not call IT outsourcing “the best story ever sold” yet there is a large portion of exaggeration to almost every offshore vendor presentation I’ve ever seen. Fortunately many of buyers came to grips with the fact that on any meaningful scale IT outsourcing can at best save 20-30%, if handled well.

Fact # 3. There are “huge” cultural barriers. For anyone who’s been through any substantial outsourcing initiative there is nothing mythical about cultural barriers. The fact that they are not necessarily huge and sometimes only subtle doesn’t make them easier to deal with. Especially now when “IT outsourcing” doesn’t equal “Outsourcing to India” underestimating complexity and challenges associated with cultural differences can trip over otherwise bulletproof engagements.

Now let me switch to some of the most popular misconceptions that fit the definition of “Myth”:

Myth 1: India is the best destination for IT outsourcing. India is a leader in IT outsourcing no matter what angle you look at – sheer volumes, number of providers, process maturity, breadth and depth of service offering and so on. It doesn’t make India the best destination in every case though. In particular India is farshore destination for European and US-based companies vs. nearshore option provided by Eastern Europe or Latin America correspondingly. There are other Cons to India as the destination (take a look at Pros and Cons of Outsourcing to India). Growing competition from almost every country in the world cuts into India market share and offers multiple alternatives to buyers across the world.

Myth 2: Offshoring is the best strategy for cutting costs. Offshore outsourcing is just one of the strategies that companies can use deploy in tough economic climate. There are many areas that should be considered by the companies looking for bottom line improvements. In many cases the steps should include rationalization of IT portfolio, SDLC and other process improvements, usage of tools, etc. Offshoring is a very powerful weapon and as other ones is a double-edged sward.

Myth 3: Offshoring drives IT salaries down. Offshore outsourcing is of course a contributor and plays its role in salary dynamics, it is however less important factor than other elements of the economy and geography. The areas that are affected the most are actually wages of “local outsourcers” – freelancers, contractors, etc. Take a look at oConomy you will see some staggering trends catering to the concept of “flat world”. Hit with homesourcing many US freelancers had to drop their rates to what market is ready to pay nowadays. On the other hand some comp. packages increased in size: consider for example rates you need to pay people running distributed engagements.

Myth 4: Offshoring will result in significant unemployment in the technology sector. Similar to salary dynamics offshoring affects employment trends, and so far did not deliver the impact feared. High-end IT professional continue to be one of the scarcest commodities in the world, even low-end IT workforce still remains gainfully employed in a large degree despite huge economy downturn. It remains to be seen how far IT unemployment figures would go and would be the geographical distribution.

Myth 5: Quality of offshore IT operations is lower than in the US. That is almost as bad of a generalization as they get. As a matter of fact having seen IT operations in many companies in this country and some of the best operations offshore I can say that there is much to be learn from IT companies in China, India and other countries. As a matter of fact how many CMMI5 companies are there in US and how many in India? It would be interesting to see average maturity across IT outfits in different countries.

Myth 6: Quality of code produced by offshore organizations is very poor. Quality of code produced by outsourcing companies is another topic being frequently discussed. And again I would not venture to generalize; the code is produced by people, not organizations. Bad programmers write bad code and bad programmers are one of the most numerous creatures in the IT habitat. High wages of IT and huge demand on it attracted large volume of mediocrity into the field across the world and even in exclusive locations such as Silicon Valley you will come across of horrible code on a regular basis. Add to that the possibilities of writing bad code that have been opened by new “forgiving” technologies such as Java or PHP and you get where we are today…

Myth 7: Offshoring is a never ending nightmare. Funny enough I hear this one more and more often nowadays. Yet when you deep dive into the reasons behind nightmare they often point much more towards the organization outsourcing the IT tasks rather than to the vendor. As I said many times it takes knowledge and skill to apply outsourcing tools to the benefit of your organization. You can not get rid of a problem by throwing offshoring at it. Organizational inefficiencies such as broken communications are only amplified by outsourcing and can result in the nightmares.

There are more common misconceptions about outsourcing, it’s not surprising as it is still a somewhat new and rapidly changing phenomenon, but I think I should stop at this point as I met my quota of top 10…

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10 Things you Don’t Want Offshore Vendor to Know

I am an avid proponent of open communications and believe the more partners know about each other the better are the chances for the partnership to be successful. There are still a lot of things that you should keep to yourself for the same general reason – to increase the chances of the partnership being successful.

1. Game plan. Negotiations are an ongoing part of business relationship – not just the talks around the contract. Keep you card close to the chest and never disclose the game plan, even far after the game is over.

2. Decision making process. Whether you signing the initial contract, extending the scope of the engagement or making changes in the way the relationship is run you should not disclose the details of decision making process. In particular if you are the one making the decision you should not proudly announce it. There are many reasons for keeping it low, let me mention just a couple:

  • Disclosing decision making process will limit you ability to use “high authority” negotiation gambit that is a powerful technique for getting more in negotiations.
  • The last thing true decision makers need is all might of vendor sales force targeting them through every sales channel.

3. Budget. I always give my vendors an indication of the budget but never exact figures. One of the main reasons to keep it private is the nature of budgets – they change, funds get reallocated, etc. And of course something to be said about negotiation upper hand with less information at your partner disposal.

4. Roadmap. Product and relationship roadmaps should be shared with your vendor only at a very high level. Details should not be communicated for many reasons – business counterintelligence and agile nature of the roadmaps (similar to budget note above) being the most important.

5. Details of competition. The competition can offer a lot during contract negotiations: from cannon fodder to reasonable alternative. Your offshore partner should know that competition exists (at least that would keep them on their toes) but not the details, even the names of competing entities is not something to disclose. Among many reasons let me point out just a couple:

  • You probably have an NDA in place, that’s already a strong reason to keep your lips sealed.
  • The runner-up competitor today can be a vendor of choice tomorrow.
  • You do not know what kind of back-end links your vendors have in place.

6. IP / Know-how. If you must share anything of that nature make sure that the information distribution is governed / controlled tightly. The vendors with the best intention have little power over disgruntle employees – the prime venue of information leak. Employ distribution of the information on a Need-to-Know basis.

7. Confidential information. Same as above applies to many aspects of your business, internal and external (e.g. customer data). Consider rules associated with on handling ePHI (electronic protected healthcare information) or financial information and penalties associated with its mishandling. This is a very comprehensive topic; I will cover it in a stand-alone post.

8. Dirty Laundry. Sharing it with your vendor can hurt you in many ways; in particular consider the scenario of the relationship gone sour for any reasons; won’t you prefer your ex-partner to know as little about you as possible?

9. Personal details. Do not get close and personal with the vendor / vendor employees. There are many ways it can end up costing you more than you bargained for. There is no harm in sharing you “public” personal details (married, three kids lived in Bay Area all your life, etc.) but sharing little known data may put you in a difficult situation.

10. Ulterior motives. Ulterior means hidden – so keep it that way, if you pick your vendor based on something rather than items stated in your RFP, keep it to yourself. It’s amazing what kind of confessions I heard in that department (e.g. “I picked the company in China because my wife is Chinese and it makes it easier for us to stay in touch with her family”). This won’t help you professional image / reputation and can actually hurt your career…

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Top 10 Reasons NOT to Outsource

Remi Vespa suggested an interesting topic in his 10 reasons NOT to outsource; while I agree with most of the points he made, my top 10 would be somewhat different:

1. No reasons to outsource. Let me clear a suspected circular reference here: take a look at my earlier posts Top reasons for outsourcing and My reasons to outsource; if your reasons for outsourcing are not listed there and more so after some reading and thinking appear to be superficial, they probably are.

2. Personal. If you do not believe in outsourcing, if it could present a clear and present danger to your career, or outsourcing is likely to affect your life in some tangible negative manner (take a look at Offshore Risks: Team and Personal Impacts for some hints) stay away from offshoring as far as you can.

3. No executive support / sponsorship, no organizational / team support. If you running and uphill battle in your organization – your execs do not believe outsourcing is beneficial for the organization, if getting appropriate funds is questionable, if your team doesn’t support you. Well, maybe you are agent of change, yet still, you need to pick your battles.

4. Low risk tolerance. Your organization / your boss / yourself do not tolerate risk well and have high penalties for mistakes. Trying offshoring in environment like that is a very risky proposition.

5. No appropriate opportunity. There is always a risk in applying such a powerful yet delicate weapon as outsourcing to tasks that are not made for it. And there is not much use of trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

6. No offshore-ready management resources. If you and your management team doesn’t have any experience with outsourcing you might be better off without it unless you are mentally and financially ready to sustain a lot of pain.

7. No processes. If your organization is process free or still straggling to achieve CMM1 inviting outsourcing is likely to cost you an arm and a leg, so stay away from offshore, unless of course you’ve got spares.

8. You need to cut costs, now. Properly handled and with a bit of luck offshoring is likely to show some cost savings, yet as they say it takes money to make money. Your need to invest before you realize the savings. So if your need to immediately make up for the luck of sales or some other reasons behind a deep dive in P&L you might look for some other cost saving techniques.

9. No sufficient runway for taking off. Getting offshore engagement off the ground and getting it to the point it starts delivering value is not a trivial exercise. Do not expect immediate gratifications nor even start on that route if you have not enough runway (funds, time and energy), there is no glory in crash-landing.

10. No runway to land. No matter how skillful you are, how well financed is the project, how perfectly it is executed there is still a chance that your offshoring engagement fails. If that failure is likely to cause substantial damage, if there is no way you can safely terminate the engagement think twice before starting it.

Of course many of these reasons and the items listed in Remi’s post can be dealt with, risks mitigated, and challenges addressed. Nevertheless you should not take any of them lightly and do not move forward with your outsourcing initiative till you take the last item off your Top Reasons NOT to Outsource list.

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Outsourcing Impact on Technology Choice

I find LinkedIn to be a good idea generator for blog topics, for example a question from Vinay Joshi “.Net OR Java what technology projects you outsource — Does technology matter for making decision to whether outsource or not? …” deserves substantial discussion, beyond my brief answer on the site; especially considering that the rest of answers are more about religious war of .Net vs. Java rather than about the question itself.

Of course the answer depends on the context, if you are a technology company that already has the technology selected or a vendor that has a large team with specific expertise in place the discussion has little relevance. For those about to outsource it could be quite important decision though.

If you are planning on outsourcing but have not selected the technology yet, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Flexibility offered by technology is not your friend. The more discipline the technology offers / requires the easier it is to control it, the less are the chances on-shore and off-shore teams drift apart. In particular using Java vs. .NET discussion – Java offers great flexibility and far less commonalities in solving even basic development task. There is always 10,000 ways to achieve the same objectives. It offers multiple schools of thought and competing technologies. .NET offers more disciplined approach, while it offers some flexibility it’s far less the focus or the modus operandi, typically in .NET there is “the right” way of dealing with majority of tasks.
  • Emerging technologies are not made for outsourcing. That seems like a no-brainer, yet I’ve seen many companies moving projects using cutting edge technologies offshore, typically with painful consequences. So just in case, there are many reasons not to do so: lack of experienced resources, blind spots in understanding the technology on the both sides of the ocean, insufficient supporting community and documentation, undeveloped best practices, etc. Each of these issues by itself can destroy the engagement, when the issues combined the failure is guaranteed. Both Java and .NET by themselves are established technologies, however there is always something new being pitched by the respective camp.
  • Close doors to Open Source. Well, that might be too strong of a statement. As a matter of fact I did quite well outsourcing development using Open Source technologies and products and so many people I know. Caveat emptor! If you go for Open Source make sure that you do not stray off the beaten track and stick to very stable and mature products with strong development community. Too frequent release cycle, fluctuating quality of products, unstable supporting community can add insult to injury when combined with inevitable issues of outsourcing.
  • Don’t let the tail wag the dog. Some advanced technologies come with very costly or complex development tools. Some technologies require you to invest heavily in workstations or development environment. Some technologies require extremely high investment in training. And so on. Unless you have extremely compelling reason to do so, do not consider such technologies. Investing into a partner or their environment is not what you want to do especially in the early stages of the partnership. What if the partner already has it all in place? Well, do you want to be locked into using a specific partner? I don’t think so…
  • You can only find free cheese in a mouse trap. In development today there are a plenty of “very simple” technologies. Those technologies could be quickly learned, and superficial or even spurious expertise sold to a naïve buyer. That usually attracts gazillions of providers and inevitably drives the price down. Have you heard about PHP freelancers for $4 an hour? Just go to elance.com or guru.com – you will find a plenty. The chances are you will get what you paid for. The main point here is while the technology at question could be extremely solid it doesn’t mean that any code monkey can operate it. Finding good providers in such technologies could be a challenging task due to the high pollution of the field. Unfortunately PHP today falls into that category, and I am certain tomorrow that will be the case with RoR.

Pros and Cons of Outsourcing to India

India offers the most developed, experienced and sophisticated outsourcing community. No surprise – embedded advantage of ESL, huge supply of IT talent, and low standards of living made it a top destination for IT outsourcing long time ago. Y2K and management talent solidified the success creating multi-billion dollar giants and changing ethnic landscape of many cities in the USA. As I mentioned in Offshore Vendor Selection: Choosing the Destination “if your risk tolerance is low and/or your organization is new to outsourcing go to India, you can not get fired for hiring IBM. Go to India if you have to choose on a spot, or have little knowledge of outsourcing, or have to deal with large scope ERP implementation, or … as a matter of fact if you have to ask this question chances are you should consider India as your top destination.” Now let me put a few bullets here supporting my statement:

Infrastructure. Unless your partner is tiny and located in a 3rd tier city you won’t have any problems with infrastructure. Well, you may have to deal with some irregularities in connectivity due to some natural disasters, it gets quite rainy during monsoon season out there, but I tell you that: we use AT&T as our internet provider in our San Francisco office and once in a while they drop connectivity despite blue sky and sun outside. With a huge supply of IT services in India you can find infrastructure that would cater to most ridiculous demands.

Operating Environment. Flying to India is far from fun especially from the west coast, in particular if your company doesn’t cover first class travel. 30 hours in transit plus you arrive there in the middle of the night. Unless you time your trip well the nature would great you with heat and humidity. Flying back could be so much better if you did not need to deal with airport lines and crowds. The good part, that’s pretty much the extent of the adversities. Chances are you will be staying in a good hotel, will have a personal driver, eat in good restaurants, and even corruption is wide spread in India at all levels you most like won’t need to deal with it.

Skills Availability. That’s is one of the strongest Pros of the country. No matter what skill you are looking for there will be at least 10,000 people who have it. Well, more seriously, the supply of IT talent in India is outstanding, some areas more than others of course. Mainstream technologies of today and yesterday – Java, .NET, C/C++, ERP, Cobol, etc. – have substantial oversupply. You also can find a lot of talent even on a cutting edge of the technology. The quality of the talent follows the bell curve and nowadays the median has gone up comparing to late 90th.

English Skills. Well, that’s a hidden gem isn’t it? Of course with English being widely popular in India the main issue you would need to deal with would be an accent. Maybe some idiomatic expressions, some speech forms, etc. but generally it is not an ever a showstopper and forms a huge Pro of the country.

Cultural Compatibility. While there are a plenty of cultural differences between India and USA I would put the Cultural Compatibility in a category of Pros, here are a few reasons:

  • The cultural differences on business side were not so dramatic to begin with considering history of British influence on legal and business system of India.
  • Resources from India have been in this country in large numbers and for a long time. People in the USA learned the differences, behavioral patterns, and idiosyncrasies to a pretty good degree.
  • Many Indian vendors invest a great deal into cross-cultural training as well as in accent training. As a result the gap between cultures is narrowing considerably.

There are of course cultural differences that are deeply embedded in people’s psyche, here are a few most notable:

  • “Never say No” or “Yes to Death” – while working with Indian resources you always need to keep in mind that they might have a very difficult time say “No” in any shape or form. “Can you do that? – Yes, we will do Nick.”, “Do you have access? – Yes we do Nick”. That doesn’t mean that they can cater to any need or demand, they just can’t say NO.
  • No bad news is a no-news. While the times of chopping off bad news barer heads are over, the habit is still there. So if you do not hear about bad news, it doesn’t at all mean that everything is going well, it just simply means that you do not hear / do not know what is going on.
  • Motivational hierarchy. Of course Maslow’s Pyramid rules. But there is a plenty of subtle differences in how its upper levels translate for a specific culture. Not bad / not good – just different. For example, personal success in India outsourcing is often measure in number of people the person supervises. “I have 100 people under me…” That pushes good developers away from the technical track towards managerial with inevitable profound negative impact on technical abilities of the organization.

Rates. India rates fall neither into Pro nor into Con category. They are benchmark against which other rates are compared. And I guess that makes for a nice segue into Cons discussion:

Resource Turnover. Turnover is very high, it is high to a degree that it almost outweighs all pros of the region. See my earlier post Myth for more thoughts on the subject.

Resource Quality / Technical Capability. IT Outsourcing proved to be a rather lucrative business for many social groups in India – entrepreneurs, engineers, education providers, etc. Millions of people moved into the field in the Golden Rush of the century. As a result average quality of resources started going down to a degree that even time-proven trademarks of quality do not work anymore. Not long time ago I was stunned when I had to fire a consultant for incompetence; the stunning part came from the fact that he had a master degree from IIT.

One more Con related to the Golden Rush is worth mentioning: huge number of companies with a large number of low quality fly-by-night vendors makes it extremely difficult to find a right provider. It’s very much like looking for gold – you have to go through the tons of dirt to find the right substance. However, you are looking for gold, and one thing I am certain of is that you can find that gold in India.